What's going on in the Mossos?

3 min
What happens to the Mossos?

Never before has a change in the command of the Catalan police force, known as the Mossos d'Esquadra, been surrounded by so much controversy. The dismissal of Chief Constable Josep Lluís Trapero, the highest ranked office in the force, has been surrounded by accusations of a political purge that the Catalan government denies and the opposition wants to be investigated by a parliamentary commission. The consequences of this huge shift are not over.

Catalan minister of Home Affairs Joan Ignasi Elena is right when he recalls his obvious capacity to relieve officers and decide on the security agenda, but arguing the move aims to favour collective decision making and feminisation of the command chain are not consistent in an obligatorily hierarchical body which has two men at the top of the new structure.

The current dilemma is the one that affects all democratic police forces in the world: how to coordinate public security policies that depend on elected politicians and at the same time guarantee police independence and technical excellence? The Mossos cannot be isolated from the society's representatives nor, obviously, a political police force. Democratic health depends on the capacity of collaboration between the political and the police sphere, and on the mechanisms to protect police work, especially to maintain investigations of corruption in dependent. The circulation of internal information is very delicate and the Mossos have seen how political leaks have ended up with a judge forcing them to withdraw from an investigation (the Laura Borràs case) and providing them with a judicial commission to protect police work from interference, as in the investigation of what has been called a "dirty money processing node linked to political and business corruption" that could have broad political connections.

Both spheres must remain so if there is to be a professional management of the police, but many operations are authorised by the chief constable and the minister, who must juggle the technical needs of the corps and political decisions. In the case of the Catalan police, many still remember when the tension between minister Buch and president Torra boiled over, with Buch asking Torra "Why don't you do it?" in a coordination meeting during police charges.

What is the current situation?

The current Catalan minister of Home Affairs kept Pere Ferrer as director general of the police when he took over. Ferrer had been the Minister of Home Affairs' Chief of Staff since 2015, and obtained his current position under Buch in 2019. Ferrer has held top positions in the department under top five ministers (Jané, Forn, Buch, Sàmper and now Elena) and has seen five changes at the head of the Mossos d'Esquadra (Trapero, Ferran López, Eduard Sallent, Trapero again and now Josep Maria Estela).

Elena and Ferrer dispensed with Josep Lluís Trapero's services, appointed Josep Maria Estela as the new chief commissioner and recovered Eduard Sallent as his number two.

Trapero's story is well known: he coordinated the response to the terror attacks in 2017, sought containment on the day of the referendum, made a statement in Spain's High Court admitting that he would have arrested the Catalan government if the courts had asked him to do so and was finally acquitted. Trapero had built in recent months a wall separating strictly technical decisions and political wills. A friend of his calls him a "buffalo".

His replacement could not have been worse. The new Chief Constable arrived at the Plaça Espanya police station last Tuesday at 9 a.m., where no one was expecting him, and with an uncertain professional future.

Pressure on Sàmper

The Chief Constable had been reinstated by former Catalan Home Affairs minister Miquel Sàmper (JxCat), who claims that during his long career as a lawyer he "never felt as pressured" as he did when he became a minister. And he concludes: "The belligerence and vehemence with which [the pressure] was made determined me to go my own way". It was Sàmper who reinstated Trapero. Coinciding with that stage are the recorded conversations related to the Volhov case, in which David Madí tells Brauli Duart, then secretary general of Home Affairs: "[Sàmper] better not take any decision without talking to me or he will last less than a piece of candy in a school". Two days later, Sàmper dismissed Duart and reinstated Trapero, who had been suspended when direct rule from Madrid was imposed.

Now, minister Elena has relieved a totem with internal professional recognition and a reputation for toughness. The new Chief Constable is Josep Maria Estela, a police officer who has worked from the ground up and has been working in the force for 27 years. In the interview we publish today he explains generically his orientations and admits that the internal crisis does not help management.

Estela plans to recover some policies set aside with Sallent's departure and affirms that the Mossos top brass knows what bits "it should keep its nose out of" and that it should not gamble "its living" with improper interventions. The new head of the Mossos will have avoid controversy hindering him from managing one of the country's main institutions democratically and professionally. It is not easy.