How does Barcelona, a leading city in the municipalist movement, address the security of its inhabitants? What specific instruments and levers does it use? Is there a municipalist security policy that differs from other more classical or repressive approaches?
For this #REC, “Security, COVID-19, and Municipalism”, Commonspolis wanted to examine the point of view of a city that, in everyone’s eyes, occupies a leading role within the municipalist movement. We talked to Lucía Morale, advisor to the security department of Barcelona city council, about the specific features of the Catalan capital.
In this interview, Lucía explains why it is essential to build security policies that are both intersectional and global. She also tells us how, in the context of controlling the pandemic, Barcelona city council has positioned itself as close as possible to the vulnerable populations that have been most strongly affected by the measures implemented to control the spread of COVID-19.
This interview sets forth a number of inspiring solutions to health and violence issues in our neighborhoods. Above all, it presents a progressive, democratic, and human-rights-based approach that invites us to rethink the often simplistic, short-term, reflexive, and repressive responses to insecurity.
Can you tell us about your career? How did you come to work with the security department of Barcelona city council?
Lucía Morale: I am Argentine, and I was born in the south of Argentina. My human rights work began there, with an entity called H.I.J.O.S. (Sons and Daughters for Identity and Justice against Oblivion and Silence). First I was a member of the military, and then I worked for the legal team handling the justice process against the military officers behind the Argentine dictatorship. Later on, in 2011, I joined the management team of the newly-created Argentine ministry of security and developed a program on the use of force and firearms, which had a police training and police abuse investigation component as well as a doctrine and procedure component. I coordinated the program for two years as director of professional development for federal forces in Argentina.
After that, I came to Barcelona in 2014. I had studied law and done a postgraduate course in security policy, and I came to Barcelona to do a master’s degree in criminology. I linked up with Barcelona En Comú, and a colleague in charge of the security department of the city council called me. That’s how I joined as an advisor to the department.
Basically, my role involves thinking of responses and possible improvements, and then putting them into practice, within the contexts of both the municipal organization and public policy. My focus is on community, use of force, gender perspective, and violence against women.
” What we are trying to do is focus security on people from a perspective that recognizes complexity. We work hard to ensure that police action is linked to other services in an intersectional manner, because solving problems often depends on social, educational, employment, and housing aspects as well.”
When I started, one of the key tasks was to develop and implement a community policing approach within the Urban Guard, which is the local police force in Barcelona. I was in charge of designing the project, and I was on hand throughout the implementation of the necessary organizational changes: training, selection of personnel, and internal modifications throughout the Urban Guard.
Our next clear and rather substantial goal involves gender: incorporating more women into the Urban Guard and making sure that it is a positive space for them to work in. My job is to analyze the existing state of affairs and propose improvements in each area. Once those improvements are approved at the political level, their implementation is then coordinated among the different technical teams that are part of the council, the Urban Guard, and the fire department.
What I like best about the municipal level is that, despite there being many limitations, you can still see improvements and concrete changes. I have been here for four years and we are actually seeing changes. So I think that is what is really worthwhile.
What are the powers of the Barcelona city council in terms of security? What is the security situation in Barcelona?
Lucía Morale: It is important to talk about powers because each city has its own laws pursuant to the laws of each country. Here at the local level, we are mainly responsible for handling domestic disputes, the prevention of certain crimes, and first responses. We also have powers related to environmental and animal protection and road safety, the latter being an exclusive power of the Urban Guard. We do not have investigative powers, since that is a responsibility of the Catalan police at the regional level. We also do not have forensic powers or judicial/penal powers, nor do we regulate public order. Those are all responsibilities of the regional police.
However, we can say that Barcelona is generally a safe city. We do not usually have violent crimes here. Ninety percent of crimes are related to property, like robbery and theft. As in many other countries, the main causes of violent death are road accidents, an issue that is sometimes left out of the press despite being very important.
Of course, the issue of violence against women is very central, and although we do not have complete jurisdiction, it is still an issue that very much concerns and motivates us. The city council does offer women’s assistance services, but we only have a small police complement attached to it, while the bulk of the responsibility falls to another police force.
Then a few years ago we had a terrorist attack, so we are still on A4 alert, which has an impact on how the city’s day-to-day functioning is organized. Here too we have only limited powers, and are not involved in investigative and other aspects.
