Did you ever wonder what it would be like to be a policeman in another country, what type of training they get, what type of equipment they work with, or the German police organization structure?
In the following article, Jorn Weber, a 34-year-old German police officer tells you his personal story of life in the German police force.
Typical example of the Police training in Germany I just want give you a little look into my last years in the German police. It's a typical career in our state (North Rhine-Westfalia).
I joined the police in 1980, 17 years old. (The minimum age to start at the “Schutzpolizei” is 16 years old) At this time I only could start at the "Schutzpolizei", that means normal patrol unit. We now have a new training plan, so you can directly start as a detective or a shift commander after three years at the college! I started with training for three years in one of our police "barracks", like a US Police Academy. But as part of the Alert Forces we had to stay there during the week. During this time our unit was used for big events like demonstrations. Training lessons were very multiple, e.g. any kinds of law, constitutional law, traffic law, sports (self-defense), firearms training, practical things like stopping cars, arresting people and so on.
During this time we had to do very much written work and take many examinations. Every grade was important for the final grade, which in turn, was important for the future career. We also had lessons on working like a platoon, e.g. during big demonstrations.
After everything, I finished school in 1983 and then I had to go to Dusseldorf (at the Rhine river), about 250 km (approximately 156 miles) away from home. My first job here was "Object-Protection". Dusseldorf is the capital of North Rhine-Westfalia, with many important VIPs and many public buildings. We had to drive around and to check all these objects.
After one year I went to the "Hundertschaft", a stand-by squad of about 120 policemen, divided up into groups of 10. These groups were spread over the police stations in Dusseldorf, depending on the personnel need of each station. The problem was that we were working daily at different stations. (No police "home")
After one year I went to the police station in the center of Dusseldorf. Here we had to do a lot of work on traffic, such as accidents, traffic crime or also searching for criminals after robberies and all the matters, which are done by patrol units. This was real police work!
Most work was done in uniform (vests are not a part of the normal uniform), sometimes in plain clothes. My rank was "Polizeimeister". This is a part of what we call "middle duty". Most police officers who wear uniforms are in the middle duty, except for their leading officers. This is also changing these days. We are on the way to getting most of our officers one step up into the higher duty without examinations. So most officers will get the rank of a "Kommissar". But I had to use the "good old way" and so...
In 1988 I completed a four-week examination for the "higher duty" and it was OK! Contents of this examination were about 20 written examinations and an oral examination. Today this test is much shorter. It's done in a way we call "Assessment Centre".
After that I started a one-year training for taking a final examination at a college in Germany (senior High School). We'd been paid as police officers during this time and following the training!
After that year I went to a special university. Here I had to decide to go for the CID (Criminal Investigation Department) as detective or stay on the old force, leading a unit at a police station as a shift commander (sergeant/lieutenant).
For different reasons I decided to join the CID. I spent three years at the university, always half a year as a student and half a year practicing working at different offices of the CID in Dusseldorf. During this time I felt more like a student of law, because the lessons were very deep on the grounds of each law in Germany.
After graduation my rank was "Kommissar" (detective/lieutenant) and I went back to Dusseldorf PD, to the "CID-Station". That's my job today. We work only late and nightshifts, when our "day-duty-detectives" are at home. We have to handle important things on any kind of crime. We have eight detectives on each unit (three units together). The detectives who work during the day do the finishing work of our cases. It's an interesting job, mostly on the road.
The Structure of Dusseldorf Police Department I have to say an important thing first. There's not always a similar expression for the German names of units in your language, in this case I tried a "word-for-word" translation. But this will not always hit the head of the nail, so excuse me for these curious words.
Germany has 79 million inhabitants since the reunification in May 1990. There are now 16 states in this federal structure. Each state has its own police and special police laws (but not much different from each other). The leading Minister of the Interior of each state handles the police equipment.
Each state is divided into many counties. There are counties with smaller cities and less population. There, people from the administration of this county handle the police chief’s responsibilities. In a big city like Munich or Hamburg, they have their own chief, called Polizeipraesident. The important things are done by the administration of the state, such as hiring new people, which is not done by local PDs, and buying new cars, weapons and other stuff. Each department has only a small budget for its needs.
Because of the federal system in our state, there are differences in how each police station works, but most things are similar. As an example I want to tell you something about the structure of my department.
North Rhine-Westfalia (17 million people) is one of our biggest states in Germany. It covers an area of 34,000 sq. km and is thus as large as Belgium and Luxembourg together.
Dusseldorf is the capital city of North Rhine-Westfalia (NW). About 580,000 people live here. We have about 44,000 police officers in North Rhine-Westfalia. Our PD is called "Polizeipraesidium Dusseldorf". Our chief is the "Polizeipraesident". The Polizeipraesident is not a police officer. He's a former judge. That is one important condition of becoming the Polizeipraesident.
In 1993 there was a big reorganization in the police of NW. Since this time there are two big fields in the structure of our PD. One field is the administration with different tasks like: instruction, training, information and communication technology, personnel administration and so on. Most people working here are not sworn officers.
