I get many emails about mini-crimewaves in various parts of south Tenerife, often making reference to issues like Arona and Adeje being able to “sort out their scooter problem so why not robberies mainly on holiday makers?” I’m also often asked why “the councils don’t work with the police to try to deal with the problem”, or why “there are never any police on the streets”. Let me try to explain.
The police are well aware of these problems, and every year there are waves of crime, e.g. in the summer when tourists are targeted, or the winter when the elderly tend to be the victims. Often there are different culprits, some of whom fly in specifically to prey on their targets. The National Police and Guardia Civil frequently round up those who cause the worst problems, though the general trend for increased theft is partly the result of real poverty in Spain generally because of the high unemployment rate – that’s not to justify it, but it is to try to explain it.
Those concerned by these crimewaves need to consider a two-pronged approach. First, people must report crimes – police are often exasperated at complaints that they have done nothing about a crime that was “reported” only on the victim’s Facebook group (see HERE) – and they must do so to the correct police force! It might seem surprising, but many don’t report crime at all, thinking that it’s a waste of time because “they” never answer or come out, or can’t or won’t be bothered to solve a crime “where a foreigner’s the victim”. Partly, people think this because they have heard stories of failed attempts to involve the police, and these are normally the result of the public not knowing which police to call, and perhaps calling the wrong ones who aren’t able to respond. Sadly, too, inability to speak Spanish is at the root of the problem in communication in many cases. People also seem to think that as a “local crime” they should call the Local Police, but that is not the right agency. The police who deal with “crimes” are the National Police or the Guardia Civil, who are called on 091 or 062 respectively. And of course, in any emergency, just call 112 (equivalent to the UK’s 999), or the AlertCops app HERE.
Just to digress briefly, people often say to me that there’s no point in reporting “minor” thefts because the police “won’t do anything if it’s under €400”. It is usually said with an air of contempt for the police which implies they’re simply lazy, or even racist. This is a complete misunderstanding, however, because as in the UK, crimes are treated as serious or minor in order to save and prioritise police time. If they did not do this police would be required to investigate thefts of as little as €1. The line must be drawn somewhere and in respect of cash thefts, it has been drawn at €400. This is not, however, a line drawn for investigative purposes, but judicial ones. Police still record the crime and investigate, but under that amount the courts won’t be involved, so offenders are cautioned instead of being prosecuted. So although people might disagree with where the line is drawn, I would think that most people would prefer police time to be devoted to investigating and prosecuting serious crimes, rather than genuinely petty ones, but it is still important to report these minor crimes for statistical – and so funding – reasons.
When it comes to police on the street in local patrols, however, that is a council issue, and results from municipal funding priorities. And here, certainly, public lobbying helps. There was a situation a couple of years ago, for example, in Palm Mar, where repeated and significant group pressure on Arona Ayuntamiento resulted in increased patrols and a drop in crime. This second of the two-pronged approach involves achieving increased police visibility in a given area, and in this respect, the Local Police are the ones who will provide that local presence. They will be able to apprehend in cases of crimes in process, though even then it would be the National Police or Guardia Civil who would process the case.
So, to get more Local Police on the streets, residents need to get together and lobby their local Ayuntamientos, who are the employers, municipality by municipality, of the Policias Locales. This takes coordination, time and effort, but as various areas have found, the approach of combined and persistent pressure works. An initial step could be for presidents of communities to hold a general area meeting with some administrators of complexes, and then perhaps a subsequent meeting with council representatives invited to attend as guests.
Ultimately, there will be crime. Policing everywhere is governed by funding, and funding is allocated on a numbers basis: if the police don’t know about a crime they can’t do anything, and to those employing them, it won’t seem that they are even needed. We are a holiday destination where tourists’ frequent comings and goings facilitate criminals arriving and disappearing with ease, and it is to the great credit of the police (all of them) that there are so many arrests, and so little crime overall. We as the public, however, need to play our part too, and that involves lobbying for our areas instead of hoping the councils will just take care of such matters, and ensuring we’re informed about the various police forces, their areas of responsibility, and how we should deal with them.
