175. Anniversary of the Guardia Civil

It´s one of the police forces with the longest tradition in Europe – the spanish Guardia Civil. This 13th of may the Guardia Civil celebrates their 175. Anniversary since establishment in 1844. Antonio José Leal Bernabéu, commander of the largest Spanish headquarters of the Guardia Civil based in Torrevieja, presents in an exclusive interview this elite force with military character.

Michael Allhoff

Commander Antonio José Leal Bernabéu, could you briefly outline your career within the Guardia Civil?

Antonio José Leal Bernabéu: I joined the Academy in 2001, was promoted to lieutenant in 2006 and started my first assignment in Cáceres. Later I was assigned to an operational investigation unit in Barcelona and after my promotion to Captain, I was appointed Chief of the Tarragona Criminal Police. When I was promoted to Commander, I was Commissioner in the UNIFIL mission in Lebanon and later came to Torrevieja as Commander of the Guardia Civil, which I have been leading for two years.

I have completed several specialisation courses, including criminal police courses, information, investigation methodology, force planning, prospective intelligence in the field of organised crime with specialisation in drug trafficking investigation, coordination of measures against terrorism and organised crime, and tactical combat against accident assistance. I don’t have much time for hobbies, but when, I do sports and expand my knowledge through law studies.

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Commander Antonio José Leal Bernabéu is leading  the headquarter of the Guardia Civil in Torrevieja,  the largest company of the Guardia Civil in Spain. Photo: Michael Allhoff
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Commander Antonio José Leal Bernabéu in interview with reporter Michael Allhoff.

To celebrate the 175th anniversary of the foundation, the Guardia Civil organised Open Days throughout Spain.

We work for the safety of citizens. It is important for us to be perceived as close to our citizens, as friends, helpers and protectors. During our Open Days, visitors can get to know our work better.


What is to be seen for the public?

There is the Road Safety Unit, called „Tráfico“, known for its work on fines, but even more because they save lives in their daily work. We present the dog squadrons of the Servicio Cinecológico, a unit with police dogs specially trained to locate missing persons, drugs or bombs. There are also officers of the TEDAX (Técnicos Especialistas en Desactivación de Artefactos Explosivos) and they show their robot for bomb dismantling. What else? There are demonstrations of the patrol for border guards and taxes. There are divers from GEAS, the Grupo Especial Actividades Subacuáticas. We offer an exhibition and a documentary about our coast guard, the SEMAR (Spanish: Grupo Servicio Marítimo).

The Guardia Civil is one of the most traditional police units in Europe…

Yes, that is true. The Guardia Civil was first established by royal decree on 28 March 1844. Francisco Javier Girón y Ezpeleta, II Duque de Ahumada was in charge of the foundation of the unit. After a series of changes in development, the 13th of May is considered the actual founding date when the Royal Decree establishing the Civil Guard was adopted.

How is the Guardia Civil characterized?

It is an institution, a police unit of military character, similar to the Italian Carabinieri or the French Gendarmerie. The advantage of this police unit is that it can be used in any imaginable scenario, whether in armed conflicts, war situations, crises or peacetime, in urban or rural context. The Guardia Civil is suitable for use in large cities such as Torrevieja or in villages such as Jacarilla. The great advantage of the unit is its proximity to the citizens and a special ethos founded by the Duque de Ahumada, which is still alive today.

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Special forces commando “Grupo de Reserva y Seguridad” of the Guardia Civil in mission  with helicopter. Photo: Guardia Civil
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In air, on the gournd and on the sea: The spanish Guardia Civil is operating in all imaginable sceneries to protect the european border in the mediterranean. Photo: Guardia Civil
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The police unit SEPRONA of the Guardia Civil is the first environmental protection police unit in the world. Photo: Guardia Civil

The challenge for us is always to protect the citizen. For 175 years, the Civil Guard has been the citizen’s shield against crime and the guarantor of compliance with the law. This information is important. These are the two challenges where we remain at the forefront of public security, both to protect citizens from crime and to ensure respect for the rule of law. Ultimately, the law is the ultimate expression of democracy.

What is this particular ethos of the Guardia Civil?

This is my father’s Cartilla. The first article says: “1. Honor is the first motto of the Guardia Civil; he must keep it spotless. Once lost, it will never be gained again. 2. The Guardia Civil must always be a moral example because of his attitude, prudence, good conduct and recognised integrity.