The second field is called "dangerdefense (Gefahrenabwehr) and crime prosecution (Strafverfolgung)". Dangerdefense is the normal patrol police mostly in uniform and in green and white police cars. There are about 1,800 patrol officers in our PD. Crime prosecution is the CID. There are about 440 detectives in our PD.
This second field of our PD is again divided into four fields. The first is called "Special Units". These are units similar to SWAT, and are called the SEK (Spezialeinsatzkommandos). These officers receive a special training and stay only in this unit. They do not work on the street or in the office. They are called to arrest armed criminals and handle many other situations that have very high risks. In the last years they have been very successful in solving situations with the taking of hostages.
Another unit is the MEK (Mobile Einsatzkommandos). It's a well-equipped unit for observation. There’s also a unit called "negotiation group". Their task is to talk to hijackers or hostage takers. They also receive special training. All these cops work only in their units. They go for training, preparing new procedures and so on. These units named above are only available in our big cities like Dusseldorf, Cologne and Dortmund.
The second field is called "Police Special Duties". There are more than 800 officers in this field. There are several different units. One is a stand-by squad of about 120 officers, which is used for demonstrations, visits of foreign governments, soccer games, etc.
A special traffic squad is used for speed checks, truck control, checking for drivers under the influence of alcohol, etc.
The K9 squad with about 24 dogs with different specialties, do drug searching, searching of dead bodies, and explosives.
The mounted police squad has about 30 horses, mostly used like the "stand-by" squad and also in sports (we have an Olympic champion here!)
The object-protection squad has the task of protecting the important buildings and the many VIPs in Dusseldorf and our international airport. They drive around the city and only have to check their objects. This job is done by our new officers who come to Dusseldorf. They don't like it very much, but it has to be done. After one to two years they leave this unit and go to normal patrol duty.
The helicopter squad is also in Dusseldorf, but it doesn't belong to our PD. They have four helicopters, which are used for traffic control, searching for lost people, searching for criminals and other things.
The third field is called the Central CID. Their task is to work on big crimes like homicide, armed robberies, organized drug dealing and business crimes, etc. The CID is divided into different offices (16) that work on their special crime (KK 11 for investigations on murder, dead bodies, KK 31 for investigations on robbery, KK 23 for white collar crime and computer crime.) There's also a little office with fingerprint experts and research labs.
My office is called the "CID-Station". We work after the normal office time of the CID, working on all cases that belong within our competence. The fourth field is called state-protection. These officers are work on political crimes, preventing terrorism and hate crimes. For some years it seems that hate crimes committed by Neo-Nazis are rising. For that reason there is a special part of the state-protection that handles all hate crimes or similar matters. Their work is very successful so the number of crimes is descending. There's no chance for Nazis in our state today!
Our PD is divided into five big police stations with some smaller stations. Each big station has two CID offices. These work on local crimes, which are not done by the central CID, like normal theft, shoplifting, deceit and so on. The patrol officers work in groups of about 20, in four shifts around the clock. A normal shift covers seven days with different times of work.
On average every officer has about 32 days of holidays. Most officers collect their overtime hours and take extra days off for that time. Most officers have more than 150 hours of overtime on their account. There's a possibility of getting money instead of days off, but it's not so easy. So in most cases we take the days off if possible.
We have a central directing station (Communication Centre), which is connected via radio to every unit in the city. These dispatchers are all police officers. They receive every emergency call and send the units to their locations. We use a computer system, so we can see which unit is free or what has happened in a case. This system is used only by three cities in our country. It's very helpful. There is no GPS available today. It's music of the future.
Every big station has a special squad working in plain clothes. Their task is to prevent and to fight against any crime coming from the street. They will work during the prime times of crime and also in the known locations. They are independent from the normal patrol work.
There's also a motorcycle squad in every station. They work on normal traffic things during early and late shifts. They use BMW motorcycles.
Other Police Agencies in Germany: The River Police, as the name implies, is responsible for all waterway traffic and particularly monitors the transport of dangerous goods.
The Alert Forces are responsible for the training of new recruits and provide support for the general and criminal forces during state visits, demonstrations, major sporting events, international affairs and natural disasters. They are trained and deployed as units. They number about 26,000 at present in the western states. New forces are gradually being built up in the new states (since 1991 their strength has been about 6,000). After two to three years training most officers spend one to two years in stand-by squads as part of the Alert Forces. After that time they go to the different departments.
The Federal Border Police is a national police force. The Federal Border Guard is a federal police force responsible to the Federal Ministry of the Interior and numbering about 34,000 (including trainees), plus some 6,250 civilian staff. Its main task is to control the country's borders, which includes checks to prevent the illegal entry of foreigners, organized crime, smuggling and drug trafficking.
The Federal Border Guard also protects key public buildings, such as the office of the Federal President and the Federal Chancellor, the ministries and the Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe. It supports the Federal Criminal Police Office in protecting VIPs and in carrying out responsibilities on the high seas including environmental protection measures.
Since April 1, 1992 the Federal Border Guard has also been responsible for railway and civilian air traffic security. It helps the state authorities cope with particularly dangerous situations, for instance where large forces have to be on duty during state visits or public demonstrations.
