The Police

Law Enforcement in Germany – die Polizei
Berlin police car

A police car (Streifenwagen) in Berlin – with the new blue-and-silver color scheme. PHOTO © Hyde Flippo

Since law enforcement in Germany is the responsibility of the 16 states (Bundesländer or Länder), there are some differences among them. Every state police agency has a website where citizens can interact with the police and get information. The typical link is www.polizei.statename.de (as in www.polizei.bayern.de for the Bavarian police).

Hamburg policeman

A uniformed Hamburg policeman on duty in front of the city hall. PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons

Generally, the local and regional police (die Polizei) in Germany are divided into two main types. Serious crimes such as assault, murder, rape or grand theft are dealt with by the Kripo (short for Kriminalpolizei). Kripo officials (detectives) usually do not wear a uniform. Traffic offenses and minor disturbances of the peace are handled by the Schupo (Schutzpolizei), more like the officer on the beat or uniformed police in the US. The city police usually fall under the control of each Land, but in some states there are also city police departments. Darmstadt (Kommunalpolizei Darmstadt) in Hesse and Frankfurt am Main (Stadtpolizei Frankfurt), both in the state of Hesse, are two examples.

911 = 110 (Notruf)
EMERGENCY CALLS: In Germany you dial 110 for the police and 112 for the fire department.
Notruf

The Autobahnpolizei
Most of the states in Germany have special “highway patrol” divisions that are responsible for patroling the high-speed autobahns and major highways. The Autobahnpolizei often has more powerful police cars that can handle the high speeds of the autobahn. But the German highway patrol also deals with vehicle inspections and various safety regulations. Drivers should be aware that they also use speedy unmarked vehicles with video cameras (front and back) to catch speeders or other traffic violators. (Despite the legend, many stretches of the autobahn have speed limits!) A few states have no Autobahnpolizei and leave that responsibility to the normal traffic police. (Also see The Autobahn.)

The Wasserschutzpolizei
All of the state police agencies in Germany, with the exception of Thuringia, have a Wasserschutzpolizei (WSP or WaPo) division (waterway police) that patrols rivers, coastlines, harbors and large lakes within the state. In some cases, such as in Hamburg, the Hamburg WSP is also responsible for patroling sections of the Elbe river that pass through other states, including Lower Saxony and Schleswig-Holstein. In coastal regions along the Baltic and the North Sea, sometimes the Bundespolizei (see below) acts like the US Coast Guard, patroling the coastal waters around Bremerhaven, for instance (since 2012).

Police Colors
In an effort to conform to EU standards, the German police have gradually been converting from their traditional forest green to dark blue for uniforms and police vehicles (blue and silver). Most state police agencies had converted to blue uniforms and vehicles by the end of 2008. Two states, Bavaria and Saarland, have so far not joined in this conversion and continue to use the traditional green color for the police.

Die Polizei
In German, the word Polizei is singular, as in “Die Polizei kommt.” (“The police are coming.”) In English we say “the police are…” but in German “the police is…”

The Federal Police
At the federal level, there are two main agencies: (1) The Bundeskriminalamt (BKA) and (2) the Bundespolizei (BPOL, Federal Police). The BKA is modeled after the American FBI and has its headquarters in Wiesbaden. The BKA handles counterfeiting, bank robbery, kidnapping, and other serious federal crimes. At the state level, there is also the Landeskriminalamt (LKA), which deals with criminal activities within each state.

Before June 30, 2005 the Bundespolizei (BPOL, Federal Police) was known as the Bundesgrenzschutz (BGS, Federal Border Protection). The BGS was established in 1951, primarily to guard Germany’s borders. Since 2008, the central headquarters of the BPOL has been in Potsdam, southwest of Berlin. There are eight more regional headquarters spread across Germany. Today the Federal Police agency is still responsible for protecting Germany’s borders, but it now has many other duties, including:

  • providing coast guard services along Germany’s 450-mile-coastline,
  • providing counter-terrorism forces (GSG 9),
  • protecting federal government buildings,
  • providing transportation security at international airports and on the German railways Bahnpolizei,
  • providing sky marshals for airline security,
  • supporting international police missions for the UN and EU in Kosovo, Sudan, Liberia, Afghanistan and other locations,
  • providing in-house security for German embassies in some countries,
  • and providing additional rescue helicopter services.

Today the Federal Police have about 30,000 officers and another 10,000 support personnel. There is a Federal Police Academy (Bundespolizeiakademie, BPOLAK) in Lübeck that trains current and future officers.

A third federal police agency, the Polizei beim Deutschen Bundestag (Polizei DBT, Parliamentary Police, informally the Parlamentspolizei) is responsible for policing in and around the German parliament (Bundestag) building in Berlin. It is the only agency with police powers in and around the federal legislative building. Founded in 1949 as the Hausinspektion der Verwaltung des Deutschen Bundestags, the Polizei DBT was renamed and reorganized in 1994. Officers of the Polizei DBT usually wear civilian clothes while on duty, but when serving in public areas, they wear blue blazers with a “Polizei” label.

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