Does the municipality have specific powers regarding the management of the pandemic?
Lucía Morale: When COVID-19 began, measures were decided at the central government level. The police fell under the sole command of the ministry of the interior, which determined what was to be restricted and how. After the state of emergency was over, these powers reverted back to the various regions. Although there is a coordinating mechanism, with the regional governments informing the central government of their epidemiological situation and communicating the measures they implement, the decisions are ultimately made by each regional government.
The result of all this was quite a lot of variety among the different regional governments regarding the measures they implemented. Faced with this variety and the complexity of the epidemiological situation, the regional governments ultimately asked the central government to make the decisions, because the former were having to intensify measures restricting freedom of movement, etc. The regional governments needed the federal government to act as an umbrella under which decisions would be normatively and institutionally valid. Therefore, the federal government was again asked to declare a state of emergency.
We at the level of the city council do not have much room for action because we are bound by what the regional government says. While it is true that the council also has a coordinating mechanism, which is part of the larger regional government mechanism that makes decisions, in the end we can only offer our opinions, what we think would be useful or appropriate. But the final decision is not ours. What does depend on us is the management and activity of the local police.
What do we mean when we talk about public safety in Barcelona?
Lucía Morale: What we have is a broad vision of security. In other words, it is not just restricted to the powers we have at the municipal level. What we are trying to do is focus security on people from a perspective that recognizes complexity. We work hard to ensure that police action is linked to other services in an intersectional manner, because solving problems often depends on social, educational, employment, and housing aspects as well.
We must demand that effective policies exist in relation to all these aspects. In the area of police management, we must generate and strengthen synergies with other pertinent services while ensuring that there is mutual knowledge of the functions and activities of each service.
Ultimately, when it comes to security, on the one hand you have the administrative organization, actors, and powers, and on the other you have the reality of the city, where conflict and need are intertwined. Therefore, joint work is required between actors and the different levels of administration.
“How do we know current prevention policies are effective? How do we know if a security policy works or not? […] The use of data in the generation of different indicators is key to being able to define effective prevention policies.”
One of our defining features is the rights perspective, which is not exclusively dependent on our security jurisdiction. For example, the whole issue of migration policy in Spain, as in the EU, is often based on security considerations. At a municipal level we cannot define migration policy. But we do try to ensure that all the measures we implement incorporate this rights perspective, a perspective we would like to see adopted at the European level. Everyone has rights, therefore we cannot have laws, like we have here in Spain, that exclude people based on nationality. However, because we have to comply with existing law, our maneuvering room is not very substantial.
Our focus at city hall is to ultimately have an intersectional core of citizen participation. Creating this intersectional core is not easy. In fact, it is one of the biggest challenges we face. We are trying to gradually develop it, not just in the sense of public forums–which was perhaps the initial approach, e.g., listening to what the real problems are–but also in the sense of really being able to think up solutions that are alternatives to existing proposals. It is not easy. It involves not just citizen participation, but also the interrelation of other services and other public policies to resolve the issues.
What does immigration law generally look like in Spain?
Lucía Morale: When non-tourists arrive from outside the EU, they usually have great difficulty obtaining a legal residence and complying with the required procedures to obtain legal citizenship. Furthermore, COVID-19 has made everything more complicated. If someone is living here in what is known as an irregular situation, in that they do not have a legal residence and have not met the requirement of having a valid employment contract upon arrival from abroad, it is very difficult for them to normalize the situation.
For example, many people wind up gaining resident status through a process called de arraigo (taking root), which requires living here for three years. But during those three years they cannot access the labor market or public services. This does not allow them to develop any plan for their life, leaving them at perpetual risk of deportation or internment in a detention center for foreigners, which is like a prison for migrants.
What are the security challenges for a city like Barcelona?
Lucía Morale: If I think about it in terms of security policy, I see two clear challenges, one more technical and one more structural.
For me, the technical challenge has to do with assessment, i.e., the design and implementation of security policies. I think we are still facing a big deficit in terms of developing indicators. The existing indicators are quite insufficient, and in general are always based on crime statistics or police activity. If we want to take a really complex look at the situation, we need to incorporate other types of indicators.
