Police shortages can arise for a variety of reasons. | Archives


Here’s a little story about little Muro. It comes from seven years ago. Police unions were warning at the start of June that year that 24-hour police coverage during the summer would be impossible. There weren’t enough police officers for all the shifts in July and August. A force of 32 officers in 2005 had dwindled to a mere twelve.

Muro is little in terms of its resident population, but Muro is big when it comes to its tourist population. Fortunately, Playa de Muro has never been known to be troublesome. The holidaymakers are nice. They don’t cause problems. No, but others can do. Playa de Muro has a high number of holiday lets (legal ones) and second homes. They are attractive to both the right sort of people and the wrong.

I mention this story as an example of what typically is reported in the lead-up to the season or even once it has started. The laments regarding the lack of police are constant, whether one is talking about local police forces or the state security forces - the Guardia Civil and the National Police.

Shortages can arise for a variety of reasons. Most, if not all forces don’t have the full complements they should have, and then there are factors like holidays. Yes, even police officers are entitled to holidays. As a police union representative observed a couple of years ago apropos the National Police, if 300 extra officers were to arrive from the mainland, there could be 300 others off on vacation. You’re back to square one.

The unions have pointed out that policing needs, be these for winter or summer, have changed markedly over the years. One example concerns the small boats. There never used to be any. Nowadays, they can arrive in waves, and when they do, they demand state security force attention. A Guardia Civil source explained last summer that officers who may have been assigned to, for example, security at major fiestas, are diverted to other duties. It is the Guardia who are at the frontline when the boats and the migrants arrive. The National Police then get involved because it is they who are responsible for the processing of illegal immigrants.

While the security needs have been changing, there are of course that many more people. With tourist numbers ever increasing, so also does the risk of crime. David Pola of the Spanish Police Confederation observed last month that the Balearics have the highest rate of crime in Spain. Tourism is one reason why, not because of offences by tourists but because of those committed against them. But yes, tourists do offend, even if offences are primarily of a minor category - anti-social behaviour in particular.

Pola said that there is “little commitment” from the Spanish government to ensure that there are sufficient state security police in the Balearics. His confederation calculates that there is 84% coverage, which is below the national average. And he touched on something that happens every year. The summer plan of police reinforcement - officers coming from the mainland - is always sold “as a success”, when the reality is somewhat different.

The problems with accommodation for police and with cost-of-living allowances are absolutely nothing new, but then nor is one solution - housing officers in hotels. It has been done in the past, the surprise now being that hoteliers in Playa de Palma are presenting it as something new, just as hoteliers are also implying that housing their own employees in rooms is new.

Playa de Palma, always Playa de Palma, is a world away from Playa de Muro in its security needs, and hoteliers have offered to accommodate officers for the summer. But the hoteliers appear to doubt that this will make a huge difference, and this is because they are sceptical about measures that Palma town hall is proposing. Yes, on the face of it the new ordinance due to be introduced will be tougher, but will it be enforced effectively?

Having enough police is one thing, another is being able to make fines for anti-social behaviour stick - anything up to 3,000 euros. The president of the hoteliers association, Pedro Marín, wonders if it will be legally possible to fine tourists who often don’t have documentation on them. The town hall is supposedly adopting an ‘Amsterdam model’ of tough sanctions, but the CEO of the Palma Beach association, Juanmi Ferrer, insists that fines must be paid on the spot. Will this be a stipulation?

Where added scepticism is bound to come in arises from the fact that we’ve heard the claims of zero tolerance in the past. Previous mayors of Palma have come out with this stuff and they’ve also highlighted all the police reinforcements. Maybe this time it will be different. Scaring the bejesus out of tourists with the threat of a 3,000 euro fine could well work. If it does, then good. But then there is the other police work. The true criminality. And this most certainly isn’t just a Playa de Palma matter.