Law enforcement in Germany

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Sleeve and cap ensigns of the 16 state police forces and the Bundesgrenzschutz (Federal Border Guard)

Law enforcement in Germany is constitutionally vested solely with the states, which is one of the main features of the German political system. Unlike in the United States, there is no Police Force belonging to a city or town. Also there are no elected Positions (e.g. Sheriff in the U.S.).

Policing has always been a responsibility of the German states even after 1871 when the country was unified. The 1919 constitution of the Weimar Republic did provide for the possibility of creating a national police force, should the necessity arise, but it was only in the Nazi era that state police forces were unified under central control and a national police force created. The police became a tool of the centralized state and the Nazi party. Following the defeat of 1945, Germany was divided; in 1949 the three western zones were turned into the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), the Soviet zone became the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). Each country pursued a different path concerning law enforcement.

In light of the gross misuse of power by the centralized Nazi state, the new constitution of West Germany provided for a strict separation of powers, placing law enforcement firmly in the hands of the states. The only policing allowed at the federal level was border control (Bundesgrenzschutz including the coast guard) controlled by the Ministry of the Interior and originally organized along paramilitary lines, the Federal Criminal Police Office. Since 2005, Germany's borders became largely open because of the European Union, and the Bundesgrenzschutz was renamed the Bundespolizei (Federal Police), which is still limited to rail traffic, airports, ports, and several other special duties.

East Germany created a centralized police force under the Ministry of the Interior, the paramilitary Volkspolizei. It also established a border police force, initially an independent force, later integrated into the army and then reorganized as an independent military organization.

Federal agencies[edit]

German Federal Police[edit]

Established in 1951, the Bundespolizei (BPOL) is the uniformed federal police force. It is subordinate to the Federal Ministry of the Interior (Bundesministerium des Innern (BMI)).[1] The Bundespolizei was previously known as the Bundesgrenzschutz (BGS) ("Federal Border Guard") and had a more restricted role until July 1, 2005 when the law renaming the BGS as the BPOL was enacted. Prior to 1994 BGS members also had military combatant status due to their historical foundation and border guard role.

All personnel on duty wear sidearms. Some units have light aircraft and helicopters to facilitate rapid access to remote border areas and for patrol and rescue missions. A coast guard force forms a part of the GFP. It is equipped with fourteen large patrol craft and several helicopters.

In addition to controlling Germany's border, the GFP serves as a federal reserve force to deal with major disturbances and other emergencies beyond the scope of Land police. The GFP guards airports and foreign embassies, and several highly trained detachments are available for special crisis situations requiring demolition equipment, helicopters, or combat vehicles. After shortcomings in police procedures and training were revealed by the terrorist attack on Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics, a task force known as Border Guard Group 9 (GSG-9) was formed to deal with terrorist incidents, especially hostage situations. The GSG-9 won world attention when it rescued eighty-six passengers on a Lufthansa airliner hijacked to Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1977.

A military rank structure similar to that of the Bundeswehr was replaced in the mid-1970s by civil service-type personnel grades. The service uniform was green but is now blue.

The West German Railway Police (Bahnpolizei), formerly an independent force, and the East German Transportpolizei were restructured under the BGS to form the Bundespolizei in 1990.

Bundeskriminalamt[edit]

Another central police agency, the Federal Criminal Investigation Office (Bundeskriminalamt—BKA), with approximately 3,000 agents, operates nationwide from headquarters in Wiesbaden. Similar in some respects to the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation, the BKA is a clearinghouse for criminal intelligence records.

It provides assistance to Länder in forensic matters, research, and criminal investigations. It is also the national point of contact for the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol). The BKA enters cases only when requested by Land authorities, or in cases involving two or more Länder . The BKA is involved in combating various terrorist gangs, which have plagued the country since the 1960s.

Others[edit]

Two federal agencies involved in security matters are the Federal Intelligence Service (Bundesnachrichtendienst—BND) and the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz—BfV). Based in Munich, the BND is restricted to the investigation of threats originating abroad. It depends heavily on wiretapping and other surveillance techniques applied to international communications. Such activities are authorized only to counter the danger of an armed threat to the country, but intelligence authorities have pressed for the added power to monitor suspected international traffickers of weapons and drugs.