For example: What happens with crimes such as human trafficking when they are not reported? How do we identify those crimes? How do we work on them? Or, how does a feeling of insecurity emerge? On the one hand we have objective security, which is related to crime. On the other hand we have subjective security, which is related to people’s feelings of insecurity. Whaevert generates those feelings of insecurity is not necessarily linked to the number of crimes that take place.
The use of data in the generation of different indicators is key to being able to define effective prevention policies. How do we know current prevention policies are effective? How do we know if a security policy works or not? This is one of the important issues right now.
“We were worried that there would be a wave of violent incidents that would go unreported because of the compulsory confinement. We decided to create a collaborative initiative between social services, women’s assistance services, and the police. We are currently undertaking a pilot program in one district, and hopefully it will be something that we can extend throughout the entire city.”
Another challenge has to do with culture, awareness, and citizen activity. Personally, I feel there is a critical lack of public involvement in the management of security. There is very little participation, and when there is participation it often just leads to demands for more punitive measures and a greater police presence. We need to work as citizens, get more involved, and better understand the subject from a broader perspective. I am not saying that, in the case of a specific criminal act or a problematic situation in a given neighbourhood, there should not be a short-term response. We must certainly combine short-term responses, which may involve the presence of police, with inquiry, mediation services, or social services, depending on the case. But I think the general problem is that responses remain locked into a short-term framework and then the case is closed, so to speak. The long-term view is missing.
I also believe that, as citizens, we must learn to formulate solutions, which is not easy when it comes to security. So there is basically no participation, but even when there is participation it just turns into a demand for more fines, more punitive measures, or more police. That is one of the challenges we face.
What are the main obstacles to a municipal approach, and what are the advantages?
Lucía Morale:One of the advantages is proximity to the citizenry. It is much easier to think about issues of citizen participation and involvement at the municipal level than at the federal (nation-state) level, where communication is very complicated and the territory is quite dispersed. Here you are surrounded by people from the neighbourhood, so developing a closeness is easier. But there is still complexity, and it continues to be a major challenge, even though the proximity is helpful.
One of the obstacles is the limitation of powers at the municipal level. I do not want to suggest that a municipal council should have all the powers that a central government or a regional government has. However, problems do arise when, in order to implement certain policies, we need coordination between administrative bodies. Even when that coordination exists, higher-level administrative bodies sometimes have a point of view that is contradictory to the municipal one. This makes it impossible to move forward. For example, the issue of data generation has an impact on many security-related matters. There are so many things we are working on and developing at the municipal level, but the indicators at the regional level remain the same, and they do not share our outlook there. We have made progress, but we could surely make much more progress if the other administrative bodies shared our perspective.
Can you share some significant initiatives that have emerged since the beginning of the pandemic?
Lucía Morale: I will mention two. One has to do with the protection of migrants living in an irregular situation, while the other–which led to more in-depth work–has to do with violence against women.
When the state of emergency was declared in March 2020 and compulsory confinement was established, there were a few exceptions, one of which involved leaving your home in order to go to work. However, if your reason for leaving home did not fall under any of the allowed exceptions, then the police would fine you.
We ascertained that many of the people engaged in care and cleaning work in other people’s homes were migrants who were living in an irregular situation and, precisely because of Spanish regulations, did not have employment contracts. Therefore, during compulsory confinement they had no way of proving that they were going to work.
They were extremely worried and did not want to leave the house, because a police encounter could have led to their deportation. So they were not working, yet they were the very people whose work–that of caring for other people and families–was considered essential.
So this was an obstacle: a state regulation that fell short of an unforeseen situation stemming from the state of emergency. At the municipal level, the police proposal was to implement something similar to the individual declarations that were being used in France. These declarations were already being used at the regional level, but they always had to be accompanied by supporting documentation. However, the workers in question did not have employment contracts, and the people they were working for did not want to sign anything confirming that they were employing people in their homes.
” The other issue underscored by security is that there is an entire road that remains to be travelled with regard to active citizen participation. […] One thing that COVID-19 has clarified for us is the need to try to implement balanced measures, avoiding ones that are either exclusively repressive or exclusively paternalistic. “
What we implemented in these specific cases was a form on which people declared that they were domestic workers and that they were out of the house for work-related reasons. It was a municipal police measure, and all police personnel were informed that, if they encountered someone in the street who had this form, then no other documentation was required and the person was to be considered legally commuting to work. This was a perhaps a quite small and specific crisis measure, but to us it solved the problem.
