What types of police exist in Germany?

The police is, like many other German institutions, organised under federal regulations. There are 16 police headquarters in various federal states, all of which cooperate with the Federal Police (BP) and the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA). Besides, there are also customs police officers and agents ("Feldjäger") of the German Federal Armed Forces ("Bundeswehr") with the tasks of the military police. The officers of the criminal police do not wear uniforms. All the other officers of the police who are in charge of protection could be recognised by their green or blue uniform. These are the cops you daily see patrolling, to whom you can directly approach whenever you need.

How do I recognise the police?

You can recognise the police by their blue or green-beige uniform. Since 2004, an attempt has been made to match up the colour of police uniforms and vehicles across the European Union. Since this process is not yet completed, you can see both colour variants depending on the state. In the meantime, however, the blue color predominates. There are also special clothing, for example for police officers who ride motorcycles, horses or bicycles. Depending on the situation, law enforcement officers can also wear protective vests, helmets, batons and various weapons.

What duties does the police have?

The police is responsible for the investigation of burglaries, traffic accidents and other offences. Besides, they provide children in primary schools with Traffic courses to prevent accidents and ward off dangers. The officers also ensure the security of sporting events and demonstrations and advice on safety and security. Investigating cases of domestic violence, stalking and crimes on the Internet are among other police tasks. If you are a victim of domestic violence, you can call the police or the "Gewalt gegen Frauen" helpline under 08000 116 016, where you can receive advises in 17 languages ​​around the clock. You can learn more about domestic abuse in our chapter Domestic Violence.

The criminal police, consisting of the 16 State Criminal Police Offices (LKA) and the Federal Criminal Police Office ("Bundeskriminalamt" or BKA), is responsible for the national crime control. It occasionally also conducts investigations involving foreign elements, but only in the cases of ​​larg scale and organised crime.

The protection of state institutions and personnel, the prosecution of criminal offenders, border protection and the fight against international terrorism are among the responsibilities of the Federal Police. Here you can see an explanatory film about the tasks of the federal police and its special unit, GSG 9.

The German police do not collaborate with the secret service. The Federal Intelligence Service ("Bundesnachrichtendienst" or BND) is responsible for the intelligence issues in Germany. The police in Germany also does not intimidate or assault political dissidents. You can express your opinion freely as the freedom of expression is a specified basic right in the German Basic Law. Learn more in our chapter German Basic Law.

 

When should I call the police?

You should call the police if you or someone else is in danger or if you observe a crime. This can be a raid, a break-in, theft, arson, property damage, sexual abuse, assault, threat, etc. You should also call the police in the event of domestic violence.

If you call the emergency number 110, the police will be with you as soon as possible.

Important: If you have been the victim of right-wing, racist, anti-Semitic or Islamophobic violence, you can always contact the police. You can find out more in our chapter "Discrimination".

You can also call the police in the cases of administrative offense. For example, when someone in your neigbourhood is making loud voices during resting hours (“Ruhezeiten”).

Furthurmore, if you notice political or religious radicalisation of a young adult around you, you can report this to the police. For this purpose, you can also contact and consult the BAMF's Radicalisation Counselling ("Radicalisierungsberatung") at 0911 943 43 43 in several languages. 

What should I tell the police during an emergency call?

The following information is necessary for the police in situations of emergency:

  • Who is calling? (your name and address)
  • What happened?
  • Where did it happen?
  • When did it happen?

Wait for further questions and do not put down the phone until you are asked to do so. Depending on how dangerous the situation is, the police will be at the scene promptly.

Important: Generally speaking, the employees in the emergency call centre only speak German and possibly English.

How can I file a complaint against an offender?

You can place a criminal complaint at a police station or report the crime online at online-strafanzeige.de. Particularly in the major cities, it may take a long time for a complaint to be processed. It usually has to do with huge bureaucratic hassles, lack of enough personnel and the large number of complaints. However, the police are obliged to process all claims. Even if you do not hear from them for a long time, it does not mean that your complaint has been purposely ignored.