The BfV is primarily a domestic intelligence-gathering service concerned with espionage, treason, and sedition. It has no powers of arrest and cannot use force, but it carries out surveillance and supplies the BKA and other police agencies with information on opposition parties, international crime, drug trafficking, terrorism, and other illegal activities. Its main office is in Cologne. Similar offices exist in each Land ; although they cooperate closely with the federal office, they operate under the control of Land authorities.

State agencies[edit]

Police cars in Hamburg.

The German states are responsible for managing the bulk of Germany's police forces.[2] Each state has its own police force known as the Landespolizei (State Police). Each state promulgates a law which lays down the organisation and duties of its police (Landespolizeigesetz or Sicherheits- und Ordnungsgesetz).

Although the Land police are regulated by sixteen different legislatures and are, in fact, different police forces, there has been an increasing tendency toward standardization of police activities nationwide. Concerns about terrorism and the growth of organized crime have strengthened the movement to centralize police procedures and operations. The idea of creating one single police code for the whole of Germany (allgemeines Polizeigesetz) came up in the 1960s but was never passed.

These forces are organized by cities, towns, or rural communities, but all are integral components of the police forces of the Land in which they are located. The Land minister of interior supervises police operations in his or her jurisdiction. Although the internal organizations differ somewhat, all Land police are divided into Protective Police (Schutzpolizei--"Schupos"), a uniformed service carrying out routine law and order duties, and Criminal Police (Kriminalpolizei--"Kripos"), who carry out criminal investigations. The separate Administrative Police formerly had duties that included the registration of residents and the issuance of passports, identity cards, and various permits. These functions have been transferred to civil government departments in nearly all Länder .

Although uniforms and vehicle colour schemes are similar all over Germany, the police forces are structured slightly differently in each state. For example, the Kriminalpolizei (detective branch, often shortened to Kripo) are part of the ordinary police force in some states and separate organizations in others.

The idea of using the same colour for police uniforms and vehicles throughout the European Union has resulted in German police forces slowly changing vehicle liveries from white/green to silver/blue. The silver colour is actually increasing the resale value and thus lowers leasing costs (most states lease their cars nowadays). The blue colour is part of the standardizations.

The uniforms have also changed in most states from the green/beige version introduced in 1979 to blue. Hamburg was the first state to make the transition. In most states, newly acquired vehicles and helicopters get the new colour scheme, except for Bavaria and Saarland, which for the time being will stick to the old green/white-or-silver scheme for their vehicles and uniforms.

Local agencies[edit]

Currently, many cities in Germany also have a local public order force. Depending on each state's laws, the name of the force that performs these limited police-type functions could be:

  • Ordnungsamt
  • Kommunaler Ordnungsdienst
  • Städtischer Ordnungsdienst
  • Stadtpolizei, which means City Police, in some cities in the State of Hesse.

These city employees mainly wear uniform but some could be in plain clothes and are the municipal administration's eyes and ears on the street. Depending on each state's laws, these local employees could be armed or unarmed. Mostly they are charged with monitoring municipal by-laws and laws that fall under the responsibility of municipalities, which include monitoring the conduct of shop owners, sanitation inspections, veterinary inspections and minor infractions and misdemeanors such as illegal parking, littering, state and local dog regulations etc. They usually only hand out warnings and fines and can only perform a citizen's arrest as any other citizen can. If they see any major crimes they are required to call the State police. In few states however, municipal police officers do have the same rights, powers and obligations like the counterparts in the state police. This is particularly the case in the state of Baden-Württemberg. The tasks of a municipal police force depends on the size of the municipality's territory and the number of inhabitants in which it is operating. The police authority (Polizeibehörde) of a town or city can transfer more tasks and responsibilities to its police force, only if approved from the regional government (Regierungspräsidium).

Neighbourhood watch[edit]

Many German states have neighbourhood watch programmes, but do solely exist in a few States: Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria, Hesse, Saxony. Most members are armed with pepper spray.

Their main duty is crime prevention by:

  • conducting walking patrols to deter street crime
  • patrolling near schools and kindergartens
  • maintaining contact with potential victims of crime and juvenile delinquents.

