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The Landespolizei in the meaning of today can trace its origins to the late 19th century Germany, when Germany united into a single country in 1871, under Otto von Bismarck. Various towns and cities also maintained police forces as the increasing number of new laws and regulations made controlling urban life more complicated.
After World War II, massive numbers of refugees and displaced persons, hunger and poverty characterised everyday life in Germany. Attacks by armed gangs, robbery, looting and black-marketing were commonplace and the military police could not cope with this troubling security situation. So each of the Western Allies quickly permitted the formation of civilian police forces, including small numbers of heavily armed and military like organised police forces, in Western Germany under terms that reflected their own police structures and traditions.
In all three Western zones, the emphasis was to decentralise, demilitarise and democratise the police. Some restrictions were lifted as Cold War tensions grew and certain police functions necessitated central rather than local direction. The Landespolizei became the police force for the federal states in the West.
All state police forces are subordinate to the Land Minister of the Interior. The internal structures of these police forces differ somewhat (which makes generalizations subject to local variation), but usually immediately subordinate to the interior ministries are the regional police headquarters (called Präsidium in most states, Landespolizeidirektion in Baden-Württemberg). These direct operations over a wide area or in a big city and have administrative and supervisory functions.
The Präsidium often has direct control of the force’s specialist units such as highway patrols, mounted police detachments and canine units. Under the regional headquarters, there are several district police headquarters (Direktionen) serving communities of from 200,000 to 600,000 citizens. Subordinate to each Direktion, there are several local stations (Inspektion) or precincts (Revier) that are manned on a 24-hour basis, conduct day-to-day policing and serve as points of contact for local citizens. Below this level, the Polizeiposten is a small police office manned by one or two officers, normally only during office hours.
The State Police wear the state patch on the uniform sleeve and sometimes metal city badges are worn over the right breast pocket indicating which police department they work for. Police officers can be transferred anywhere within their state.
State police forces are divided into the following branches:
- Schutzpolizei ("Schupo") - the uniformed police officers who patrol the streets and respond to emergency calls etc.
Since the mid-late seventies the following police departments are sub branches of the Schupo:
- Bereitschaftspolizei (BePo) - Uniformed units of the LaPo that provide additional manpower for the Schupo, natural disasters, sporting events, traffic control or demonstrations.
In 1950 the Bepo was founded as a paramilitary organized, armed and trained police force, today their main task is riot/crowd control. In some states the police academy is still part of the Bepo, anyway it is common that after the police academy the younger officers had to serve three to five years with the Bepo.
- Verkehrspolizei - The traffic police in Germany.
- Autobahnpolizei - The highway patrol in Germany. In some states the Autobahnpolizei is a sub division of the Verkehrspolizei department.
- Wasserschutzpolizei (WSP) - The river police for patrolling rivers, lakes and harbours. For practical reasons the WSP of one state may be in charge for territory of another state (e.g., in Hamburg, the WSP is in charge for the Elbe River in the states of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Lower Saxony, Schleswig-Holstein and Hamburg.)
It is common that all of the branches listed above serves in uniform and in plain clothes too. A lot of states have plain cloth units to fight the so-called street crimes (e.g. burglary, car theft, drug dealing) build up 100% with Schupo officers.
- Wachpolizei ("Wapo") - Today called Angestellte im Objektschutz/Gefangenenwesen (employees guarding buildings, embassies or watch over and transport convicts), are non-sworn officers in, e.g., Berlin and Baden-Würtemberg.
- Kriminalpolizei ("Kripo") - the detective branch, responsible for investigations. For instance, if a car is broken into, the Schupo will respond, secure the car, notify the owner etc., and then hand the case over to Kripo for investigation. This is called "Erster Angriff", literally "first advance".
- Landeskriminalamt (LKA) - State Investigation Bureau supervises police operations aimed at preventing and investigating criminal offences, and coordinates investigations involving more than one Präsidium. Some crimes are exclusive tasks of the LKA like crimes against the constitution, organized crime, youth gangs or political motivated crime.
Dedicated to the LKA:
- Spezialeinsatzkommando (SEK) - The SWAT teams of the German state police. (In Hamburg MEK.)
- Mobiles Einsatzkommando (MEK) - The MEKs are plain clothes teams of the LKA with special tasks like mentioned above and special manhunt units.
- Personenschutzkommando - Personal security plain clothes unit, protecting politicians and VIPs.