Before moving on to dealing with the police themselves, and the Court systems here, the UK’s Foreign Office has issued advice for British nationals who are victims of sexual assault or rape. The document is HERE, and it provides advice for British nationals affected by rape or sexual assault in Spain. The document covers reporting the crime to the police, accessing medical treatment and engaging with the legal authorities here.
DEALING WITH THE POLICE AND COURTS:
The legal system in Tenerife often mystifies people, with various police forces, the word denuncia used frequently with an aura of fear and mystery, and the Courts ….. well, we all know they take forever to deal with cases, don’t we, but how many Courts are there? Come to that, how many police forces are there?! Hopefully this page will give some clarity and perspective, and straightforward information, and hopefully too, no-one who reads it will ever need to make use of the information in it!
To start at the beginning, let’s assume you need to report a crime. It’s important to know that this is a legal obligation if you see a crime being carried out unless you are family member of the person committing it, but of course, you might actually be the victim yourself. You can report a crime in one of three ways: a denuncia or a querella, or by collaborating anonymously with the Police.
- Denuncias are straightforward to issue and do not require a lawyer to be involved. A denuncia can even be made against a “person unknown”, so not knowing the offender is not a problem. Anyone can make a denuncia, not just a victim, but the details of whoever makes the report will appear on the denuncia itself so the subject of the complaint will see who is responsible.
- There are various types of denuncia so it will depend on the type that needs to be made. For crimes, for example, it would obviously be the police, but denuncias can also be made to the consumer authorities for commercial complaints, or direct to the Courts for private matters. Anyone making a false denuncia can be prosecuted themselves.
- Denuncias to the police can be made by phone to 902 102 112 (Madrid) in many (though not all) cases, and can be made in English if you prefer; you will be given a reference number to take to the police station.Telephone denuncias can be made for theft and burglary cases, but if the perpetrator is known, victims should go direct to a police station to make the complaint. Crimes requesting an urgent police response (other than an emergency, for which ring 112) or those involving crimes against persons should be reported at a police station.Where a telephone denuncia has been made, victims have 48 hours to ratify the report and sign it as correct at the police station or their choice. Please see HERE for more information in English.
- As noted above, denuncias cannot be made anonymously. Anyone who wants to report a crime without revealing their identity, however, can “collaborate” with the police instead of making a denuncia. It must concern a serious crime – so drug dealing, sexual abuse, internet crimes, etc, rather than community quarrels, for example. The National Police have THIS page which further breaks down the categories within which one can seek help, report crimes, etc. Police say that collaborators’ confidentiality is completely guaranteed.
- A querella must be completed by a lawyer and made in front of a judge, and is, essentially, the initiation of a criminal investigation. Querellas can only be lodged by the victim him/herself if a foreigner in Spain, though Spanish nationals can do so even if not personally involved. The judge who takes the querella will give an preliminary judgement about whether criminal procedures should be initiated or not, and if the querellante (the person who makes the querella) is refused at this point, s/he can appeal the decision.
When it comes to the police, there are four forces in the Canaries: the Guardia Civil, National Police, Canarian Police, and Local Police.
- The Guardia Civil was originally a military police force under the dictatorship. Officers wear green uniforms and have wide-ranging policing duties including customs, ports and airports, illegal immigration, terrorism, environmental protection, drugs, arms and explosives, and they are the main police force too in small rural areas. Mostly we come across them as traffic police, because Trafico is a Guardia Civil department. If you need to contact them, you can phone 062.
- The Policía Nacional deal with national issues, including terrorism and immigration, which is why it is they who issue NIEs and Certificados de Registro, but their primary responsibility is for criminal matters. They are, therefore, the police to call if you have seen or been a victim of a crime. Officers wear wear dark blue uniforms and if you need to contact them, you can phone 091.
