Police catch suspected serial killer targeting Barcelona’s homeless during lockdown

A man suspected of battering to death at least three homeless people in Barcelona during the strict coronavirus lockdown was arrested Tuesday, police said.

Police catch suspected serial killer targeting Barcelona's homeless during lockdown
A file photo of a homeless man wearing a mask. Photo: AFP

He was detained in Sant Cugat del Valles on the outskirts of the Mediterranean coastal city, just hours after a homeless person was found murdered in the centre, Catalonia's regional police force, the Mossos d'Esquadra, said in a statement.   

The dead body showed signs of a violent death and was found “in the same area where other deaths of the homeless were recorded in recent weeks,” a spokeswoman for the force added.

The man had suffered a blow to the head, as did the other suspected victims, news radio Cadena Ser reported.

Police said they had identified the suspect with the aid of descriptions provided by witnesses and security camera footage.   

“The way this person behaved did not leave his victims any way to defend themselves. The violence was excessive and gratuitous,” the officer in charge of the investigation, Joan Carles Granja, told a news conference.

“These homicides on the streets of homeless people have ended,” he added.   

The suspect, who was not named, had previously been arrested for theft in Zaragoza, 250 kilometres (155 miles) west of Barcelona.   

“He was a bit incoherent, we don't rule out that he has some mental problem,” Granja said.

The streets have been largely deserted since the Madrid government imposed a lockdown on March 14, with people allowed outside only to go to work if they can't work from home, to buy food and medicine and briefly walk their dog.    

Like other Spanish cities, Barcelona set up shelters for the homeless during the lockdown but many have preferred to continue to live on the streets.   

Four homeless people have been killed in Spain's second city since March 19th. Three were murdered in the last two weeks, all suffered blows to the head.    

Local media said one of the deaths was linked to a fight between homeless people.

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Spain police start wearing bodycams to boost security

Spanish police have begun wearing body cameras to record their interactions with the public in a move aimed at ensuring greater security that is gaining ground in Europe and the US.

Spain police start wearing bodycams to boost security

The interior ministry said the bodycam was launched Monday and would be “rolled out on a gradual basis to all police officers”, without saying how many were involved in the initial stages.

Spain’s TVE public television said the tiny cameras were being attached to the officers’ uniforms and could be activated either manually or automatically.

The main Spanish police union JUPOL hailed the move on Twitter, saying it was in response to “a request that the union has been making”.

“It will guarantee security, both for us to avoid any kind of misrepresentation of our interventions, as well as for the public, who will be able to clearly see the police’s professionalism and that there is no abuse of power nor excesses,” union spokesman Pablo Pérez told TVE.

Forces in Europe and the United States are increasingly turning to such technology to boost transparency following a string of fatal shootings and other claims against police over the past decade.

“The cameras are being used under public safety protocols in order to record everything that happens in the event of an unwarranted offence during an operation,” Spanish Interior Minister Fernando Grande Marlaska told TVE ahead of the rollout.

“If they are activated, it is to guarantee security and really be transparent so that the officers’ actions can be seen and checked,” the minister said.

“This means security for both the police and the public,” he added, suggesting that in time, they would also be available to Spain’s Guardia Civil rural police force.

France began trialling bodycams, known as “pedestrian cameras”, in 2013
before a gradual rollout in 2015 in a move welcomed by police, but greeted with scepticism by rights groups who said there was no guarantee they would be always activated.

Police in London and New York also began pilot schemes in 2014 with credit-card-sized cameras clipped onto their uniforms with the technology gradually deployed over the following years.

But the cameras have had mixed success. The absence of any legal obligation governing their use can also limit their scope to uncover police misconduct.