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Police System

There are three main types of Police in Spain

There are three main branches of police in Spain: the Civil Guard and the National Police, both of which come under one Directorate General under the jurisdiction of the Interior Ministry, and the Municipal Police. In addition, there are regional police forces in some autonomous communities, for example, the Ertzaintza in the Basque Country, and the Mossos d’Esquadra in Cataluña. Other regions have units of the National Police attached to them.

Local Police in Marbella - archive photo

The Civil Guard (Guardia Civil), founded in 1844 during the reign of Isabell II, is an Armed Institution – and is often referred to as such, el Instituto Armado – of a military nature which forms part of the Spanish state’s security forces. Its fundamental mission is to guarantee public safety and protect the free exercising of their rights and freedom for all Spaniards.

The force comes under the jurisdiction of the Interior Ministry for operational matters, pay, assignments and equipment, and under the Defence Ministry for promotions and missions of a military nature. Its original role of policing rural areas has now extended to include control of firearms and explosives, traffic policing on inter-urban roads, the protection of Spain’s borders (including ports, airports, coastline and land borders), protection of communication routes, inter-urban prisoner transport and enforcing environmental and conservation laws.

The National Police (Cuerpo Nacional de Policía) was created in 1986, with the amalgamation of the plainclothes Higher Police Corps (Cuerpo Superior de Policía) and the uniformed service, the National Police Corps (Cuerpo de Policía Nacional). It is an armed civil force, and comes under the jurisdiction of the Interior Ministry.

The force is responsible for security in urban areas and also has responsibility for national security, terrorism, national criminal investigations, judicial matters and immigration. It is responsible for issuing National Identity Cards (DNI) and passports, and for liaison with law enforcement agencies in other countries. It is responsible for border control and drug offences. The National Police operates in all the capitals of Spain’s provinces and other large towns, with crime control in smaller centres of population being the responsibility of the Civil Guard.

The Municipal Police, or local police, (Policía Municipal) is an armed force which comes under the jurisdiction of the Town Hall in each municipality. They have responsibility for traffic control and offences, enforcement of local ordinances, and minor crimes.