- The Policía Local are provided by local Ayuntamientos in larger towns. They police traffic congestion and illegal parking, civil disturbances, and bylaws, so for example it will be they who deal with touts on pavements or potentially dangerous dogs without leads or muzzles, or pavement obstacles. Officers wear light blue uniforms and their phone numbers vary municipality to municipality.
- The Policía Canaria is a force formed in 2010 amid much muttering about it being a political action by then president Paulino Rivero rather than a necessary police force. At times, it is hard to know what exactly their responsibilities are, but they are described as being responsible for guarding and protecting people and property in the Canaries, and ensuring compliance with Canarian regulations and orders. In practice, they seem mainly to be a regional form of the municipal Policía Local, providing information, catching loose animals, and offering crime prevention advice, and they are the force most used in policing tourism legislation, particularly illegal letting investigations. Officers have grey and pink uniforms.
In addition to the police, Protección Civil is a volunteer “force” co-ordinated by Ayuntamientos, Cabildos and the Canarian Government and staffed by volunteers. It is often used to assist the police in controlling large public events like concerts, or in emergency situations like fires or floods.
Some matters cannot be restricted to the police, of course, and require legal assistance and maybe legal action. There are various levels of Courts in Tenerife and Spain, and various types of legal professionals involved in it. Below is a list of the more prominent. Do bear in mind that if you should ever find yourself in this situation, there is the possibility that you will be entitled to legal aid: your circumstances will be assessed under the terms of the Legal Aid Law HERE. Anyone can apply for Legal aid, whether resident or not, and if you cannot demonstrate your financial circumstances, you can self-declare: if you are later found not to be entitled, you will have to repay any costs incurred.
- Abogado (lawyer) – equivalent to a solicitor but who can also appear in court like a barrister
- Procurador – required as an intermediary – similar to a Clerk – in court in some cases in addition to an abogado
- Notario – a legally-qualified independent public officer who officially registers and records public documents
- Fiscal – public prosecutor
- Constitutional Court – judges cases concerned with laws that in conflict with the Spanish Constitution. Anyone can have a final appeal to the Constitutional Court when they feel their civil rights have been violated.
- Supreme Court (Tribunal Supremo) – highest Court in Spain with five separate chambers for civil, criminal, social, military and administrative cases. It hears appeals of sentences from the National or Regional High Courts.
- National Court (Audiencia Nacional) – has chambers for criminal and administrative cases, and one for and cases concerning minors.The National Court also has two specialist chambers: the Central Examining Court (Juzgados Centrales de Instrucción) which investigates cases for trial in the National Court or the other specialist chamber, the Central Criminal Court (Juzgados Centrales de lo Penal), which tries crimes with sentences of under 5 years imprisonment.
- Regional High Courts (Tribunal Superior de Justicia de las Comunidades Autónomas – usually abbreviated to TSJC) – these are the highest Courts in the autonomous regions of Spain, including the Canaries, and have chambers for civil, criminal, administrative and labour cases.
- Provincial Court (Audiencia Provincial) – hears civil and criminal cases in Tenerife for the western Canary islands, and in Gran Canaria for the eastern province.
- Criminal Court (Juzgados de lo Penal) – hears cases which have already been investigated by the Court of the First Instance with sentences of under 5 years imprisonment.
- Court of the First Instance (Juzgados de Primera Instancia) – hears civil cases.
- Examining Courts (Juzgados de Instrucción) – hears misdemeanours, and investigates and prepares cases for the Provincial and Criminal Courts.
- Justice of the Peace (Juzgados de Paz) – minor civil cases where there are no Courts of the First Instance or Examining Courts.
To end, I would just like to clarify something about police procedures concerning deaths. From the comments I receive, it very clearly sometimes appears to onlookers as though bodies are “just left on the beach for a couple of hours”, and I’m occasionally asked “couldn’t they show some respect and put them somewhere while they decide what to do”. Just to be clear: there is no confusion about what to do, nor is there any disrespect. Bodies must always remain in place under police cordon until the Courts approve their removal by forensic teams and transfer to judicial police, usually for autopsy, but always for legal procedures and formalities to be completed.