Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska in the background during the swearing-in ceremony for the new police officers held at Ávila’s National Police Academy on May 20. RAUL SANCHIDRIAN (EFE)
Raúl realized his dream of becoming a national police officer on May 20th. Satisfaction that day, when he was sworn in at a ceremony presided over by Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska, was not complete, however, as he already knew his first destination was what he least wanted: Catalonia. “I accepted it because I was one of the last to decide because of the slip of paper, but it annoyed me. I wanted to go to Madrid,” says Raúl, a fictional name like that of the other agents interviewed in this report. The 22-year-old police officer admits his rejection is the result of fear of encountering “a hostile environment”. For this reason, it is clear to him that after the two years that he will inevitably have to spend in this destination, he will request the transfer. To which? “Someone else, anyone,” he says.
He is one of the 2,523 senior police officers to graduate from the Ávila Police Academy. Of these, 750 were allocated to Catalonia. Most are the ones with the lowest grades and were therefore the last to choose their destination. Of the 624 agents with the lowest qualifications, 610 will inevitably go to this municipality and the remaining 14 to Ibiza, another location not in high demand in this case due to the high cost of housing. On the contrary, of the half a thousand students who got the best grades – and who therefore chose one destination as a priority – only eight applied for Catalonia. You have to go to Post 104 to find the first one. He asked to go to Tarragona.
The situation dates back a long way, but worsened after the outbreak of the Procés in 2017. Since then, the interior has had to send a significant part of the police officers from the new promotions to Catalonia. It is in fact the second municipality to receive the most, only behind Madrid, which will be joined this year by 1,453. However, the reasons for these high numbers in the two municipalities are very different.
In Madrid, the workforce, with almost 15,000 agents, is the largest in Spain because, in addition to the territorial deployment necessary to ensure the security of citizens in the cities, it concentrates the central services of the body, which is why reinforcements are always needed. On the contrary, in Catalonia, where the Mossos d’Esquadra are a comprehensive police force and therefore the functions of the National Police are reduced, the official workforce is 3,650 agents, a fifth. In this case, new officers are also dispatched to replace the many police officers who ask for and receive their transfer to other places every year.
María studied engineering and got two masters degrees, but in the end a relative who was a police officer convinced her to follow in his footsteps. This thirty-something is also going to Catalonia. “I knew there was such a possibility, but when I found out about it, I was shocked,” he says. On June 20th he has to appear at the Supreme Headquarters in Barcelona. “During training, the veterans warned me to avoid Catalonia and, if I didn’t succeed, to request a transfer as soon as possible,” he adds. Despite these tips, he does not rule out staying. “It depends on whether I like the job I get,” he says. However, he admits that these comments influenced him and that he will take precautions to avoid the problems these colleagues predicted for him: “I will avoid saying what I do for a living.”
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Police unions denounce that the political tensions created by the Procés, which culminated in the illegal referendum of October 1, 2017 and subsequent events, and the serious confrontations following the verdict against the sovereign leaders in 2019, are one of the causes for the low anchoring of the police stationed there.
Riot police outside the headquarters of the Supreme Police in Via Laietana in Barcelona, during the events surrounding the Procés judgment in 2019. Massimiliano Minocri
Carlos Morales, spokesman for the Unified Police Union (SUP), speaks of “maximum hostility and social suffocation” despite the improvement in the political situation, assuring that the agents “are, in open complicity, victims of daily harassment from the most radical sectors of some Catalan institutions”. Pablo Pérez of the Police Justice (Jupol, the majority union) emphasizes this idea: “It’s not only at the professional level, but also at the family level.”
However, this is not the only reason for the spy flight from Catalonia. The unions admit that one thing comes from afar: high living costs that are not offset by the territoriality premium they receive. The police officers working in the city of Barcelona earn a bonus of 58 euros per month (44 in the rest of Catalonia). This amount is much lower than what a realtor asks for the same concept in Madrid (194 euros in the capital and 188 in the rest of the municipality), in the Canary Islands (154), in the Balearic Islands (153) or in the Basque Country and Navarre (716 euros).
Unions have been demanding for years that Catalonia, like these last two municipalities, be declared a Special Zone of Singularity (ZES) in order to increase the size of this supplement. SUP’s Morales believes this “would make this destination more attractive”. Pérez von Jupol also advocates “more vacation days”.
Despite his regrets, Antonio was assigned to Catalonia when he was sworn in as a police officer in 2007. Now, 14 years later, he still has a few days to “finally” change his job. “I’ve wanted to leave since I arrived, but I decided to wait until I had a safe place in Galicia, where my family is from,” he adds. He lives in the El Maresme region of Barcelona, an area he defines as “not as conflict-ridden” for the police as others, and assures he’s lived “comfortably” due to the proximity to the sea and the good weather. Antonio assures that even in the worst moments of the Procés he didn’t have problems with his social circle, but when asked if he would ask for a return to Catalonia, he replies. “I’m not closing this door, but I’m having a hard time.”
Unions also criticize the lack of an attractive police career in Catalonia, as the Mossos’ powers have reduced the functions of the National Police. Originally from Asturias, David has lived in Barcelona since 2006, where he applied for a post after having one of the best grades in his class. The reason: his partner came from there. He assures that he has no intention of applying for the transfer. However, he believes that the situation of him and his colleagues could be improved and he regrets that they have lost their citizen security functions, which he believes prevents the normalization of the presence of the National Police in uniform on the Catalan streets on day a day. “It seems that when we do a lot of investigative work into crime, we only devote ourselves to suppressing demonstrations,” he says. Despite what other veterans say, he is convinced that “going to Catalonia is not a punishment. I’ll let the newcomers know when they arrive.”
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