Reports of theft jump 22% in Barcelona but fall in other major Spanish cities

Over 25% of residents in the Catalan capital have been the victim of one or more crime in the past year – a level not seen since 1986 during the heroin epidemic

Alfonso L. Congostrina
Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau at a local security meeting.
Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau at a local security meeting.Carles Ribas (EL PAÍS)

The city of Barcelona has seen a sharp spike in theft. According to figures provided by the Catalan regional police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra, and by the city police force, the number of crimes reported in the city so far this year has increased by 19%, with petty theft making up the bulk. On Monday, the security forces said that 146,446 incidents were reported between January and August this year – over 23,000 more than the same period in 2017.

The Catalan regional police force blames the rise on the lack of security personnel

This rise is confirmed by statistics from the Spanish Interior Ministry, which compiles data from all state security forces. According to the most recent findings from the first two quarters of the year (a shorter period than measured by the Mossos), crime in Barcelona has jumped by 20.5% overall and 22.7% in the case of theft.

Blame game

Opposition parties are blaming Mayor Ada Colau, of the leftist Catalunya en Comú party, for allegedly being soft on crime. Meanwhile, the Catalan regional police force blames the increase on the lack of security personnel, claiming that 1,000 more officers are needed in the city to bring the ranks to 18,000.

Police unions and Civil Guard associations also complain that the 1,500 police and Civil Guard officers stationed in the region are not enough. All three security agencies agree that “crime has been neglected” because of the focus on the Catalan separatist drive and the threat of Jihadist terrorism.

The most frequent crime reports were of stolen bags and cell phones, threats and fraud

Meanwhile, a survey from Barcelona City Hall, presented on Monday, revealed that 25.6% of residents of Barcelona have been the victim of one or more crimes in the past year – a level not seen since 1986 (26.2%) during the heroin epidemic. The most frequent crime reports were of stolen bags and cellphones, threats and fraud. The district of Ciutat Vella, in the city’s historic center, was the worst affected, with 36.6% of residents reporting that they had been a victim of crime.

According to the newly-released figures from the Mossos, 39% of all crimes and 55% of all theft in Catalonia takes place in Barcelona. The data also shows a significant jump in the number of thefts inside commercial establishments, restaurants and the subway train.

More Mossos needed

These new figures were on the table at a Monday meeting of the Junta Local de Seguridad, a body that brings together Mayor Ada Colau of the left-wing group Catalunya en Comú, and representatives from city council, the regional government and various security and justice agencies.

Colau used the meeting to criticize the Catalan regional government for failing to provide more Mossos. In July, Colau asked regional Interior Minister Mique Buch for more officers to tackle the increasing number of so-called “narco flats” (vacant homes taken over by drug dealers to sell narcotics), the rise of theft and unauthorized street vending, but her request was refused.

Crime figures fall across Spain

While there has been a rise in the number of crimes reported in Catalonia, specifically in Barcelona, elsewhere in the country the figures have fallen. In Madrid region, reports of theft fell by 2.5% in the first half of the year.

In the popular tourist island of Ibiza in the Balearic Islands, the number of thefts reported fell from 2,072 in the first six months of 2017 to 1,525 in the same period this year – a drop of 26.4%, according to data from the Interior Ministry.

In Seville, another popular tourist destination which receives millions of visitors a year, reports of theft fell by 12.2%. And in Valencia, the number fell by 2.3% with overall crime falling by 0.2%.

Following neighborhood protests over security in Barcelona this summer, Colau met again with Buch in mid-September to repeat her call for more Mossos. Colau insisted that investigating drug trafficking and Barcelona’s criminal gangs is the responsibility of the regional police. But Buch once again refused to supply more officers, arguing that “having more Mossos on the streets is not going to solve the problem of ‘narco flats’.”

At the security meeting on Monday, Colau said that the city has invested €12 million in extra hours of local police officers. She added that while the city would not receive any more regional police officers, the security personnel would be reorganized from November 1 to place more officers in crime hot-spots like Ciutat Vella.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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