Violence against women is another issue of great concern to us, and we are still working on it. We were worried that there would be a wave of violent incidents that would go unreported because of the compulsory confinement. We decided to create a collaborative initiative between social services, women’s assistance services, and the police. We are currently undertaking a pilot program in one district, and hopefully it will be something that we can extend throughout the entire city.
We knew that these incidents would continue to multiply during the period of confinement. Things were already difficult before the pandemic, and now the situation was even more complicated. There were already so few places for victims to go, and now their options were going to become much more limited.
” […] Security cannot be isolated from other policies. We must include it in a broader framework, and we must have an intersectional perspective in order to address security from within this broader framework. We will not solve security problems with the police alone, and we know that. “
We then started to look at emergency calls to the police. The number of calls remained constant even though the number of reported incidents had plummeted. We formed a group comprising elements from the local police, the regional police, and women’s assistance services in order to analyze all these emergency calls.
Sometimes, after a call, a police car would show up only to find no evidence that a violent incident had taken place. The police had shown up for nothing, in a manner of speaking. So what we did was cross-reference all the residences that made repeat calls (in many cases it was the neighbors who called). We then contacted certain services–social services, health services, or any entity connected to the female victim–to see if it was possible, without putting the victim at risk, to make an approach. In some cases we found serious situations that were missed by the responding police, but we picked up on them due to repeated emergency calls, statements from neighbors, or the additional risk factor of the presence of minors.
Our efforts also improved the coordination of information between the Urban Guard and the Catalan regional police. The emergency call system is based on jurisdiction: when serious incidents occur, either of the two police forces can go, but the regional police often handle the most serious cases while the local police handle local matters.
We realised that there were cases in which there was a lack of information coordination between the two police forces. For example, there were cases under judicial investigation, cases that were being worked and for which there were complaints filed. Then one day a neighbour would call, a patrol car would show up and find nothing, and the case would be closed, meaning all the case information would be lost.
Therefore, we created a space in which we could generate prevention and intervene in cases that might not be accompanied by criminal indicators, but in which we detect a situation of risk. It is from this point of departure that an intersectional analysis of the different services is made, always taking into account and respecting women’s autonomy.
Regarding general restrictions, for example, we try not to directly penalize people who are not wearing masks. Instead the process is to give the person who is not wearing a mask a chance to obtain one, show them where there are nearby pharmacies, and only then–if the person has no valid reason to not be wearing a mask and yet still refuses to wear one–impose a fine. This is the established protocol.
What can COVID-19 teach us about managing security in cities, and what has been learned from this particular situation?
Lucía Morale: I feel we have not learned anything completely new. Instead, we have confirmed the importance of what we already knew.
The importance of certain ideas has perhaps been reinforced, namely, that security cannot be isolated from other policies. We must include it in a broader framework, and we must have an intersectional perspective in order to address security from within this broader framework. We will not solve security problems with the police alone, and we know that. This broader framework does not begin when solutions are proposed. It begins when problems are analyzed. Intersectionality is often used as a tool for working on a specific problem. Yet the origins of such problems are often related to different types of public policy: education, housing, health. This is the level at which we have to start thinking about security policy.
The other issue underscored by security is that there is an entire road that remains to be travelled with regard to active citizen participation. There is not enough of a connection to the citizenry. One thing that COVID-19 has clarified for us is the need to try to implement balanced measures, avoiding ones that are either exclusively repressive or exclusively paternalistic. But it takes a lot to empower the citizenry and maintain the dialogue between public institutions and the citizenry.
At the regional level, groups affected by certain measures have not been consulted, nor has there been any dialogue. For example, we now have a highly significant rate of infection among young people, leisure activities are restricted, and universities are closed again, but there is no space in which to initiate a dialogue with young people. We are always going on about: “You must comply with this!” without looking at or listening to why certain measures cannot be complied with, how certain measures could be improved, or what alternative measures could better solve the problem. During confinement, this also happened with older people, who at the time were the most affected by the pandemic. Many of them expressed the feeling that they had been a bit stigmatized, that they hadn’t been able to take part in the process, let’s say. The municipal police then began information campaigns using a very simple tool: the: loudspeakers on their patrol cars, which carried messages and information to the citizens.
