Barcelona fails to dispel the perception of citizen insecurity

For more than 30 years since the Barcelona City Council barometer was published, citizen insecurity has figured on most occasions as the main problem in the Catalan capital.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
25 May 2023 Thursday 22:49
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Barcelona fails to dispel the perception of citizen insecurity

For more than 30 years since the Barcelona City Council barometer was published, citizen insecurity has figured on most occasions as the main problem in the Catalan capital. Only in the worst moments of the economic crisis have unemployment, working conditions and the domestic economy come first on that blacklist of concerns for the people of Barcelona.

The last municipal survey maintains fidelity to the norm: citizen insecurity, an aspect that is based on subjective perceptions as much or more than on statistics, was cited at the end of last year as the number one problem by 24.8% of the interviewees.

Thus, it is not surprising that security policies occupy a large space in the electoral programs and the speeches of the candidates. Formations that some time ago showed archaic misgivings about addressing this issue, and that left it in the hands of the parties of law and order, have felt the need not to dodge the bulge.

Is Barcelona an unsafe city? We must start from the situation prior to the pandemic. In 2019, criminal activity in Barcelona broke records: close to 200,000 conventional crimes (those related to cybercrime are not included here).

Mayor Ada Colau is right when she insists that in 2022 the number of crimes in Barcelona was 20% lower than in 2019. Indeed, if these two years are compared, it was the large Spanish city that registered the greatest decrease. But it is also true, and this is a fact that municipal officials try to hide, which is currently the one with the highest crime spike, 30% in 2022 compared to the previous year.

These high crime figures are fed above all by the large number of thefts, a circumstance closely linked to the condition of this city as a first-rate tourist destination. Likewise, and this is not exclusive to Barcelona, ​​the rise of phenomena such as drug trafficking, marijuana trafficking, occupations or fights with knives and firearms magnify the perception of insecurity, to which aspects not directly related to crime, such as incivility and the massive, and often improper, use of a tremendously disputed public space.

Parties like the PP, Ciudadanos, Valents and Vox are fighting these days for the title of champions of zero tolerance against criminals (and anti-civilians). Meanwhile, the four candidates with the most options to govern the city have placed more or less emphasis on explaining their recipes against insecurity.

All of them, without exception, advocate for an improvement in the coordination between the Mossos and the Urban Police, a tacit recognition that the current model is perfectible; increase the number of local police officers, especially on the night shift; reinforcing the figure of the neighborhood police officer (that urban legend on everyone's lips but which no one has just materialized) and, for the first time, a certain metropolitan perspective prevails, at least on paper, even with the possibility of pooling police services between several municipalities.

That civility and security are two concepts that are interrelated is proof of the willingness of various formations to modify the ordinance of coexistence in public space in force since 2005. ERC wants to do it to introduce more alternative measures to economic sanctions (one of the eternal problems of the regulations is the great difficulty to obtain the payment of the fines).

It also proposes the Trias per Barcelona reform, with an in-depth review of the sanctioning regime, while the PSC undertakes to draw up a "new ordinance" to include aspects related to mobility and cleanliness that were once left out of the law. standard and that are scattered and poorly clarified in other municipal ordinances.

The commons place almost all their trust in mediation, much more than in punishment, and the PSC, which in this mandate has directed the Prevention and Security area, proclaims that "we understand order as a value, a priority and a condition necessary to guarantee the safety of everyone”.

The Socialists point to a new attempt to complete the development of the Municipal Charter and have a rapid justice system, an issue that ERC raises in other terms when it refers to the creation of 10 local courts, one per district, half path between justice of the peace and the judicial career and based on the practice of mediation between the parties in conflict.

De Esquerra starts the proposal of the "night mayor" with an inspection team sized for night time (from 10 pm to 6 am), while Xavier Trias agrees to study the creation of an auxiliary body of the Urban Guard. The Junts candidate proclaims that "the criminal act and the uncivil act will not go unpunished", describes the security ones as "first-order social policies" and sets ratios of Mossos and Urbana staff (in both cases 2.5 agents per every 1,000 inhabitants).