Bavaria has instituted a system of citizen patrols (Sicherheitswacht) in which unarmed teams of two volunteers patrol assigned areas to improve subjective security. These teams carry a radio to call for help if necessary and a pepper spray for protection. A white armband with black letters identifying them as a neighbourhood watch patrol.

Citizens in Baden-Württemberg can participate in the Volunteer Police programme, where roughly 1,200 citizens voluntarily assist their local police in 20 towns. These volunteers are specially trained, wear uniforms and are worn and armed with normal police gear. Though, the government seeks the abolishment of the auxiliary police and the financial supply as well as the instatement of new auxiliary officers was immediately stopped.

Citizens in Hesse and Saxony can also participate in a Volunteer Police program, where some citizens voluntarily assist their local police. The volunteers are trained for 50 hours (in the case of Saxony is 60), receive uniforms, pepper spray and a mobile phone (in the case of Saxony is a radio).

People can also join the Wachpolizei which has less authority (and less pay) than regular police to perform basic police tasks such as traffic or guard duties, releasing regular officers for patrol work.

Training[edit]

Police training is primarily the responsibility of the individual Länder, although the federal government provides assistance and coordination. The high level of police professionalism is attributed in large degree to the length and thoroughness of training. The situation is different in the five new Länder of eastern Germany. Long accustomed to a compliant society, police forces of the eastern Länder have been described as understaffed, undertrained, poorly equipped, and woefully unprepared to cope with the challenges posed by the growing numbers of far right skinheads and neo-Nazis engaged in violent hate crimes against foreign workers and refugees.

Most police recruits spend about three years in combined training and service in the Readiness Police, although the training time may be shorter depending on previous education. Recruits are exempt from military service. Training encompasses a six-month course at a police school that provides a grounding in law, legal procedures, and police conduct.

After about six years of duty as a patrol officer, an individual with an outstanding record who does well on a highly competitive examination can go on to two or three years at a higher police school or a college of public administration to qualify for the upper echelon. The very few candidates who qualify for the highest ranks of the police study for one year at the Federal Police Leadership Academy in Münster-Hiltrup.

Off duty carry[edit]

German police are authorized to carry their department issued firearms, and only their department issue firearms, while off duty. Germany is one of the very few countries to allow this. Although allowed to, only few German police actually carry off duty. If German police wish to carry any firearm other than one issued by their department, they are subject to the same restrictions as everyone else. German police must have a safe to store their gun in while not carrying, making sure it is not easily accessible to others.[3]

Women in the Police[edit]

The Land police have had women members since the forces were reconstituted after World War II. Initially, female officers were assigned to cases involving juveniles and women, working in plainclothes without weapons. Since the mid-1970s, policewomen have performed general police patrol duties and their proportion of total police officers is steadily rising. However, their representation in leadership positions is still relatively low.

Alert Police[edit]

Alert Police (Bereitschaftspolizei--"Bepos") are available in each Land for riot control although their primary function is training police recruits. The Readiness Police receive standardized weapons, vehicles, and communications equipment from the federal government. An office in the federal Ministry of Interior monitors and coordinates the deployment of Readiness Police units, which can be called upon to assist the police of other Länder in case of riots or other civil disturbances.

The Alert Police are assigned to barracks where they are organized along military lines into squads, platoons, and 120- to 150-member training or standby companies. In most Länder, the Alert Police contingent consists of one 600- to 800-member battalion, but in six of the larger Länder they are organized into regiments.

Duties vary according to local requirements. In Hamburg, for example, Readiness Police patrol the subway system, assist in police raids in the red-light district, and are present at large demonstrations and soccer matches. Their units are equipped with their own transport, tents, and rations, enabling them to be shifted quickly to other Länder without having to rely on outside support. The Readiness Police have water cannons and armored vehicles but are armed with lighter weapons than those of the BGS.