” It is crucial for us to understand that if efforts are not undertaken intersectionally then they will likely be wasted efforts, because when everyone just stays in their own little bubble it is nearly impossible to achieve results. Unlike administrative entities, society does not operate in a compartmentalized way. Administration should more accurately reflect life as it is lived outside of administrative contexts. “
On the other hand, we see groups taking to the streets against the measures, and I’m not talking about the denialist groups who say that no measures should be taken. Now we have demonstrations by taxi drivers, by people who work in the restaurant and hotel industry, and by owners of gyms and sports facilities who don’t understand the rationale behind the measures. Sometimes it is true that the measures are not very coherent. For example, here the restaurant and leisure industry must close by 10 p.m., while the sports facilities must close by 9 p.m. Why? When inconsistencies like this arise, people do not understand. This could be resolved by proposing the matter to citizens in advance and involving them in the decision-making processes. We still have a long way to go in terms of citizen participation.
Finally, there is another big issue that I am acutely aware of. Sometimes we focus too much on the number of infections and lose sight of the overall effect on people’s lives. When we talk about measures and restrictions, we need to be much more careful. Sometimes this idea that we are in the midst of an emergency makes everything more justifiable and there is more social tolerance for restraint. But we should always analyze the restrictions, their legality, and their proportionality. Freedoms have been restricted, and this is of great importance. From the administrative side of things, we have to be very disciplined in order to not lose sight of our analytical framework, which involves examining all the impacts of the enforced measures and determining whether the same ends could be achieved with less restrictive measures.
For example, when we were in the middle of the pandemic, I was compiling reports on which measures were being implemented in which locations, so that we could have updated reference points, which were constantly changing. Here, when we were still confined to our homes yet allowed to go out for the purpose of physical activity, the idea of restriction by national ID number was proposed. I was asked to compile a report analyzing the potential of such a restriction. My analysis found no evidence of this type of measure being effective in the places where it was already being applied, especially when compared to other criteria, like age group. In actuality, the restriction had many drawbacks. For example, in the case of single-parent families in which the mother is the only adult in the house and has to do the shopping and manage everything for her family, such a measure would only allow her to go out on the days corresponding to her national ID number.
What reflections or tools do you think would be useful to share with other municipalist cities?
Lucía Morale:I would like to touch on three important elements that deserve emphasis from the perspective of the municipalist experience we share with other cities:
- Question the data used to formulate security policy. It is necessary for us to question the existing data and determine whether that data really allows us to diagnose problems and think of solutions. Do we only analyze police data? Or do we include more data? This is where the broader perspective of security begins.
- Develop intersectional work among services. It is crucial for us to understand that if efforts are not undertaken intersectionally then they will likely be wasted efforts, because when everyone just stays in their own little bubble it is nearly impossible to achieve results. Unlike administrative entities, society does not operate in a compartmentalized way. Administration should more accurately reflect life as it is lived outside of administrative contexts. Intersectional work is not easy, because it involves breaking down a lot of resistance, not just in the area of police but also in the area of social services, for example. Because work is usually compartmentalized in these areas, information is not shared due to mistrust of other services, entities, etc.
- Include the entirety of the citizenry when determining security policy. I am not just talking about including people with national ID numbers, or people involved in local government, or people who fall into a particular social category, or people who have certain skills. I am talking about truly examining and broadening the impact that security policy can have, while also politically prioritizing the very problems that affect sectors of society. These problems may not make the headlines every week, but that does not make them any less serious or fundamental.
I think there is a lot of experience at the municipal level because a lot of work has already been done with regard to the organization of neighbourhoods and the empowerment of networks. These same spaces must be used to do the work on security policy. We already have experience in other areas, so we need to see how we can transfer that experience to the issue of security.
This interview is part of a series of interviews, analysis articles and proposals from the #REC “Covid, Security and Municipalism”
It was conducted in Spanish on 27 October 2020 by Averill Roy and translated into english by Matthew Lehrer.