“There is no reason to keep the cells of the Guàrdia Urbana open”. This is how David Bondia, Síndic de Greuges of Barcelona (the equivalent of the ombudsman) has expressed himself. This statement is based on an analysis carried out during 2021 to study the security of police facilities and the quality of care for citizens, medical care for detainees, and the health of custody areas.
The Council of Europe warns of mistreatment in Spanish prisons and police stations
One of the highlights of the report that was presented this Thursday focuses on the cells of the Guàrdia Urbana police stations which, according to Bondia, do not meet the minimum guarantees established by the Committee for the Prevention of Torture of the European Commission . That is why the Síndic calls for its closure, especially since these provisions have been in disuse since July 2021, when the local police signed an agreement with the Mossos d’Esquadra so that all detainees (except for those who commit crimes against road safety) are transferred to the Les Corts police station, which reports to the Catalan police.
Thus, for a little over a year, the Barcelona dungeons have not received prisoners and the Síndic de Greuges demands that they be dismantled and used for other functions. But, according to Bondia, the local police do not contemplate this option. In fact, in the reform plans of some Barcelona police stations the dungeons are maintained. “We are surprised by the refusal and that they do not give any reason to close them,” says the Ombudsman, who adds that, from the Barcelona police, “it is not ruled out” that these rooms will be put back into use to accommodate detained people
In Barcelona there is an average of 52 arrests per day and the Mossos d’Esquadra offices have a capacity of 90 people. This is a sufficient capacity, according to Bondía, that does not justify maintaining the custody areas, since “they have deficiencies in security matters.”
Some of the most “worrying” aspects that the Sindicatura has detected have to do with the presence of elements that could facilitate self-harm, dead zones without video surveillance (including some where searches are carried out), cameras that are not operational or poor security conditions. temperature.
In addition, it has also been detected that some police stations cannot guarantee that the agents who accompany detainees to the cells are unarmed, since the gunsmiths are not at the entrance of the police offices. This could compromise the security of detainees and violates the Istanbul Protocol for prevention against torture, which determines that the first thing an agent has to do when arriving at the police station is to leave his weapon.
Regarding the only cell of the Guàrdia Urbana that is still operational, the one where people who have committed crimes against road safety are guarded, does not meet the standards either. According to the Síndic’s investigation, the video surveillance system is only operational in the search rooms, but some of the systems are broken. In addition, the route that the detained person takes to reach the cell (accompanied by an agent) has various blind spots.
Medical assistance without medical personnel
The Síndic de Greuges has expressed great concern about the medical care provided at the Les Corts police station, where the infirmary does not have medical personnel and, if someone requires medication, it is an agent who has to dispense it. In addition, another issue that has worried Bondia is that there is no unified criteria when accompanying a person in custody to a medical check-up.
According to international protocols, any detained person has the right to a visit if they have received police violence and so require. These visits must be confidential and without police presence, but from the Guàrdia Urbana there is no unified protocol on the need to take detained people to the doctor or not. In addition, “the majority of agents questioned stated that they were always present during the medical visit,” as stated in the report.
Issues like these are the ones that make up part of the complaints regarding inappropriate treatment or discrimination that the Sindicatura de Greuges has received regarding the Guàrdia Urbana (169 in 2021 and 65 so far in 2022). Another good part of these complaints refer to problems with regard to citizen attention, especially in language matters.
In Barcelona, 24.4% of the people are foreigners, of 179 different nationalities. But the Guàrdia Urbana only has a translation service at a police station, and only during specific hours. This “violates the rights of migrants,” according to Bondia, as does the fact that the relevant consulate is “always” informed when a foreign person is detained, thus contravening the Vienna Convention.
Lack of spaces designed for police use
The Sindicatura de Greuges has pointed out some positive aspects in the action of the Guàrdia Urbana, such as the growing feminization of the municipal body, which in the last calls reserved 40% of the new places for women. Even so, as stated in the report, there is a lack of space to place women’s changing rooms, an issue that could be resolved by using the cells closed for that use.
The architectural structure of the police stations has been another of the aspects studied in the report. In this line, the Sindicatura warns that in most provisions there are no protection and security elements that can prevent a moon landing with a car. In addition, as noted, in many of the police stations “citizens can access restricted premises where there are agents working”, an issue that worries Bondia, especially since Catalonia is still on anti-terrorist alert 4 .
Despite all these recommendations, which the Sindicatura will be monitoring to verify compliance, some positive points have also been highlighted, such as the pilot plan for personal cameras incorporated by 150 agents. This initiative “has significantly reduced complaints due to inappropriate time or discrimination,” as stated by the Sindicatura.