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Spezialeinsatzkommandos (SEK) (previously also known as Sondereinsatzkommando) are the special response units of the German state police forces. German SEKs are full-time units whose members do not perform any other duties, and are essentially the equivalent of American SWAT Teams. The comparable unit of the German Federal Police is the GSG 9.
The organization of special police forces varies from state to state. Whilst most states have created one SEK in their capital city, others have taken regional crime focuses into account and established SEK units in major cities known as hotspots for violent crime, such as the North Rhine-Westphalia Police or Rheinland-Pfalz State Police. The Bavarian State Police and Hessen State Police have two SEKs each, one covering the north and one covering the south of the state. A SEK unit can be attached to the (barracked) Rapid Reaction Police or to big regional police headquarters. However, the common trend is to put the SEK units under control of the State Investigation Bureau, whenever possible in a unit also consisting of the Mobiles Einsatzkommando (MEK, mobile special response unit) or other specialized forces like crisis negotiation teams.
The internal organisation of SEKs rests with the units and therefore differs as well.
The SEK of South Bavaria has an alpine component and the SEK units of Bremen and Hamburg have elements trained for maritime tasks. Some SEKs also have specialized negotiation groups (Verhandlungsgruppen, commonly abbreviated as VGs) for cases like hostage situations or suicide attempts.
Eligibility and training
Any state police officer is eligible to apply for service in a SEK unit, but it is common only to consider applications from officers with at least two years of duty experience. The age limit is mostly between 23 and 35 years, whilst operatives have to leave the entry teams when they reach the age of 42 (or 45 in some states). Both sexes can be recruited, however only a few policewomen have been able to handle the extensive and challenging tests. At the moment, only the SEK units of Hamburg (note: the SEK-equivalent unit in Hamburg is also called MEK), Schleswig-Holstein and Southern Hesse have women in their ranks.
Basically the requirements demand physical and mental strength, discernment and capacity for teamwork. Only about 30 percent of all candidates pass the tests. The length of the training necessary to become an operative in a SEK unit differs but is generally five to eight months long and covers a wide range of required skills.
Mainly unrecognized by the media and public, the main missions of SEK units are to serve arrest warrants and to deal with barricaded suspects. Hostage sieges, kidnappings and raids also belong to their missions as well as other scenarios like personal security detail for VIPs or witnesses.
Since the 1970s, each SEK has handled several thousand deployments. The front-runner is the SEK of the Berlin Police with up to 500 deployments a year, an average of 1.4 deployments a day.
Equipment and uniforms
Unlike other police institutions, SEKs are not bound to normal procurement policies and can order the equipment they feel is best for their mission. The basic gear for every officer is a standard sidearm and a submachine gun, typically the Heckler & Koch MP5 or the Heckler & Koch MP7 . Other weapons in a unit's inventory include assault rifles such as the Heckler & Koch G36 or the Austrian Steyr AUG rifle, and shotguns of different manufacturers. The most common precision rifles used are the Heckler & Koch PSG1 and bolt action rifles manufactured by Blaser, Unique Alpine and Accuracy International. Some units also field specialized or heavy weapons such as the G8 machine gun or the French PGM Hecate II .50-caliber sniper rifle.
SEK members do not always operate in uniform and wear masks to protect their identities. If cited in a trial they are only referred to as numbers. When off-duty SEK officers are called to a crime scene, they may appear plainclothed, only wearing their special protective gear and carrying their weapons.
Mobile special response units (Mobile Einsatzkommandos or MEKs) operate hand-in-hand with the SEKs. These plain-clothed units are specialized in surveillance, quick arrests and mobile hostage sieges or kidnappings. They are often used in investigations against organized crime or blackmailers. The MEK is often also the unit providing close protection for the state's senior leaders, including the state's minister president. Requirements for the duty as a MEK officer are similar or partially less strict than the requirements for the SEK.
The Personenschutzkommando units are plain clothes unit that provide personal security to protect politicians and VIPs.
German Democratic Republic
The SEK units of the states that belonged to the German Democratic Republic prior to 1990 do partially consist of officers who were members of East Germany's GSG 9 counterpart, a unit called Diensteinheit IX. DE IX members had to fulfill similar requirements. Alexander Schalck-Golodkowski, the regime's leading trader, purchased West German weapons and ammunition for DE IX in the mid-80s to fill capability gaps.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Spezialeinsatzkommando.|
- (German) Polizei.de
- (German) Spezialeinsatzkommando (SEK) at Sondereinheiten.de
- (German) Reinhard Scholzen: Spezialeinsatzkommandos der deutschen Polizei Motorbuchverlag, Stuttgart 2006, ISBN 3-613-02016-5.