Chris Lloyd Header

Who or What are the Mossos d'Esquadra

The Mossos d'Esquadra have been in existence, on and off and in various guises, since 1719, making them one of the earliest police forces in Europe. Originally created to keep order and protect the people when the regular army was mobilised or sent abroad, they fell in and out of favour over the next couple of centuries, either because the local council didn't want to pay them or because they kept backing the losing horse in various conflicts. Throughout this time, when they weren't being shown the door, they were in the employ of local town or provincial councils. After yet another of their frequent periods of finding themselves disbanded, they were reformed again in the late nineteenth century, but their duties limited to the Barcelona area. 

It wasn't until the Second Republic, in the 1930s, and the restoration of the Generalitat, the Catalan government, that they became a national body for Catalonia. This was short-lived, too, but for more tragic reasons. Loyal to the Republican Catalan government, they were forced into exile with it when Franco's troops finally won the Civil War, in 1939. The winning side abolished the Mossos, and many of its members who returned to Catalonia were imprisoned under the Franco regime. Oddly, the Mossos were reinstated in 1950, during the dictatorship, but with very limited powers, basically guarding provincial council buildings in Barcelona, which is the way things stayed until democracy was restored in 1975.

With the restoration of the Generalitat in 1977, the Mossos again came under the umbrella of the Catalan government, and the wheels began turning for them to become a Catalan police force. For about the first fifteen or so years, though, they were largely a ceremonial body, accompanying visiting dignitaries and standing guard outside Catalan government buildings, but various political alliances and canny bargaining with a shaky central government led to an increase in both their powers and their numbers.

Finally, in 1994, a new policing act and agreement with the Spanish state led to the deployment of the Mossos as the Catalan police force to replace the Spanish Policia Nacional and Guardia Civil, responsible for pretty much all areas with the exception of national security. This happened piecemeal over the next fourteen years, replacing a district or two at a time, Girona being one of the first. The final area to be turned over to the Mossos was Tarragona, south of Barcelona, in 2008.

This slow and steady nature of the transition meant that it was some time before the character the Catalans wanted for their police force came out. Aligning themselves more with the northern European idea of policing, they basically wanted change – and a perception of change – from the old system. This boiled down to two main areas – structure and recruitment – which inevitably has taken, and continues to take, time to carry through. 

The structure of the Catalan police arguably focuses more on prevention and detection than its predecessors, with the creation of such departments as a victim support unit and gender violence teams. As for recruitment, the Catalan government wanted more women and more graduates. This didn't happen overnight, but numbers of women and of female and male graduates entering the force has risen over the years as it has become seen more as a viable career. Today, some 21% of Mossos are women, who are now beginning to rise through the ranks to senior positions. Equally important, perhaps, is that the Mossos want to be seen as the police force of Catalonia, made up of Catalan officers and serving the Catalan community, which is a sea change from the concept of policing inherited from the Franco era.

In all, it is still a constantly-evolving body, which makes them fascinating, albeit a bit of a bugger for any crime writer trying to tell stories about them.