The “Cartilla” is an ethical code, very fundamental and comprehensive, which leaves no questions unanswered. In fact, every Guardia Civil carried this Cartilla with them at all times during the founding period. However, the success of the unit in its everyday work does not depend solely on this document, it is a compendium of traditions and embodies a way of acting that has been passed down through generations of Guardia Civiles. The Guardia Civil is the oldest police force in Spain, without ever losing its spirit. In this fulfillment of exactly identical specifications, the Guardia Civil is unique.

Traffic security is guaranteed by the unit “Tráfico” of the Guardia Civil. Photo: Guardia Civil

It is also an internationally recognized entity. I may say this because I have participated in various meetings of Europol. We are sometimes better known abroad than at home. It is a very recognised unit. The Guardia Civil is present in many international scenarios and performs various functions there, both military and civilian. For example, I was on an international mission in Lebanon within the framework of the UN and met Carabinieri and Gendarmes there, we worked together in the training of the Lebanese police. Our way of working is quite similar. There I worked together with another commander who was an attaché to the embassy in Beirut and other officers who held various working meetings under the auspices of CITCO, the Centro de Inteligencia contra el Terrorismo y el Crimen Organizado.

The Guardia Civil is an internationally very highly recognized institution

Regarding Torrevieja, the Guardia Civil has been in Torrevieja since 1846, the year we have the first references of the presence of the Guardia Civil. At that time it was less about tourism, the work was more oriented towards the conflicts associated with the salt industry.

How does the Civil Guard differ from the National Police and the Local Police?

The difference is essentially characterized by the distribution of competencies. The local police depends on the municipalities, on the local administrations, and their competencies are basically the order of traffic and the guarding of public buildings, regardless of the fact that they can sometimes assume additional competence, especially in large cities in terms of civic security.

The Policía Nacional and the Guardia Civil are both state units. The National Police is a civil police unit and, in principle, its responsibility for civil security is similar to ours, although its structures are different. There is a distribution of competences, the provincial capitals, for example, all large cities, are primarily the territory of the National Police, the smaller municipalities of the Guardia Civil.

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Protection against illegal immigration: The Guardia Civil maintains control over spanish border in the Mediterranean. Photo: Guardia Civil 

The Guardia Civil is in charge of monitoring the entire territory of the country in the field of civil security, with the exception of the Basque Country, Catalonia and the major cities. The Guardia Civil is a unit that, from its origins, has served as a kind of backbone for the state, and it still does. The Civil Guard was born in the 19th century, when various armed conflicts at the beginning of the century led to the accumulation of banditry. Finally, when the Guardia Civil was founded, the structure of the state extended to every corner of the country. Admittedly, the Guardia Civil posts at that time often consisted of only one officer and two guards, but this officer and these two guards were the only representatives of the state in the country at that time. The Guardia Civil has always been a stabilizing element.

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Are there specific sceneries where the Guardia Civil comes into action?

Traditionally, the Guardia Civil is responsible for monitoring the state’s tax security and the coasts and borders of Spain. In the field of weapons intervention, the Guardia Civil has always had sole control over weapons and explosives.

Then the Civil Guard also controls the environment, our SEPRONA is the first environmental police in the world. On the other hand, there are competences that coincide between Guardia Civil and Policia Nacional. Public safety in Torrevieja, for example, is entrusted to the Guardia Civil. The safety of citizens in the urban area of Orihuela is the responsibility of the National Police, but in the rest of Orihuela it is the responsibility of the Guardia Civil.

On the other hand, the Guardia Civil carries out the functions of the criminal police at sea, and for this purpose we have not only speedboats, but also patrol ships, which are deployed in missions against trafficking of human beings, illegal immigration and drug trafficking in the Mediterranean or even in front of the coast of Senegal. Spain is the foremost border of Europe, and the Guardia Civil is responsible for guarding them, including ressources like aeroplanes and helicopters.

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Rescue mission in the mountains: The “Servicio de Montaña” of the Guardia Civil in action with helicopter. Photo: Guardia Civil

In what consists your work in Torrevieja?

Speaking about Torrevieja, the Torrevieja Company is the largest company in Spain. We have designated more than 500 Guardia Civil policemen in this company. The Torrevieja Company has had an above-average workload in the past. With success! Since 2011 at the latest, we have seen an above-average downward trend in crime statistics, and in the last two years the decline in criminal acts has been even more pronounced. In addition, the clarification index has increased, which means that the bottom line is that there are fewer crimes, and those that occur are being better and better clarified.

