Police Forces in Spain

Getting to Know the Spanish Police

For anyone new to Spain, the different types of law enforcement can be confusing and complicated. Spain has several different law enforcement organisations, which carry out different duties in different areas throughout the country. The three most well-known organisations are the Local or Municipal Police (Policia Local), the National Police (Policia Nacional) and the Civil Guard (Guardia Civil). 

Policia Local or Policia Municipal

Police in Spain Local or Municipal police are funded by the local government in Spanish towns and cities with over 5,000 residents. If the area has fewer than the required number of residents the Guardia Civil takes on law enforcement duties, and in some cases they have volunteer town employees with limited authority, called Vigilantes Municipales (Municipal Vigilantes).

The largest local police force in the nation is in Madrid, followed by Barcelona as the second largest municipal police force. 

The local police deal with traffic, parking, monitoring public demonstrations, solving minor incidents, guarding local buildings and, preventing and solving local crimes. They are also called on to swell the numbers of the National Police force to help with situations such as crowd control, when required. 

National Police in Spain

Police NationalThe Cuerpo Nacional de Policia, often shortened to CNP, which translates to National Police Corps, are the civilian force responsible for policing urban areas (The Guardia Civil has jurisdiction in the countryside).

The CNP handles matters such as criminal investigation, as well as judicial matters, terrorism and immigration. They issue legal documents, such as ID cards and passports. They are also involved in gaming and drug enforcement, as well as working with Interpol and Europol. The National Police also has control over all the private security companies. While their authority changes from one autonomous community to another, in Andalusia they act directly under the orders of the Andalusian government. 

Guardia Civil in Spain

Civil GuardsThe Spanish Civil Guard is technically a military force which handles police duties. In addition to their national policing duties they also partake in foreign peace-keeping missions. Their precincts are called “casas cuartel”, commonly referred to by locals simply as a “cuartel”, which serve as both minor residential garrisons as well as police stations.

The Guardia Civil duties include patrolling rural areas, motorways and ports, whereas the Policia Nacional is responsible for towns and cities urban areas.  

Working Together and Specialist Units

The three different police forces all work together closely and are nationally coordinated by the Ministry of the Interior (Ministerio del Interior), which is the government branch responsible for all policing, national security and immigration matters, as well as road traffic safety and controlling the prisons.

As well as the most commonly known police forces, there are also specialist units with just as much authority and jurisdiction, and they deal with issues such as smuggling, international crime and tax avoidance. 

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