Meet the Men who Maintain the Law in Spain

Pedro Banes is the Chief Inspector of Local Police in the small southern town of Tarifa. Born and raised in the town, he’s been on the force for thirty-one years. He may carry a gun, as all police in Spain do, but he’s nothing like your typical officer. He has a gentle manner and thinks of his job as being head of a very large family.

In Spain there are two distinct police forces. The Guardia Civil are the national force and it’s their job to maintain law and order in the whole of Spain. They enforce the traffic codes on the national motorways and deal with large-scale criminal activity such as bank robberies, homicides and narcotic offences.

The uniform of the Guardia Civil is green and they tend to be tougher, more serious officers. If you’re in Spain and for some reason you attract the attention of the Guardia Civil, for example whilst driving, make sure to be calm and polite. A rude comment to one of these guys and you could find yourself quickly behind bars.

Also each town in Spain has their local police force known as Policia Local. The local police tend to be a friendlier bunch. They oversee the day-to-day running of a town by making sure the local laws are followed.

They issue parking fines, monitor the opening hours of bars, check noise pollution and enforce building regulations. If someone breaks one of these laws, the police issue a ‘multa’ or fine.

Obviously the larger the town the greater the responsibility but in a town the size of Tarifa with a population of 15,000, the day-to-day activities are fairly routine. Pedro begins each day by reading the reports from the previous day. The first thing he must check are the denuncias.

In Spain, when somebody has a problem with a person or situation, they go to the police station and make a denuncia. This is a police report and it’s official documentation that records the person’s complaint.

For example if your wallet is stolen, you go to the police and make a denunica. Likewise if you are attacked on the street, you also make a denuncia. If the police catch your attacker, that denuncia will be used in court to press charges.

As well as keeping on top of the denuncias, Pedro also plans the day and delegates responsibilities to his police force. There are fifty-seven policemen in the Tarifa police station.

The summer months are the toughest time of the year for Tarifa police as the local population swells from 15,000 to up to 60,000 with the arrival of the tourist season. Pedro admits that in the summer time, with such a small police force, it’s impossible to control everything.

But for Pedro that’s not the toughest part of the job. Not only is he in charge of the force but also the town people who are his family, neighbours and friends. When one of them breaks the law, it’s his job to reprimand and issue the relevant fines. He says it’s much easier to do this to a stranger. When it’s a neighbour, they can take it personally.

He much prefers to be able to help people out and sees himself as a facilitator in this regard. His most satisfying days are the ones he gets to prevent someone from getting in trouble. He says, si todo va bien, no es necessario, meaning if everyone follows the law, there’s no need for him to get tough. And that’s the way he likes it.