They are often criticised for issuing fines, being nothing more than a government cash machine, far from friendly and just out to catch us out, but it might also be worth considering that the individuals who perform daily duties for the Guardia Civil keep us safe, secure, catch criminals, save lives, and sometimes, lose their own, whilst trying to protect us.
The Dirección General de Tráfico, which is the government department that controls traffic, the roads and the Guardia Civil traffic section, issued a report not too long ago on the activities of their officers and vehicles.
According to the report, in 2011, the year in focus, officers travelled 146 million kilometres on the roads of Spain, all during the course of their duty, they carried out over a million rescue operations on the roads, 4 agents lost their lives and 16 were seriously injured in service.
The team of 10,308 members of the Guardia Civil traffic department attended a total of 1,173,422 calls to assist motorists. The number of officers has increased by 2,000 in the last decade. In 2001, there were 8,346 members of the teams, in 2004 there were 8,639, jumping to 8,808 in 2006, 10,306 in 2009 where the figure has then been maintained. The biggest growth in these figures was under the government of the PSOE, but as there is no obvious way to criticize the previous government, this is a fact that the current Partido Popular would probably not brag about.
The Guardia Civil has a fleet of 6,148 vehicles, 3,316 of which are motorbikes. All vehicle types have increased over the last decade, with the exception of command vehicles, reducing from 116 to 73, and tanks, which reduced from 4 to 3 in 2005, the last one being decommissioned for last year. They have 1,095 light patrol vehicles, such as the smaller, covered scooters, they have 344 unmarked vehicles, plus 253 specifically used for radar speed detection and 415 specifically for alcohol detection. They also have 392 4-wheel drive vehicles and now have 73 mobile command units.
Over the last ten years, 39 officers lost their lives in the execution of their duties, 4 of them in 2011. A total of 298 officers were seriously injured and 2,861 suffered minor injuries. The job is considered to be one of the highest risk professions in Spain, as the daily tasks of the officers always put them in the front line of danger.
Yes, they issue fines, but all fines for traffic offenses goes back into road safety. With perhaps the odd exception, the fines are for offences that have been committed by the driver or road user. They are not there just to issue fines for no reason, but will attempt to enforce the law whenever they can. But one thing you can be sure of, whether you like them or not, the officers of the Guardia Civil will always be there to help you, to rescue you and to save your life, even at the cost of their own. For that alone, they perhaps deserve more respect than they may otherwise lose by the impression that they are officious and petty whilst actually simply doing their job.