Monday, 17.12.2018
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The people who make a difference in the Canary Islands
   The people who make a difference in the Canary Islands

At your Service
In 1824, King Fernando VII created by Royal decree, the 'Kingdom's General Police' - the origin of the National Police force. Almost 150 years later in 1971, Juan Antonio Gil Rubiales, a young man from Jerez de la Frontera in Andalusia, made his way to Madrid to begin his career. He had no police or military background, it was a free choice - his “vocation”.

Rubiales is promoting increased visibility of uniformed
Rubiales is promoting increased visibility of uniformed

15.10.2003 -

After a rigorous training, he worked his way through many police stations in San Sebastian, Pamplona, Madrid and Las Palmas in Gran Canaria where he was promoted to Police Chief, prior to his transfer to Tenerife.  If we had wanted to hand-make a specialist to deal with some of the problems affecting Adeje and Arona, we couldn’t have done better.  His postings have taken him to brigades in anti terrorism, the drug squad, working with illegal immigrants and the so called 'white slave' traffic and the UIP (a sort of swat squad). 

The most frequent problems are break-ins, bag snatches, pickpockets and thefts in hotels, discotheques, from cars and on the beach.  But in the almost two years since he took charge of the newly renamed 'Southern National Police Station', there has been a marked decrease in delinquency.  The first year saw a reduction of 15 per cent, but “if things continue as they are at the moment this figure will be doubled for 2003”.  Señor Gil puts this down to a mixture of reasons - the most important being the “great dedication of the National Police force in this area to their job”.  There is little or no absenteeism and officers return more quickly from sick leave to their posts.   There is also more uniformed police visibility, certain centres of conflict such as the Veronicas and Starco have now closed, prostitutes and the ‘find the lady’ fraudsters have been cleared off the streets.  Arona now has two more courts and five special prosecuting officers (fiscales - who are responsible for asking for prison sentences in front of the Judge) - previously the courts had to wait for a visiting 'fiscal'.


Swift Justice

The new Swift Justice system has also brought multiple benefits.  Normally within two days of the offence being committed, the police are able to present all the evidence and witnesses in front of the court, those found guilty will be fined or imprisoned within days of the offence.  This has meant that there are less delinquents on the streets, those that are still around now think twice before committing a crime because the comeuppance is faster, and the police are experiencing a great leap in morale and motivation, as they feel that the courts are now, finally, able to back them up.  This fast track system deals with damage to an individual’s person or property, but is also freeing up court time, so that we should also see an increase in the speed in which crimes of fraud etc. are dealt with.


Crime Prevention Units

The South can now also count on a new crime prevention unit.  They are a crack unit with a different uniform, (mid blue shirt and trousers with a baseball style cap) and different responsibilities.  They are prevention units, based at trouble black spots, “mainly caused by alcohol and other substance abuse” and have been extremely effective in the prevention of fights and  thefts and reducing drug trafficking.

Señor Gil also draws attention to the fact that a great deal of crime could be prevented with a few simple safeguards.  (Check out our 'quick guide to a trouble free stay').  He would also like to see more private security guards within the hotels, feeling that an official police presence could unnerve the guests rather that reassure them.


Illegal immigrants

A recent survey showed that more than 60 per cent of Canarian residents believe that there is a connection between the level of illegal immigration and the level of delinquency. Señor Gil feels that when we speak of illegal immigrants the images that come to mind are the boatloads of individuals which we see almost daily on the news of African and Arab ethnic origins but “these are not the people who are causing the problems”.  The majority of serious problems are caused by people of Southern American and Eastern European extraction but Señor Gil and his officers are on their trail.  In 2001, there were seven deportations, 89 in 2002 and in the year to date 195, the majority of which had been found guilty of a crime.  A deportee is not just expelled from Spanish territory for a minimum of three years, but from the whole of the EEC.


Shortfall of 43 Officers

His official area of responsibility covers Arona, Adeje, Guía de Isora and Santiago del Teide, however given the number of officers under his command at the moment that is impossible.  Temporarily he has been assigned just Arona and Adeje, thus leaving the other areas without National Police coverage.  From a total allocation of 225 officers, there are at present only 182 under contract, and they are trying to cover this shortage, but Señor Gil says that he can only control security with that allocation in Adeje and Arona and would need a “minimum of 400” officers to give complete cover to the South.  According to figures released by the Police Union, in Santa Cruz there is one policeman for every 457 residents, La Laguna has just been declared an 'Area for Special Action' by the Home Affairs minister Ángel Acebes, but there are no concrete plans to increase the level in the South of Tenerife where the level of police to residents and floating population is around one to every thousand.  As Señor Gil is quick to point out “if they send more officers to La Laguna it doesn’t mean that they won’t send more here too”.


Security Cameras

To improve security and to make their job easier, he would be in favour of the installation of security cameras in trouble black spots, allowing the police reaction to be faster and more efficient.  However this would require a special law, would be a political decision and is therefore outside his control.

A strong believer in cooperation between the various forces, he is “in daily contact” with the senior local Police and Guardia Civil.  Members of the local police were also included in a recent continuous education course, the first such project ever to take place in the National Police force in Tenerife.  Specialists from the Police Academy at Ávila gave talks and demonstrations, amongst other topics on crime prevention and how to deal with catastrophes and crowd control, such as the massive Son Latino concert.  The collaboration between the different forces in the South is exemplary, if only it were the same in the rest of Spain.

There has been a growing call for a Tenerife Police force to replace the existing system.  Together with the Minister for Home Affairs, Señor Gil is of the opinion that what is needed is to bring the existing security forces up to strength and reinforce them, not replace them.  He is not convinced that the situation will be in any way improved in the Canaries by such a move.  He'll rather stick with what is working, and emphasises the necessity for regular contact and collaboration with the other forces and the public.

The national Police face daily danger on our behalf.  “At least once a week” some officer is injured whilst working to protect the public - “it’s our daily bread” and part of the job said Señor Gil.  Eleven years ago an officer of the South died.  He speaks with sadness of colleagues who were in the Academy with him and who have been “killed in the line of duty”.

The police system here would seem to be a little complicated at first sight, with three branches of law enforcement.  Señor Gil explained that the forces of security are the National Police and the Guardia Civil, they only differ in the areas they control.  So if you have any problems go to the closest National Police Station or Guardia Civil Barracks.  If you see anything strange, keep clear and contact them.  If you are the victim of a theft, attacked or threatened, let them know.  If you don’t inform them they can’t do anything about it.  The local forces although “essential in their support role in crime prevention”, are really only responsible for traffic flow and local bylaws.  Still confused?  If you need the police call '091' and they'll point you in the right direction, or there is a special 'tourist' line 902 102 112 where there is English speaking assistance.  (The Police Academy has recognised the importance of tourism in Spain’s economy, and English or French are now required subjects).

Señor Gil is now divorced, he has two children.  He speaks especially proudly of a daughter in the Royal Guard, whose photograph is on his desk.  When he has time, his favourite sport is running the half marathon!  He has no personal plans to return to the mainland and says that although he has good memories of all his postings his “favourite right now is Tenerife” and that he “would prefer to stay here”.  His future plans include doing everything within his power to continue improving the security of all under his care, resident or visitor.  .If you feel that there is any way in which the service to the community could be improved, he is open to suggestions.  The word he most uses is Service - to the state, to the National Police, and above all to the public.  He comes across as a very human and somewhat humble individual.  Quick to put you at your ease, with his dedication, enthusiasm and experience, he really is made to measure for the job.


By Sheila Collis

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