Career brackets[edit]

In general, the German law enforcement authorities of today have personnel of three available career brackets, the lowest being the "Mittlerer Dienst", followed by the so-called "gehobener Dienst" and the "Höherer Dienst". Only the Federal Custom (Bundeszollverwaltung) and the Departments of Justice and Corrections of the states still have personnel of the very lowest career bracket "Einfacher Dienst". To understand this structure it may be helpful to compare it with military rank structures, because decades ago it was really similar. Einfacher Dienst = Soldiers, mittlerer Dienst = NCOs, gehobener Dienst = COs, höherer Dienst = Staff Officers (Major and up).

German police[edit]

Today nine of 16 State Polices recruit only for the career bracket of the "gehobener Dienst"

Entry into "Mittlerer Dienst" requires successful completion of 10 years of schooling, or a successful training in any other job and some years of working in this job. Period of training is 2 1/2 years at the police academy starting with the rank of Polizeimeister-Anwärter. The highest possible rank in this bracket is that of Polizeihauptmeister mit Zulage. In the mid to late seventies the "mittlerer Dienst" was disestablished for the detective branch Kriminalpolizei, but in some state polices of the former GDR they still exist. Rank designation in this case f.e. Kriminalhauptmeister.

Entry into the "gehobener Dienst" requires a high-school diploma and period of training is 3 years at a college of administration and justice. The highest possible rank in this career is that of Erster Polizei-/Kriminalhauptkommissar.

The third career bracket is the so-called "höherer Dienst". A direct entry into this career bracket is possible and requires a law degree of a university, but the majority of these officers had started their career in "mittlerer" or "gehobener Dienst". Period of training is 2 years at the Deutsche Hochschule der Polizei or German Police University. That is the only official centralised educational institution of the German police. Starting at the rank of "Polizei-/Kriminalrat" (police/detective major) up to "Polizeipräsident", which is (in the most German states) equivalent to the rank of Chief of Police in America.

Judiciary[edit]

Main article: Judiciary of Germany

Germany has a civil law system based on Roman law with some references to Germanic law. The Bundesverfassungsgericht (Federal Constitutional Court) is the German supreme court responsible for constitutional matters, with power of judicial review.[4][5] Germany's supreme court system, called Oberste Gerichtshöfe des Bundes, is specialised: for civil and criminal cases, the highest court of appeal is the inquisitorial Federal Court of Justice, and for other affairs the courts are the Federal Labour Court, the Federal Social Court, the Federal Finance Court and the Federal Administrative Court. The Völkerstrafgesetzbuch regulates the consequences of crimes against humanity, genocide and war crimes, and gives German courts universal jurisdiction in some circumstances.[6]

Criminal and private laws are codified on the national level in the Strafgesetzbuch and the Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch respectively. The German penal system is aimed towards rehabilitation of the criminal and the protection of the general public.[7] Except for petty crimes, which are tried before a single professional judge, and serious political crimes, all charges are tried before mixed tribunals on which lay judges (Schöffen) sit side by side with professional judges.[8][9]

Equipment[edit]

Transportation[edit]

Police vehicles in Hesse with the new silver/blue livery (including the reflective strips, so called "Gaps") and in the older green livery (though also already with a silver body).
A BMW patrol car of the Hesse State Police
Mercedes Benz police van in Berlin, also called "Wanne" ("Bathtub")

German police typically use cars from German manufacturers. Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, Audi, Opel and BMW are commonly used as patrol cars (Streifenwagen). States used to prefer vehicles built in or close to the respective state. However, with most states now leasing instead of buying their vehicles and in light of European Union rules on contract bidding, states have less latitude in choosing which manufacturer will provide their patrol cars than they did.

In the Saarland which is adjacent to and historically closely tied to France, vehicles from French companies as well as European Ford are used as police cars. The Bavarian State Police uses mainly BMW and Audi vehicles, as both companies are based in Bavaria (BMW in Munich and Audi in Ingolstadt). In the eastern states of Germany, mostly Volkswagens are in use (Volkswagen is based in Wolfsburg, close to the eastern states). The Hessian police prefer Opel cars (General Motors-brand Opel is based in Rüsselsheim near Frankfurt am Main in Hesse). Baden-Württemberg mostly uses Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen cars for their police force.

Before the police reform in the mid-1970s, Germany had many city police forces and each had its own police car livery. Dark blue, dark green and white were popular colours. However, the dark colours were perceived as a disadvantage as many accidents occurred at night during high-speed chases.

