Society 23/10/2021

Police authority questioned after covid

Offences of resisting and disobeying officers double with more violent scenes

4 min
Agents of the Guardia Urbana of Barcelona in an intervention this summer to evict the Fiestas de Gràcia.

BarcelonaA group confronts the security guards at a club in Mataró because the club is full and they can't get in. When a Mossos d'Esquadra patrol car arrives, the vehicle is pelted with bottles and blows that end up with broken glass, which is why the officers have to call for reinforcements. It is a scene from a fortnight ago, but the police say it is constant. Last year, with the more restrictive measures imposed by covid - such as total lockdown - crimes of resistance and disobedience to police officers skyrocketed. Although the same record has not been achieved in recent months - nor have such strict restrictions been repeated - violence directed at the police has continued. According to data from the Mossos and local police, crimes against officers have doubled compared to before the pandemic.

The Mossos recognise a loss of authority towards them and colleagues from other bodies. One commander even explains that in the incidents of the last few weeks they have seen an attempt to loot an ambulance belonging to the SEM, as they have already tried to do with police vehicles. Among the Mossos, they recall that a fortnight ago a group tried to take the weapon of a patrol officer who was intervening in a fight in Barcelona's Barri Gòtic. Why is there this confrontation with the police? "There is a tension, not only among young people but in general, because of the covid crisis, which we are beginning to emerge from", says the president of the College of Criminologists of Catalonia, Daniel Limones. According to him, since the pandemic, police action has been interpreted as a symbol of "the party is over, you have to wear a mask or, when the measures were in place, you can't be on the street".

"Perhaps the trust in and legitimacy of the police, who had to filter the health restrictions, has weakened", says Limones. The spokesman for the Fepol union, Toni Castejón, says that, after lockdown, they noticed "an extreme violence in fights and robberies". Castejón believes that there are people who perceive that "they have absolute impunity towards the police: they do not see that it is a crime", which is why he believes that "authority has been lost". Limones adds that this lack of respect is also repeated outside of Catalonia. "It is a reality that happens everywhere. There are 99% who do not participate, but with normality conflicts arise", he says.

The state data collected by the Ministry of Home Affairs reflect the same trend. Last year the crimes of resistance and disobedience towards agents reached a maximum, in spite of the fact that in the last months - already without the most restrictive measures of the pandemic - they have not been far away from the record. In Catalonia, since January and until August this year there have been 1,010 crimes of resistance and disobedience according to the Penal Code - which usually involve detention -, twice as many as before the pandemic. In 2018 and 2019 there had only been about 550 such offences in the same period, but in 2020 they soared to 1,501. Between January and August this year there have also been 4,459 penalties put in place under the gag law - which are fines - for resisting and disobeying the police. In 2018 and 2019 there had been less than 1,300, so this year they have increased almost fourfold. In 2020, at the height of the pandemic alarm, there were 16,275.

Security "at risk"

The spokesman for the Sicpol union - of Catalan local police commanders - Valentín Anadón, considers that the problem is "serious" not only for "the credibility" of the bodies and agents, but for "endangering" public safety. According to Anadón, the police "have to work with the maximum neutrality" despite the fact that for years they have seen "a constant attempt of partisan instrumentalisation". He believes that this has "eroded legitimacy and the principle of authority, which is basic and essential". Albert Palacio, spokesman for the Uspac union of the Mossos, agrees with him and considers that "the blame for the hatred" towards the police "is political and that of the commanders". Palacio attributes part of the problem to the evictions, because he considers that "many parties have used it to attack the police when they do nothing more than comply with a court order".

In fact, the Mossos and local police unions have called for a demonstration for this Saturday afternoon, which will go from the Parliament to Plaça Sant Jaume, to complain about "the current crisis situation" of public safety, to "flee from the political instrumentalisation" and because they miss more support from the parties of the Government against the attacks that agents receive.

The image of the police

UAB professor and expert in social movements Jordi Mir points out that this perception of loss of authority can be explained by the police's management of the mobilisations in recent years. Mir also believes that the Mossos have been charged with responsibility for conflicts "that go beyond the police sphere". According to the professor, "the police forces have a problem when they are usually used to deconvene and throw people out, because the resources they end up using involve physical confrontation". That is why Mir is committed to understanding security "in a broader way that does not incorporate and lead only to police action".

The president of the College of Criminologists admits that it is customary to talk about the police when riot police intervene. "This is a small part of the police", says Limones, who concludes that this perception needs to be "broken" and that more accountability is needed, "not only to politicians but also to the public".