They can't talk about their work, and it is thankless. They spend most of their time in the streets, listening to telephone conversations ad nauseam or working their way through mountains of documents. It takes time and doesn't always achieve the hoped-for result. In an especially violent year, during which organised crime was responsible for 25 bloody episodes in Malaga province, the police unit to combat it, Udyco-Costa del Sol, has made a record number of arrests and seized record quantities of drugs: more than 500 people have been detained, all related in one way or another with drug trafficking, and twice the amount of drugs have been confiscated compared with last year.
Chief Inspector Antonio Rodríguez Puertas, the head of the Unit against Drugs and Organised Crime in Malaga province, says it has been a difficult year. "There have been numerous revenge attacks, but it has been a spectacular year in terms of results and police efficiency, the best in a long time. There has been a great deal of work behind it," he says. The Chief Inspector has headed major National Police operations, some of them jointly with the Guardia Civil, such as the one which resulted in the discovery of 6,300 kilos of cocaine hidden in a cargo of bananas in a warehouse on an industrial estate in Malaga city.
The Udyco-Costa del Sol, which ended 2017 with 24,000 kilos of drugs confiscated, have already seized more than 40,000 kilos this year, of which 30,000 were hashish, 10,000 cocaine and the rest marijuana (more than 11,000 plants), heroin and designer drugs. The other aspect of their work focuses on the line that keeps the drug traffickers afloat: their finances. Since January the police in Malaga have "seized, embargoed or uncovered" goods and money worth 100 million euros.
Gangs broken up
Police operations against drug trafficking and organised crime, like the one which discovered a group of Swedish hitmen who are accused of having carried out two murders on the Costa del Sol, have resulted this year in more than 500 arrests, another record figure. These arrests have enabled over 600 criminal gangs to be broken up, predominantly "Spanish, Moroccan, Dutch, British and French", although - and this is something new - also some from Scandinavian countries.
"We are finding more and more transnational organisations, with members from three or four different countries," says the Chief Inspector. Malaga province plays a strategic role on the map of organised crime: "About 33 per cent of all those investigated in Spain are in this province," he says.
He admits that although there have always been peaks of violent crime, this has been a "peculiar" year; for the first time, the security forces have had to deal with episodes of narco-terrorism after the explosion of two bombs in San Pedro Alcántara and Benahavís, and a third artefact which was detonated by the Tedax bomb disposal squad, also in Marbella.
"A lot of factors come into play," says Rodríguez Puertas. "Revenge attacks may be related to arrests, because the drug traffickers may think they were due to leaks or tip-offs. And if they have lost their haul, someone has to pay for that. It could be power struggles over territory, often occurring in their countries of origin, but the revenge attacks take place here, where they reside. Maybe also the pressure which is being put on, especially in the Campo de Gibraltar." But when asked what the key factor is, he doesn't hesitate: attempts by other dealers to steal the drugs.
"About 70 per cent of the revenge attacks this year were related in one way or another to thefts or non-payment," he says. He also has a message for those involved in drug trafficking: "We are working intensively and, sooner or later, every case will be resolved and those involved will go to prison. The Costa is not, and will not be, a nice place for these organisations to operate".