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Catalan force introduces immigrant recruitment drive

17 December 2007

BARCELONA – Next year, Juan José Ramírez and Kristin Schlag hope to be patrolling the streets of Barcelona and other Catalan cities with their fellow rookie police officers from the Public Security Institute of Catalonia. What makes Juan José and Kristin unusual, however, is that neither of them was born in Spain to Spanish parents.

Juan José, 22, is originally from Haiti, while Kristin, 32, was born in Dusseldorf, Germany. Both are among 19 recruits this year to Catalonia’s regional police force, known as the Mossos d’Esquadra, who hold Spanish nationality – either by family or long-term residency – but who are not originally Spanish. Though few in number, foreign recruits, police directors hope, will have a big impact on the force’s relations with Catalonia’s increasingly diverse population.

"The police should be a reflection of society, and society is diverse," says Carlos González, the director of the Public Security Institute.

After years of immigration, Catalan police, like those in much of the rest of Spain, have found themselves becoming increasingly out of touch with the society they are meant to serve and protect. The situation has not been helped by strict recruitment criteria that excluded foreigners and the foreign-born from public service, creating ethnically homogenous police departments. So far, however, Catalonia’s efforts to attract more diversity have not lived up to expectations.

Initially, 110 recruitment places, out of almost 1,300 available, were reserved for nationalised immigrants or the children of immigrants, but only 45 people submitted an application. Of those, most candidates lacked the necessary skills, leaving just 19 to begin training.

"It’s a small number but it’s a first step. Perhaps we were too optimistic," says González, noting that the call for applications under the diversity program was only presented in May for a course starting in October. "We didn’t have much time," he points out.

Next year, the Mossos are planning to start seeking applicants sooner and, among other measures, will target secondary schools and immigrant associations.

Negative image
But while more publicity will undoubtedly help, the coordinator of the program, Joan Navarro, sees other obstacles, particularly the image police officers have in the countries of origin of many immigrants.

"In many non-EU countries, police are synonymous with repression and corruption," Navarro argues. Immigrant groups tend to agree. "In the places where we come from the word police is bad, it’s scary," says Diego Arcos, the secretary of the Federation of Immigrant Associations of Catalonia.

Arcos, an Argentine, views the diversity initiative as a "positive" step because at present "the proportion of foreigners in the police is ridiculous."

"However, if a Mosso speaks in Arabic to a Moroccan, half of the problems disappear," Arcos says.

Of the 13,000 Mossos d’Esquadra in Catalonia, just 60 are foreign – equivalent to 0.5 percent of the total, even though Catalonia’s immigrant population is around 10 percent.

In light of those statistics, the need for greater diversity in the police force seems evident.

"The foreign recruits are going to understand the customs of their community better, and they’re going to explain how they think and act to other police officers," González notes.

[Copyright EL PAÍS, SL./ JESÚS GARCÍA 2007]

Subject: Spanish news