The individual Länder and the Federal Police conduct basic police training for their personnel. The length and thoroughness of this training contributes in large degree to the high level of police professionalism in Germany. Teaching all aspects of police work takes time but supports a “uniform career structure” that aims to avoid premature specialization, lets officers think in broad terms, makes career field changes easier and improves promotion opportunities.
German citizenship is not required to be a police officer in Germany. Police departments in big cities are especially keen to recruit officers from ethnic minorities to reduce language and cultural barriers. However, minorities still make up less than one percent of officer numbers.
The Land police have had women members since the forces were reconstituted after World War II. Initially, female officers were only assigned to cases involving juveniles and women but in the mid-1970s they were allowed to become patrol officers. The proportion of women on patrol duty is set to rise as 40-50 percent of police school inductees are currently female.
Most police recruits are taken on directly after leaving school and spend about two and a half years at police school in combined classroom tuition and on-the-job training with police departments and the Bereitschaftspolizei. These people qualify as regular police officers and wear green (or light blue on the new blue uniforms) stars on their shoulder straps, denoting rank in the first echelon of the police service.
After duty as a patrol officer, someone with an outstanding record or wealth of experience can go on to two or three years at a higher police school or college of public administration to qualify for the upper echelon which starts with Polizeikommissar (one silver star) and ascends to Erster Polizeihauptkommissar (four or five silver stars). Direct entry candidates with the Abitur high school diploma can also take these courses. Some states such as Hessen now train all their police officers for the upper echelon to improve pay and promotion chances.
The very few candidates who qualify for the police service’s executive ranks study for one year at a state police academy and then for another at the German Police University (Deutsche Hochschule der Polizei – DHPol) in Münster-Hiltrup where graduates earn a masters degree in police administration. Direct-entry candidates with a university degree only study for six months at the DHPol. The executive echelon begins with Polizeirat (one gold star) and culminates with the Land chief of uniformed police (gold wreath with one to three stars) or Federal Police chief (gold wreath with four stars). The DHPol that the states and Federal Interior Ministry administer jointly also provides specialized vocational courses for senior police personnel.
From 1945 till 1976, the various Länder had a wide array of insignia and rank. Additionally, uniforms colours varied from green to blue, and various shades thereof. For example the City State of Hamburg police NCOs wore blue uniforms with inverted British style chevrons and the Schleswig Holstein police wore Green uniforms with Third Reich style rank. Bavaria maintained a State Police (Landespolizei) as well as City Police (Gemeinde / Stadt) forces and, as a special feature, an own Border Police (Bayerische Grenzpolizei). Two separate and distinct uniforms were worn during this time by the state police (Green) and City Police (Blue). The last city police force was Munich, which was finally merged into the state police in 1975. This organization was also prevalent in the other American Sector states.
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 wore the same uniform, that Heinz Oestergaard designed most parts of in the early seventies. The standard uniform consisted 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 were the visor caps with a white top worn by the Verkehrspolizei, or traffic police. The Verkehrspolizei wore white gloves, tunics and coats were during traffic regulation and ceremonial duties (like white holsters and leather gear). In some Länder all officers worn visor caps with white tops in general. The Wasserschutzpolizei wore uniforms of a slightly different design. They had dark or navy-blue jackets, the shirt was white and the visor cap had a white top. The BGS wore a 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 had worn their old uniforms but with western style sleeve and cap emblems.
However, because most European countries have blue or black police uniforms, most German states as well as the federal police introduced new blue uniforms to conform with the common blue image of the police in Europe. At present (August 2012) 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 blue.
Vehicle markings were also redesigned to conform to a white and green livery with the legend “Polizei” in bold lettering. However, around 2000, another change occurred in the vehicles. They went from the green/white scheme to green/silver. However, during both changes BGS vehicles remained all green. Landespolizei tactical vehicles were painted a lighter shade of green all over.
Starting in 2002 a slow process of change began, moving away from the green uniforms to an internationally recognized blue uniform. The first state to convert to a blue uniform was Hamburg. One by one, other states followed suit. Cap badges, patches and rank remained the same as before, just in blue. Vehicle liveries also changed to a silver/blue design. The changes are still underway although more than 2/3 are already changed.
The Bundeskriminalamt (BKA - the German Federal Investigation Bureau) and the Bundespolizei (BPOL - Federal Police, formerly known as the Bundesgrenzschutz/BGS) are federal institutions that are not part of the Landespolizei. An other police is the Polizei beim Deutschen Bundestag (Police at the Bundestag).
- Polizei.de (German)