It seemed at the time that reform of the police system after the death of Franco in 1975 was agonizingly slow. It had to be transformed from the repressive instrument of an authoritarian regime into a system that would protect the constitutional rights, freedoms and safety of citizens. Yet with hindsight the difficult task of changing the ethos of a complex set of large organizations was with some exceptions accomplished by 1986, the year of the completion of the new legal framework through the Organic Law of the Security Corps and Forces. Spain's oldest national police force is the Guardia Civil, the Civil Guard, created in 1844 to protect landed property, and essentially a military force. As Spain became more urbanized newer forces emerged, some local, others national and divided into quite separate plain-clothes and uniformed branches, the latter concerned essentially with public order and officered by the military. When in 1941 Franco reshaped the police forces to suit his regime, he was following tradition in formaliz-ing a tripartite system of Civil Guard as rural police, Armed and Traffic Police as a uniformed urban public order force (both under total military control), and the General Police Corps as plain-clothes investigative police, with an essentially political function and popularly known as the secret police.
   Until 1975 police and regime were as one and the security forces became the decisive element in the thirty-six year survival of the regime. During the early years after the Civil War the more than 100,000 executions and the imprisonment of perhaps 300,000 suggest clearly the major role of the police forces. Throughout, strikes remained illegal, censorship was strict, party political activity was banned and meetings were carefully controlled. Political control overshadowed more run-of-the-mill police duties, but defenders of the system pointed to the—by European standards— low crime rates. Franco's death in 1975 left two policing problems whose resolution was not always easy to reconcile: reform and the ending of violence in the Basque country. Franco's security forces had acted as an alien army of occupation and the intractable nature of the situation in Euskadi was his legacy to democratic Spain. The violence of ETA continued, backed by massive demonstrations, and the government discovered that its security forces, with their harsh methods of maintaining order and their frequent use of torture, were counterproductive. The years 1978 and 1979 saw a series of measures to deal with these problems: on 4 December 1978 an interim Police Law was passed, ahead of the constitution of 29 December (see also constitution of 1978). In the New Year General Sáenz de Santa María was placed in charge of reforming the hated Armed Police, the "grises" ("greys"), now in new khaki (later blue) uniforms and renamed the National Police. In December 1979 the Basque Autonomy Statute appeared, giving devolution to the Basque provinces, including potential devolution of aspects of policing. This twin-track policy of devolution and reform did not, however, produce immediate results: in 1978–80 235 deaths were caused by ETA, about three-fifths of them members of the security forces. The survival of the whole democratic process was at stake, dramatized by the Tejerazo of 23 February 1981 when a senior officer of a force legally bound to uphold constitutional order was seen trying to overthrow that order because of a supposed government softness towards the Basque problem. While the attempted coup bolstered determination to consolidate democracy, ETA's continuing violence slowed the completion of reform: the Civil Guard was felt to be needed as a counter-terrorist force, and some of the murkier areas of police activity could survive (and haunt Felipe González in the 1990s). Nevertheless, 1986 saw the completion of the legal framework for the police system. Spain now has two national police forces, the Civil Guard, and, by combining the plain-clothes and uniformed urban forces, the Cuerpo National de Policía (National Police Corps). There is also a multiplicity of municipal police forces, now much better trained and equipped, who do much of the day-to-day public urban police work. But between the national and municipal forces there have emerged the so-called autonomous police forces, the forces of the autonomous communities into which Spain has divided itself, a development foreshadowed in the 1978 constitution and first embodied in the Basque Statute of 1979.
   The National Police Corps, responsible to the Ministry of the Interior, deals with municipalities of over 20,000 people, with identity cards, immigration matters, gambling, drugs and private security forces. The Civil Guard, responsible to the Ministries of the Interior and Defence, deals with smaller municipalities, customs, main roads, coasts, frontiers, ports and airports. There is scope for overlap, and careful liaison is needed to make the system work. It is complicated further by the autonomous police, though few regions have substantial forces. The major and most interesting case is that of the Basque police, where continuous development has led to a new force, the Ertzaintza, built afresh on democratic and community principles. It now controls most policing functions in Euskadi, only "extra- or supra-communitary functions" being excluded. As before, potential for conflict over definitions remains. While Spain has made huge strides towards improving efficiency and eliminating militarism, it remains to be seen whether the possibilities for confusion that history and compromise have created will be overcome.
   See also: armed forces; GAL; golpismo; terrorism
   Further reading
   - Greer, S. (1995) "De-centralised Policing in Spain: The Case of the Autonomous Basque Police", Policing and Society, 5: 15–36 (an excellent account of a remarkable experiment in policing).
   - Hooper, J. (1987) The Spaniards: A Portrait of the New Spain, Harmondsworth: Penguin (chapter 10 includes a very readable and thorough account of the police system).
   - Macdonald, I.R. (1985) "The Police System of Spain", in J.Roach and J.Thomaneck (eds) Police and Public Order in Europe, Beckenham: Croom Helm (the most comprehensive account available in English).
   —— (1987) "Spain's 1986 Police Law: Transition from Dictatorship to Democracy", Police Studies, 10, 1: 16–21 (updates the previous item).
   - Morales Villanueva, A. (1988) Administración policial española, Madrid: San Martín (a full account of the structures of the police system).

Encyclopedia of contemporary Spanish culture. 2013.

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