The guard is also called in during natural disasters and major accidents. Beyond its statutory functions it carries out international responsibilities, chiefly as part of the police component of UN peacekeeping missions.
The Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA, Bundeskriminalamt), which is based in Wiesbaden with a head department near Bonn, is the focal point of cooperation between the federal and state law enforcement agencies. Concerned with international crime, it collects and evaluates information and other data. The Federal Criminal Police Office is the main body for criminological research and serves as the national center for INTERPOL, the international Criminal Police Organization.
The BKA handles serious crimes, such as international drug trafficking, gun-running and terrorist activities. In large-scale operations it supports the police of the federal states. The BKA's security unit in Bonn protects the Federal President, the Chancellor, ministers, etc. Its staff of about 4,000 comes under the authority of the Federal Ministry of the Interior.
Each county has its own state CID office (Landeskriminalamt, LKA) that works as support office for local departments. There are more tasks like laboratories, computer crime office and so on.
Each county has its own constitution-protection agencies (Verfassungschutz). The federal agency is based in Cologne. Safeguarding the democratic system is defined in the basic law as "protection of the constitution". In order to be able to provide effective protection, the federal and state authorities collect information on extremist activities and on other developments, which constitute a threat to national security and evaluate it for the central and state governments, ministries and courts. Another important area is counter-espionage. The federal authority charged with these tasks is the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution in Cologne. It is accountable to the Federal Ministry of the Interior and cooperates with the corresponding state agencies. This agency has no executive police powers. It may not arrest or interrogate anyone. A law enacted in 1990 defines the legal basis for its activities more precisely and thus ensures greater protection for rights of privacy. The federal and state agencies for the protection of the constitution are under the supervision of the competent ministers, parliaments and data protection commissioners. Further control is exercised by the courts.
German Police Vehicles
I know that our cars and motorcycles are very different than yours. Here in our state (North Rhine-Westfalia) we use the Opel (GM) Vectra as our normal patrol car. Other states use different cars, e.g. Bavaria uses BMW.
The traditional color for patrol cars in Germany is green and white. The units all over the country have the same colors.
The equipment is also very different. We don't have "cages" there is no radar system inside the cars, no "shotguns" under the roofs and no air-conditioning. There is no video surveillance system for our cars and we don't use something like GPS. All these things are "the future". For transporting suspects we often use our van, which is better equipped. For speed checks we have a special task force, which is equipped with different systems, e.g. laserguns (new here in Germany).
Some words about weapons...
Not all units are equipped with our "best" weapon, the MP5 from Heckler&Koch. But we have enough in the stations in case we need them. Normal guns are the SigSauer P226 (9mm, full metal jacket). We are not allowed to carry other guns at duty, such as private guns.
The blue lights and "communication" are mounted on top of the cars. You can display different words to both sides of the car, like "Stop" (it’s also possible to have mirror writing, so cars in front of you must stop), "Follow me" (cars behind you must follow you). This equipment is new for some years now. Before that we used the stick.
Stick procedure: The unit must pass the car, which should be stopped. The officer on the passenger seat opens the window, holding the stick outside. This "lollipop" is shown to the car behind you and the driver must stop!
I know that this procedure sounds funny, especially to American Officers, but we still use this stick for traffic controls on the road. Every road user must stop when the stick is shown towards him.
The air unit at the Dusseldorf Airport is not part of the Dusseldorf police department. It's part of the county police where all activities are coordinated. Currently they use two different helicopters:
Seats: 5 Engines: 2 maximum performance (kw/PS): 2 x 310 / 420 maximum all up weight: 2500 kg unladen weight: 1550 kg maximum [permitted] load (incl. fuel) 950 kg usable fuel tank volume 570 l with extra fuel tank 770 l fuel consumption per hour 200 l average speed for a journey 210 km/h Crew: 2 Officers per unit extra equipment video camera, transmitting live pictures, searchlight, infra-red picture possible, Thermal Imager possible permanent equipment numerous radios, loudspeaker, cameras, medical emergency equipment
Gerhelicopter Technical Information:
Seats (incl. Crew): 8-11 Engines: 2 maximum performance (kw/PS): n/a maximum all up weight: 3200 kg unladen weight: 1550 kg maximum [permitted] load (incl. fuel) 1045 kg usable fuel tank volume 690 l with extra fuel tank 890 l fuel consumption per hour (l/h) 263 l average speed for a journey 235 km/h, 125 kts Crew: 2 Officers per unit extra equipment video camera, transmitting live pictures, searchlight, infra-red picture possible, Thermal Imager possible permanent equipment numerous radios, loudspeaker, cameras, medical emergency equipment
Like every land, the people, culture, history and philosophies combine to define Germany as a unique country. Though the police training, equipment and structure itself differ from American police departments, the goal of protecting and serving the people remains the same.
Jorn Weber is a detective in the Dusseldorf Police Department in Germany. He lives on a farm close to the Dutch border with his wife Anka. You can read more about the German police system on his extensive web site at: http://www.polizei-web.net or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.