His waistcoat bears the word ‘Polizei’. His uniform is lighter blue in colour than the ones we normally see in Spain, almost sky blue, and his cap is white. Dennis Paffrath is an officer with the German State Police, but at the moment he has left his own country and is working on the Costa del Sol. He is one of over 30 officers from different European countries who have been deployed around Spain as part of a scheme called Comisarías Europeas 2021; this is a police cooperation plan which aims to enhance safe tourism and provide assistance to the public beyond the frontiers of individual European nations.
“Although the work is similar, I feel the Spanish police are a bit closer to the public than we are in Germany; we want to be close, but I think they have achieved it better here,” says Paffrath, in perfect Spanish.
He has two more weeks in Malaga city to go, and most of his work during that time will be with the Foreign Tourist Assistance Service (SATE), which is based in the Plaza de la Marina. However, he will also be taking part in static and mobile security operations at the port and the airport, mainly as part of the National Police’s Prevention and Reaction Unit (UPR).
Paffrath is a State officer - in Germany there is a Federal Police force and a State police as well as municipal police forces. At home he normally works in the training section, but also participates in operations against drug trafficking and other types of investigations, both criminal and administrative. His duties here on the Costa del Sol, however, have been very different.
“Most of the time I’m at the SATE office, but I also go on patrol in the streets, on the seafront, and on Muelle Uno. We want people to be able to see the uniform, to read the word for ‘police’ in their own language, and not just Germans, actually, but people from other countries who speak German as well,” he explains.
In his first two days in Malaga, he had to take part in two arrests for offences against public health and faking documents, but Paffrath says that is not his principal mission: “I can take action if necessary, (he says, instinctively pointing to his firearm and defence equipment), but that is not the intention; what we want to do is to make people feel safer and to feel reassured when they see that the German police is here”.
One of the National Police officers who runs SATE, Pablo Campos, says the presence of a German officer has been very useful when providing a service to tourists. This summer he has seen for himself how German visitors (and those from elsewhere who speak German) have reacted when they have seen a uniformed police officer here.
“They are always surprised and the impact is very positive. People feel more supported and understood,” he says.
At the SATE office, where Local Police officers also attend to the public, most of the tourists come to report thefts and the loss of documents, so they feel somewhat defenceless when they arrive.
“Seeing a police officer from their own country makes them feel that someone is going to understand them, because he knows their idiosyncracies and culture and what they are like,” says Campos.
For Paffrath, going on patrol on the Costa del Sol has been a real adventure and it is an experience that he would not hesitate to repeat, mainly because it has enabled him to know a different way of policing and a different society first hand. However, when asked what, in his opinion, is the most striking difference between wearing his police uniform in southern Spain and his native Germany, he instantly responds: “The heat!”
The Ministry of the Interior describes this Comisarías Europeas project as an initiative which is becoming more and more popular every year.
“These exchanges aim to prevent street crime by being in contact with the public in general and tourists of all nationalities in particular, and helping them by translating and providing assistance where needed,” say sources there.
Comisarías Europeas was launched in 2008, in collaboration with France, and it was exended to include Portugal in 2012, Italy in 2014 and Germany last year. More police officers take part each year, because the scheme is working very well.
Spanish officers from the National Police force also go to other countries as part of this project. This year they have been assigned to Paris and elsewhere in France and Lisbon, Nazaré, Oporto and Villa Real de San Antonio in Portugal, among other places.
“They always wear their own uniforms when they are on patrol, because then they are easily recognisable by people from both countries,” explain sources at the Ministry.
The Spanish Guardia Civil and Portugal’s GNRalso have separate cooperation agreements for the area around the border between the two countries and these are also focused on tourism, with the aim of assisting visitors there.