Therefore, the conference of interior ministers decided on standardising police car liveries so that the cars appeared non-threatening and could be easily visible at night. And so bright green and white were the colours associated with police vehicles in Germany beginning in the 1970s. More recently, police forces changed to silver cars and vans instead of white ones as they were easier to sell than the white ones when their police service was over. Now, most states have light blue instead of green stripes, but cars painted in the old livery can still be seen (as of November 2012). Only the states of Bavaria and Saarland have opted to retain the green-on-white/silver livery; all other states are transitioning to blue-on-white/silver.

These days, German police forces generally lease patrol cars from a manufacturer, usually for a period of three years. The leasing company marks the patrol cars using plastic foils with reflecting strips as borders instead of painting them. The foils are removed when the cars are sold to the public as standard silver used cars when the lease runs out.

Unlike in other countries like the United States, police cars in Germany rarely come with any special equipment (apart from the obvious, like flashing lights or sirens) not available to other users of the same model, as the cars on sale in European markets are generally considered to be fit for police duty without any further alteration.

Type of vehicles[edit]

These are used by Law Enforcements Agencies in Germany

Uniforms[edit]

The older style green uniform jacket of the Hesse State Police.
The new uniform of the Hamburg State Police.

From 1945 all German police forces wore different colored uniforms but since the mid seventies the police of all West German Länder and West Berlin have worn the same uniform, most parts designed by Heinz Oestergaard in the early seventies. The standard uniform consists of tunic, parka, pullover without shroud, coat, visor cap and neck tie in moss-green, trouser, pullover and cardigan in brown-beige, shirt (long and short sleeve) in bamboo-yellow. Shoes, boots, holsters, leather jackets and other leather gear were black.

Leather gloves were olive-drab. Exceptions: Visor caps with a white top were worn by the Verkehrspolizei, by the Schutzpolizei during traffic regulation. White gloves, tunics and coats were worn during traffic regulation and by the Verkehrspolizei during ceremonial duties (like white holsters and leather gear). In some Länder all officers worn visor caps with white tops in general.

The Wasserschutzpolizei worn standard uniforms of a slightly different design. Instead of moss-green anything was (and still is) dark-/navy-blue, the shirt was white and the visor cap had a white top. The BGS wore an all forest green uniform with bamboo-yellow shirt. After German Reunification the Volkspolizei was broken up into Landespolizei and switched to the standard uniform. During the period of transition they still worn their old uniforms but with western style sleeve and cap ensigns.

Because most European countries have blue police uniforms, most German states as well as the federal police are introducing newly designed dark blue uniforms to conform with the common blue image of the police in Europe. At present (August 2009) only the police forces in Bavaria and the Saarland are not intending to alter the Oestergaard design, whereas the other states have already begun or completed the shift from green to dark blue.

In line with the uniforms, police vehicles and various items of equipment are also changing colour from green to blue.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Library of Congress Country Studies.

  1. ^ OSCE Entry on BPOL http://polis.osce.org/countries/details.php?item_id=17#Country_Profile_Section_211
  2. ^ OSCE entry http://polis.osce.org/countries/details.php?item_id=17#Country_Profile_Section_212
  3. ^ Personal Knowledge
  4. ^ "Germany". U.S. Department of State. 10 November 2010. Retrieved 26 March 2011. 
  5. ^ "Federal Constitutional Court". Bundesverfassungsgericht. Retrieved 26 March 2011. 
  6. ^ "Völkerstrafgesetz Teil 1 Allgemeine Regelungen" (in German). Bundesministerium der Justiz. Retrieved 19 April 2011. 
  7. ^ "§ 2 Strafvollzugsgesetz" (in German). Bundesministerium der Justiz. Retrieved 26 March 2011. 
  8. ^ Jehle, Jörg-Martin; German Federal Ministry of Justice (2009). Criminal Justice in Germany. Forum-Verlag. p. 23. ISBN 978-3-936999-51-8. 
  9. ^ Casper, Gerhard; Zeisel, Hans (January 1972). "Lay Judges in the German Criminal Courts". Journal of Legal Studies 1 (1): 141. doi:10.1086/467481. JSTOR 724014.