At the same time, we are seeing a decrease in the seriousness of crimes. It is true that crimes that can be prevented by police activities are in principle property crimes (robbery, theft and vandalism), as domestic violence is difficult to prevent through police presence. After all, we cannot assign a policeman to every household. This type of crime is prevented by educational and social policies. But of the crimes that can be prevented by police operations, as said mostly property crimes, most have decreased significantly. This is the most important fact. These are the statistical data that count.



The fact that Torrevieja maintains a large Guardia Civil headquarters will certainly deter criminals…

Yes, of course. Our response times are very good. Maybe a little delayed in the summer months of July and August, due to traffic jams, it takes a little longer to solve a problem. But in general, the patrols we have, the personnel we have, are very experienced and solve the incidents in everyday life with ease.

I witnessed the alarm go off in a neighborhood villa. I called 062 and in less than five minutes a Guardia Civil patrol was on the scene…

Yes, we have our own switchboard in Torrevieja to trace incidents. There sits a shift supervisor who permanently coordinates emergencies 24 hours a day, seven day a week.

So 062 is a good number to contact the Civil Guard?

The 062 is centralized in Alicante, and from there they pass on the information. So the 062 is a correct channel, because from Alicante the guardians on duty can radio the alarm directly to the patrol closest to them or to Torrevieja, where a radio officer is on duty 24/7.

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Commander Antonio José Leal Bernabéu demonstrates the App “AlertCops” in his office. “It´s fast, eficient and GPS localized.” Photo: Michael Allhoff

Is there another channel for reporting emergencies?

Yes, this is the “AlertCops” application of the Spanish Ministry of the Interior. The smartphone application has been around for several years and we are working on continuously increasing the number of users of this online system. The system is intuitive to use and guarantees speed in the event of an emergency. The application also includes an automatic simultaneous translator.

When you register, the good thing is that the app offers a number of options via different key combinations. For example, if you witness a robbery and press this button, a message will be immediately displayed in Alicante. Because you are already registered and identified, you are no longer asked for personal data, the system knows your GPS location. The App AlertCops serves both the Guardia Civil and the Policia Nacional.

If you are in Madrid, you will automatically be transferred to the National Police. The program does this on its own. You no longer have to think about whom to call. You don’t have to identify yourself again, the application knows who we are. You do not have to give the address, because the Guardia on watch knows where we are because of the integrated geolocalisation. This saves a lot of time! If you can’t speak loudly under any circumstances, the program interacts with the police operator via a chat. Then the Guardia Civil in Alicante can send a patrol directly. The police know where to go, whom to contact and what happened. AlertCops is a very efficient tool.

It seems to be a very leading edge technology, I don’t know of any comparable solution in Germany…

The app is available for free download in ten languages, including English or German, for IOS or Android. The app offers further advantages, for older people and for children. There is the function “Protector” (Spanish: Guardián). You can share your location with three people, the guardians. This is useful in the case of a missing person, as it allows you to know the location of these people in real time. This saves a lot of effort and resources as well as trouble for the relatives. Because if a person is disoriented at a certain point in time, they can communicate this directly from anywhere in the country, and we will quickly find them by their coordinates.

A missing person usually requires a very complicated police management. Once a certain period of time has elapsed, no one knows where the person might have gone or where they have lost their bearings. In the “AlertCops” application, incidents such as sexual aggression, theft, robbery, vandalism, etc. are represented by direct access. You only have to register once, that was it. Another good thing is that a citizen with this app does not have to know the difference between Guardia Civil and Policia Nacional. Many do not know mostly, to whom they must turn. They don’t need to know either. For example, I press this button here and the program automatically redirects me to the unit that is competent. The app has a built-in translator, i.e. I can write in my language and the police headquarters receives my communication in Spanish.

There is a knock at the door, an officer comes in with a message that a person is missing in Callosa del Segura, the commander orders a mission with police dogs…

Quote Antonio José Leal Bernabéu: “You must clarify whether they are looking for a dog for living people or corpses, there are differently trained dogs….

What happened?

Last night the news went through the village that someone was missing who might have fallen into a ditch. Since there is a suspicion that someone might have fallen into the river, but we don’t know if this is true and there is no report, but someone found a shoe, we have to investigate the case.

