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Opinion & Analysis

Wake up call

The death of a police officer in La Linea on Wednesday puts into sharp focus the risks that law enforcement agents on both sides of the border face daily.

The officer, named yesterday as 46-year old Victor Sánchez, was tackling a suspected tobacco smuggler when he was hit by a police van involved in the chase. He died at the scene, leaving behind a wife and two young children.

The circumstances have yet to be formally confirmed, but everything points to a tragic accident in the line of duty.

Officers here and in Spain deal with volatile situations of this nature as a matter of routine.

But this incident shows how an everyday occurrence can turn into tragedy in the blink of an eye.

The policeman’s death is the latest and most serious in a string of episodes that have shone a spotlight on smuggling activity. Almost daily, we report on incidents at sea and on land, often involving violence towards officers.

We should not view all smuggling through the same prism. The fast launches loaded to the gunwales with drugs from Morocco are not the same as tobacco mules on the beaches.

But in both businesses, there are organised gangs that have become increasingly brazen in their tactics. There is an undertone of aggression that has raised serious concerns among law enforcement managers here and in Spain.

In the Campo, communities are clamouring for more resources and tougher punishments to tackle this problem. That must be a priority for the Spanish authorities.

But this is a problem that impacts on both sides of the border. If nothing else, these incidents underscore the importance of cross-border cooperation in law enforcement.

Now is the time to intensify that cooperation and ensure that officers in Gibraltar and Spain are able to work together seamlessly to make life hard for those who would flout the law.

Much has already been done at operational level to this end, but there is room for more.

This is a challenge that Gibraltar, the UK and Spain cannot ignore.

The communities that live on the Strait of Gibraltar, this one included, must also take a frank look at what is happening around us and ask what must be done to stem it.

Smuggling has long been a fact of life in this region, which is defined by its many borders.

But we all know what can happen when things get out hand, and we must do everything possible to avoid that.

In the weeks ahead, the situation must be reviewed calmly and honestly, and the appropriate steps taken.

For now though, our thoughts must be with the family and friends of Victor Sánchez.

Main photo by Sergio Rordriguez, showing a minute's silence held outside the town council in La Linea on Thursday.

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