Comunicació Alternativa Territorial


The (un)controlled police force: a democratic anomaly.

In cases where the State law enforcement authorities are presumably responsible for an offence, such as on October 1st, what public mechanisms exist to prosecute this type of crime?

Article translated by AnnA (@annuskaodena)

On Tuesday, November 13th, the 24 National Police officers, who are under investigation in Barcelona for the police charges that took place on October 1st, began testifying before the 7th District Court of Barcelona. Despite attempts to build a narrative seeking to legitimise the police action, the investigation is progressing well and we hope to continue breaking down the wall of impunity that the Ministry of the Interior and the Prosecutor’s Office have tried to build around this case.

How did we reach the point where 24 police officers are being investigated by a court? It is clearly not thanks to the work of the police or the prosecution. Despite the seriousness of the events, which were being broadcast live, not a single law enforcement body has proceeded with a legal investigation. Neither did the Public Prosecutor. Can anyone think of any other offence in the Criminal Code that, even though it might have been committed blatantly, goes uninvestigated by any police force? In any situation where there may be evidence of an offence, police proceedings are initiated, an official report is prepared, indicating the allegedly criminal offences, as well as opening an investigation into the alleged perpetrators. And everything is handed over to the court. However, in cases where the State law enforcement authorities are responsible for the offence, what public mechanisms exist to prosecute this type of crime?

In the case of October 1st, the Internal Affairs department of the National Police should be the ones to take action, but for the moment they are neither actively investigating anything nor are they expected to. On the other hand, were other police forces, such as the Mossos, to begin an investigation, it would make for an awkward situation. And this situation is completely unusual because the alleged crimes committed are crimes just like robbery, public disorder or any other. But there are a series of crimes in which, in most cases, police investigations are not rigorous or carried out ex officio. The added problem is that internal affairs, in general, tend not to cooperate properly with the judicial investigations and end up becoming an element of confusion to guarantee the acquittal of the accused officers (as in the case of Esther Quintana) or simply ignore the investigation.

And we have a big problem. How is it possible that police forces do not identify an officer that has committed an alleged criminal offence? Does anyone really believe that their superior does not perfectly know who has carried out a certain action, or that internal affairs are not aware? I have no doubt that, in some specific cases, esprit de corps among officers in the same unit may become difficult, but in no case can this be the norm.

In the case of Roger Español, we know perfectly well which police officer fired the rubber bullet that left Roger permanently blinded. The moment when he was shot was recorded on video by a journalist. However, although we have spent hours analysing the images, we have not yet been able to identify said officer. Two reasons: firstly, because the National Police Division and the Ministry of the Interior have made no effort to find the police officer responsible or because they want us to believe that they do not know who it was. Secondly, because antiriot police (both National Police and Mossos d’Esquadra) can only be identified from the back. The action in which Roger was injured was only recorded from the front.

In other words, it is the control and identification system of police officers itself that has been designed to prevent us from knowing who the public official responsible for an alleged offence is. This situation reflects better than most the enormous democratic anomaly that we are experiencing in terms of the control and investigation of police agents. In the case of Roger, they are identified and the eight officers armed with the rifles (including their superior) will testify as part of the investigation, just as the chiefs of the police division that ordered the baton charges.

This is not a unique case. In terms of investigating crimes committed by State law enforcement officers, we human rights organisations, with limited resources but great skill, act as police investigators due to the unwillingness of the authorities. In fact, when analysing the situation that could arise, a few weeks before October 1st, we set up the Somos Defensoras (We are Defenders) platform, which has deployed human rights observers, psychologists and lawyers throughout the city. Citizens carrying out work that should be done by public bodies. The fact that organised citizenry takes on this work is not the anomaly; the anomaly is that nobody else does it.

This is not something new and it is not only limited to events on October 1st, but the level of sham and the number of video recordings on that day show to what extent the public mechanisms created to protect citizens’ fundamental rights against abuse from police officers are obsolete. The control and administrative investigation duties and the judicial police duties should be carried out by a body of public officials, consisting of experts in human rights, criminology and independent forensics, with full access, as well as links to human rights organisations.

While we wait for this democratic anomaly to disappear, it is necessary to change the political will with regard to the division between internal affairs and police forces and provide them with resources, mechanisms and the greatest possible operational independence within the force, as well as ensuring regular work with human rights organisations. In addition, initiatives such as the popular prosecution, carried out by the City Council of Barcelona in the October 1st case, to encourage the prosecution in light of the Prosecutor’s Office negligence and obstruction is a good practice since each administration should also be responsible for protecting the citizens from crimes committed by public officials.

It is important to encourage discussions promoted by some organisations that seek to generate comprehensive government policies for the prevention of institutional violence. Protecting citizens from the direct abuses of the police force should be a key factor in any democracy. But until those government policies are put in place, we urge that common sense steps are taken such as being able to immediately identify all riot police officers from both the front and back. There are no longer any excuses to endorse impunity.

Article traduït per AnnA (@annuskaodena) segons el meu millor coneixement de l’anglès.
Article translated by AnnA (@annuskaodena) to the best of my knowledge of English.

Original source:

Author: Andres García Berrio @Andres_gberrio

Lawyer and member of Iridia @centre_IRIDIA – Center for the Defense of Human Rights.

Publication date: 12th of November 2018



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