There are three types of police forces, each with different jurisdictions, and a fourth force, the forestry patrols, that is of particular interest to off-road riders. In addition, three of the Autonomous Regions, The Basque Country, Catalonia and Navarre, have their own police forces which take over most of the duties of the Guardia Civil. It’s as well to know about this, after all, they’re there to protects us – even from ourselves!
These are the characteristic Spanish police force, whose dress uniform, complete with tricorn hat, and sub-machine gun are characterised in a million post-cards – and subject to a similar number of urban myths. The Guardia are a paramilitary force, and have many of the trappings of this; operating out of a barracks (cuartel), being subject to their own military discipline, for instance they are not allowed to go on strike, etc. and they usually posted away from their own home towns. Naturally, their responsibilities trend toward state security, counter terrorism, guarding state borders (including customs and contraband), etc. but they also have an important responsiblity for patrolling rural areas and have special patrols and departments for this (see below). But more importantly for bikers they are also the traffic cops on the highways. The Guardia Civil always work in pairs, and their motorcycle patrols are a part of the Spanish scene. They are quite impartial, however, but as they are used to working independently from base they are very helpful guys – and gals! – to have to hand in an emergency – most are paramedics, for example, and their discipline and training really shows in cases of mountain rescue, disasters, etc.
Just for the record, the Guardia Civil has a reputation for political intrigue and heavy-handedness. The former being more to do with the officer class at various times in Spain’s turbulent history, the latter to do both with the lingering shadow of the Franco regime, when all security forces were utilized in the savage repression of dissidents, and a certain natural resentment of ‘official’ interference that the is part of Spanish popular culture, celebrated by the likes of the poet Frederico García Lorca. Sadly, since the terrible police violence in Catalonia during the Referenda¡um on independence there on October 1st, 2017, followed by the abuse of the nine Catalan government ministers while they were being transported for detention in a Madrid prison on November 3rd we have to say that both the Guardia Civil and the Policia national still use strong arm tactics at the will of the Spanish government.
The regional police forces in The Basque Country, Catalonia and Navarre, called Erztaina, the Mossos d’Esquadra and the Policía Foral respectively. These forces combine the work of the Guardia Civil, especially traffic control, and various responsibilities of the Policiá Nacional, see below.
As the name implies the Policía Nacional have global responsibility for internal affairs, ranging from immigration to serious crime and national security. Their importance for the wandering biker is that you have to report motor theft to them, especially for insurance claim purposes. The big issue is that the Policía Nacional only has police stations, called comisarías, in larger towns and city districts. So you are going to have some work to do to sort things out in this eventuality. But fear not! – your ever friendly local policeman, or municipal, will be ready and willing to help out!
Policía Local or Guardia Urbana
Local police are employed directly by towns and cities. This ranges from a couple of guys operating out of a small town hall, ajuntamiento, to large police departments in cities like Barcelona and Madrid. Their main function is to keep public order, safety, etc. even down to school crossing patrols. But they are in charge or traffic within their town or city limits – including handing out parking tickets to bikes parked in the pavements! They are a point of first contact for a whole range of problems, including auto theft, and if they can’t deal with this they’ll make sure you get through to the relevant police service. Los Municipales, as they are often called, also have a role in public relations and really look after visitors.
Agents Rurals or Forestales:
These are forest rangers, but for all intents and purposes they are law officers with powers of arrest within their remit. This is all to do with conservation and their numbers swell during the summer due to the need for fire vigilance. The Forestales control access to dirt roads and trails in nature reserves, and will prosecute if riders ignore warnings and barriers. There is also branch of the Guardia Civil, called SEPRONA, who patrol on motorbikes (Suzuki DRZ 400’s to be precise). SEPRONA are an elite corps, however, and usually have bigger fish to fry than simple AV bikers having fun – but treat them with respect nonetheless!