Police in Spain: Guardia Civil, Policia Local & National Police…

Police in Spain

You will be forgiven for wondering why on earth you need to know about police in Spain.  Surely a bobby is a bobby is a bobby?  Not in Spain he isn´t!

Unlike the UK, where you may spend entire decades without coming into contact with the police service at all, in Spain you will visit the police in some shape or form, and not only that, there are a lot of divisions between the different branches of the police.

You need an official form?  Guardia Civil!

You’ve had a minor traffic accident?  Policia Local!

You’ve been burgled?  Policia National!

You want to report noisy neighbours?  Policia Local!

You want to pay a traffic fine …. Actually, it´s the Correos (post office) for that!

So here goes!  All of the following basic information was originally supplied by our local Guardia Civil representative, which is as good an indication as any as to the excellent service the Spanish police provide.

There are basically 3 divisions of the police force in Spain;  Guardia Civil;  Local Police and National Police.

Firstly, the Guardia Civil.

These are the chaps you are going to come across most.  Not only do they supervise areas like obtaining your NIE number and Residencia, they are also the traffic division (“Trafico”) who deal with all things transport related outside of towns.

These are the guys who will stop you if you are speeding or forget to switch your lights on if you go through a road tunnel.  They have fairly wide-ranging powers, and can stop cars “on demand” if they are at all suspicious. Quite often, they simply stop a certain amount of cars, just to make a document check.  (Or possibly all blue cars;  or all cars over a certain age;  or all cars that need a good wash – I’ve never been able to work out what the actual criteria are).

I was once stopped by a very nice young Guardia officer early on a Saturday morning when I was on my way for voluntary work at the local Cat Sanctuary;  he was going to ask me to blow into the breathalyser until he found 4 middle aged ladies, dressed to clean, all beaming at him.  For some reason, he decided not to bother …..

More seriously, Trafico are empowered to make on the spot fines, for areas like speeding, using a mobile fine whilst driving, not having a valid MOT, failing to stop at a stop sign, etc.

Confusingly, Guardia Civil also undertake “normal” police duties and can often be found patrolling towns and urbanisations in a deterrent role.

In addition, the Guardia Civil are also responsible for fighting smuggling;  illegal weapons and explosives;  control of border points (ports and airports);  transfer of convicts and detainees; and control of nature and environmental regulations.

You may think there´s not a lot left for the other 2 groups, but they also have their own distinct functions.  The Policia Local have a presence in virtually all towns, no matter how small.  They are the equivalent of the local police force in England, and in practice share some duties with the Guardia Civil.

According to our local Guardia Officer the main function of the Local Police is “to provide assistance in cases of emergency, catastrophe or calamity”!  By which I think he means they are the first line of contact for any domestic emergency such as burglaries, assault, etc.

The Policia Local are also the guardians of the town – one of their official tasks is to protect the local authorities and official buildings, and to guard public places during demonstrations or marches.  The Spanish are not at all shy about making their feelings known if they do not like political activities, and demonstrations – which tend to be extremely noisy – are far from rare.

On the lighter side, the Policia Local also maintain law and order during the numerous fiestas we all enjoy.  The Policia Local will also try and mediate in domestic conflicts, whether summoned by the participants or the neighbours when they think things have gone on long enough.

The Policia Local, rather than the Guardia, also deals with traffic accidents within the town where they are based; if there is an accident on the highway outside the town, then this is looked after by Tráfico.

Policia Local are also “the eyes and ears of the Town Hall”;  they deal with areas such as problem dogs;  noise pollution, illegal constructions;  traffic lights; and generals supervision of traffic in town.  If you get a parking ticket in your local town, it will be placed on your windscreen by the Policia Local, not Tráfico.

As you would expect, the National Police deal with more serious crimes.  They enforce and prosecute drug related crime; co-operate with international police forces; etc.  Having said that, if you have a police related problem (for instance, you have been burgled) it is absolutely fine to ring the National Police, rather than your local Policia.

The National Police may well pass your call on to the local chaps, but it´s worth noting that the National Police will always have facilities to respond to your initial call in English, whereas there is no guarantee that your local police station will have a resident English speaker.  The emergency number in Spain for Fire, Ambulance and Police is 112.

You may also be unfortunate enough to get caught up in a road “purge” undertaken by the National Police.  No mistaking it if you come across it, the road will be coned off and there will be a number of very serious looking policemen standing around, normally clutching machine guns.  These usually happen when the police have a tip off about drug shipments or (increasingly often, I’m afraid) illegal immigrants in transit.  If they ask you to stop, then do so, don´t bother protesting your innocence, it will only take longer.  If you are stopped, you will be asked to produce all your documentation and the police will probably make a very thorough search of your vehicle. If they find your documentation isn’t in order, it will be passed on to Tráfico, and you will eventually get a letter from them.

Don´t worry, without fail, all the Spanish police I have come across, no matter which division they come from, are unfailingly polite and courteous.  They all carry guns, but I have yet to see one drawn in anger.  And – amazingly – if they get it wrong, they will apologise.  I once had a parking fine which got very, very complicated as for some reason it wasn’t my registration number on the paperwork.  Our lovely Guardia sorted it out for me, and I even got a letter of apology from the Guardia Civil Sergeant.

Still had to pay the fine, though.


  1. Dear sir. I’m looking for baker job in spain .so I have 7 years expirince and till working in Ksa I like to go Spain..

  2. I just lived the last line. Don’t often laugh aloud when reading but this was one of those moments. It just sums up Spain in a nutshell, for good and for bad 😉

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