The Costa Blanca is characterized by residential tourism. Do the vast residential areas with their population consisting of more than 100 nationalities mean a particular challenge to the work of the Guardia Civil?

It is true that in a geographical area like this, dominated by detached houses, it can sometimes be difficult to monitor everything or find out what the correct addresses are for a mission. In this case, the AlertCops application makes it very easy for us to get to the coordinates. Well, the citizen can also help by referencing the GPS coordinates of his residence. Or having AlertCops on its mobile phone, which enables us to find the place faster by means of GPS.

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On the Costa Blanca many nationalities live together, a very cosmopolitan society has formed. In boom times, this coastal region has also attracted organized crime. As far as I know, the state security forces have used many means to ensure the highest level of security.

Yes, indeed. Here the Guardia Civil has made an outstanding effort, a considerable investment in anti-crime resources, both material and human. The team strength of this unit in Torrevieja has grown significally, the Guardia Civil has adapted to the needs and has launched a whole series of procedures. In fact, it is the first company in Spain to be placed under the command of an officer with the rank of commander. And, of course, it is not just a question of providing the maximum volume of personnel and technical resources, it is also a question of managing them optimally. The better the resources are managed, the better the results will be in guaranteeing citizens’ security, both objectively and subjectively. And well, what was said about Torrevieja at the time is over! (Editor’s note: Torrevieja made headlines in the press ten years ago as the city with the allegedly highest crime statistics). Today we don’t have a very special delinquency and we also have no evidence of organized gang crime.

However, for organized crime, we have the best specialized special investigation units and special task forces. If we suspect the activities of a complex criminal group, the necessary mechanisms of cooperation between different units will be activated. Special units are deployed as reinforcements and carry out their work.

In this coastal region, because there are very extensive urbanizations in which the neighbours usually do not even know each other personally, citizen cooperation might be difficult. The inhabitants may not even notice strange procedures, because they don’t know the daily life routines of their neighbours. But nowadays, in view of the established international cooperation and with the means of investigation available to us in means of specialisation of available units, the police function is very advanced.

We as a unit for citizen security are the first step in the escalation of possible measures. We control the entire Vega Baja, here there are located six headquarters, Guardamar del Segura, Pilar de la Horadada, Callosa de Segura, Torrevieja, Almoradí and Dolores and two simple Guardia Civil posts, Jacarilla and San Miguel de Salinas.

In addition, the Torrevieja Company has a special task force called USECIC, which is an anti-Riot unit, and a special intervention force for entries, searches and arrests that are somewhat peculiar, so to speak. So this reserve unit is present to increase the security guarantees for citizens if necessary. Then we have the tax patrol and the border patrol, two environmental police patrols SEPRONA, four criminal police teams and two weapons control patrols. In other words, we have a very large number of special task forces that implement practically all the competences of the Guardia Civil.

Apart from that, should we become aware of crimes that require a more comprehensive investigation, each municipality has its own investigation areas, with officers becoming active in ordinary crimes. If these investigations should be focuses on organized crime, they are forwarded to the criminal investigation department in accordance with our protocols. If this organised crime exceeds the region or has more complex parameters, it would be transferred to the Alicante Criminal Police Unit, which is responsible for the entire province.

In addition, should the investigative capacity prove insufficient at any given time, there are the Unidad Central Operativa, responsible for organized crime, and the Unidad Central Especial, responsible for the fight against terrorism. These units are always occupied with surveillance.

The same applies to the task forces. We have our small intervention unit here, but if, for example, there is a major problem, then we have another intervention unit in Alicante. Apart from that, if the situation becomes more complicated, the Reserve and Security Group (Grupo de Reserva y Seguridad), which works throughout Spanish territory, comes into play.

The Guardia Civil is always at work, whether it is the arrest of a thief or the smashing of internationally organised gangs…

Correct! Due to the circumstances of this geographical region, other states sometimes ask us for administrative assistance when they are looking for a criminal fleeing from their national justice system. And the fact is that in the vast majority of cases, we are relatively easy to deal with these criminals.

There is, for example, the case of the arrest in Torrevieja of the Belgian judicial refugee who had committed robberies with extreme violence. The press had recently reported on this after the detention order had been coordinated by Europol and Eurojust. Although the prosecutor and the Belgian judiciary believed that it would be very difficult to find and arrest this man because he was a slippery and elusive person, the Civil Guard of Torrevieja located and arrested him in just one day.

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© Michael Allhoff | AlphaMedia Comunicación

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