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The principal forces of public order and security as of 1988 were the Civil Guard and the National Police Corps (Cuerpo Nacional de Policia). The Civil Guard, fortified by nearly a century and a half of tradition, was a highly disciplined paramilitary body with close links to the army. As it evolved, it served mainly as a rural police to protect property and order and to reinforce the authority of the central government. Under Franco, a tripartite system of police was formalized: the Civil Guard in rural areas; the Armed and Traffic Police (renamed the National Police in 1979), which fulfilled normal police functions in communities with a population of more than 20,000; and the Higher Police Corps of plainclothes police with responsibility for investigating crimes and political offenses. Separate municipal police forces under the control of local mayors were concerned mainly with traffic control and with enforcement of local ordinances.
During the Franco era, the police had been regarded as a reactionary element, associated in the public mind with internal surveillance and political repression. The Civil Guard and the Armed and Traffic Police were legally part of the armed forces, and their senior officers were drawn from the army. The 1978 Constitution effects the separation of the police from the military, and it emphasizes that one of the functions of the police is to safeguard personal liberties. Article 104 of the 1978 Constitution states that, "The Security Corps and Forces, responsible to the Government, shall have as their mission the protection of the free exercise of rights and liberties and the guaranteeing of the safety of citizens." Although considerably delayed, a subsequent statute, the Organic Law on the Security Corps and Forces, was enacted in March 1986 to incorporate the mandate of the Constitution to redefine the functions and the operating principles of the police forces. With its passage, the final legal steps had been taken to make the police system conform to the requirements of the democratic regime, although most observers concluded that it would be years before the reforms were fully in effect.
The new organic law provided a common ethical code for police practices, affirmed trade union rights, recast the role of the judicial police serving under the courts and the public prosecutors, combined the uniformed and the nonuniformed police into the single National Police Corps, and redefined the missions and the chains of command of the various police elements. The Civil Guard remained a separate paramilitary force, although in operational matters it was under the direction of the Ministry of Interior rather than the Ministry of Defense. In time of war or emergency, it would revert to the authority of the minister of defense. In 1986 a new post of secretary of state for security was created in the Ministry of Interior to coordinate the activities of the National Police Corps and the Civil Guard. The National Police Corps functioned under the directives of the director general of the National Police Corps, but local supervision was exercised by civil governors of the provinces where police forces served.