30% extra police on streets for Barcelona's La Mercè festivities
1,005 officers, 467 at night, on duty to avoid large crowds gathering and drinking on the streets
With La Mercé just around the corner, Barcelona City Council has announced there will be a special police operation in force during the festivities, in order to prevent crowds from gathering and 'botellones' forming – large groups of people drinking on the streets.
Over the weekend, the Catalan capital will have 30% more Guàrdia Urbana agents on patrol than usual, a total of 1,005 police officers, 467 of whom will be working the night shift, when the potential for incidents involving alcohol consumption on the streets is greater.
"We will have 30% more officers than on a summer weekend," the head of the Guàrdia Urbana, Pedro Velázquez, explained.
The city council says it is prepared to deal with any antisocial late-night activity that could occur once the official events of the La Mercè program end each night.
The challenge throughout the 'festa', which runs from Thursday to Sunday, will be to ensure that people don't gather together in huge numbers, as has been the case in recent weeks in various parts of Catalonia.
The impact of the new opening hours announced this week by the Catalan government – 1am for bars and restaurants and 3am for outdoor areas in clubs – remains to be seen.
13 priority areas
Barcelona City Council has outlined thirteen priority areas that will have an increased police presence, namely Plaça Sant Jaume, Ciutadella Park, Moll de la Fusta, Plaça Joan Coromines, the Forum, the Olympic Stadium, the Vall d'Hebron football field, the Pla and Armengol gardens, Fabra i Coats, the Plaça Major in Nou Barris, the old Estrella Damm brewery and the Teatre Grec.
There will also be additional patrols on routes to and from the Olympic Stadium and along the seafront in order to prevent cases of sexual harassment.
Police will also be clamping down on people selling alcohol on the streets and outside supermarkets, while the city is also assigning 700 people to keep public spaces clean.
In a bid to reduce overcrowding, events at this year's festival are ticketed.
"We ask anyone who does not have a ticket not to go to the events", said Jordi Martí, deputy mayor of Barcelona responsible for culture.
He also advised that tickets could be canceled and returned via the barcelona.cat website in the event that ticket-holders are no longer able to attend.
As for the capacity of events, there will be up to 3,000 people in spaces such as the Forum and the Olympic Stadium, and 600 in the Plaça Sant Jaume.