Plain-clothes police and "fake police"

The police do not always wear uniforms. In particular, criminal police officers also work in "civilian" clothing and therefore are visually unrecognisable as the police force. They often have to hide their identity, for example, to observe people or to enforce arrest warrants. If a police officer is in civilian clothes, this does not by any mean indicate that he is working with the intelligence service. The Federal Intelligence Service ("Bundesnachrichtendienst" or BND) is responsible for the intelligence issues in Germany.

There are also fraudsters who may falsely impersonate police officers. If you suspect that someone is a "fake officer" and can cause danger, call the police emergency number 110. If there is no threat, but you doubt the authenticity of a federal officer's proof of service ("Dienstausweis"), you can also call the hotline Contact of the Federal Police ("Bundespolizei") at 0800 6 888 000.

What happens if someone insults an officer?

"Beamtenbeleidigung" or "insulting an Official" is a term you might have heard here and there, but it actually is not a separate term in the law. There is no specific fine for each particular expression and offensive word. According to §185 of the Criminal Code, insulting police officers is just like insulting any other person and the both cases are penalised in the same way. The amount of penalty you have to pay for insulting depends on what the courts had previously defined.

What can I do if the police discriminate against me?

One can also experience discrimination in the hands of police officers. One experience that many people in Germany have is, for example, so-called racial profiling. If a person is stopped, questioned, searched or even arrested by the police just because they think they are suspicious due to their skin color or specific characteristics, this is called "racial profiling". But discriminatory insults, mistreatment or assaults can also happen. Victims of police arbitrariness or police violence can report the culprits. If you have experienced discrimination or violence from a police officer, you can seek help from the "Campaign for Victims of Racist Police Violence" (KOP).

What can the police do (and what not), legally speaking?

Police officers are not above the law. What they are allowed to (or not) is regulated in the penal code, the criminal procedure code and police law.

The police can ask for your ID. If you are not suspected of a specific crime or if you do not have evidence of another suspect with you, the police will not be allowed to search you. This also applies to your home: Your home may only be searched if you are suspected of a criminal offense or the police suspect that a suspect is in your home. If the police say they want to search you or your home anyway, you have to clearly state that you don't agree. If you don't say anything, that is considered consent. If you are then searched anyway, the police officers are liable to prosecution. In this case, contact a counseling centre or a lawyer. Important: Women can ask for a female police officer if they are to be searched.

If you are driving a vehicle, the police can ask for your ID, driver's license and vehicle registration document. The police can also ask you to stop and leave the vehicle. The police officers can also check whether you have a warning triangle and a first-aid kit with you. However, they may not search your vehicle or test your fitness to drive with various tests (e.g. walking in a straight line) if there is no clear evidence of alcohol or drugs with you. If the police do or demand it anyway, you have to withhold your consent. If the police force you, they will make themselves liable to prosecution. Important: If you don't say anything, it will be taken as consent.

The police are only allowed to do a blood test or urine test if you are accused of a crime. In principle, the police must have the approval of a judge for this. The police may only act without the approval of a judge if it is necessary to react immediately (e.g. because you can no longer prove the drugs or alcohol later). It is important, however, that there are really indications of alcohol or drug use. The police are not allowed to arbitrarily conduct these tests. If a police officer wants to do a blood test or urine test for no apparent reason, you can refuse to give your consent.

The police are not allowed to take you to the police station without a reason. If a police officer asks you to come with them, you can refuse to give your consent. If you are taken away anyway, the police are liable to prosecution. In this case you should contact a lawyer. If you don't know any lawyers yourself, you can contact the "Emergency Service of Criminal Defense Lawyers Berlin" on 0172-3255553 and ask for support. The employees there are available day and night

If you are questioned by the police, you can refuse to testify. That means: you don't have to answer the questions. If you get a written invitation from the police, you don't have to go there. You only have to accept invitations from the public prosecutor's office or a court. Make sure you contact a lawyer beforehand.

You have the right to ask for the police officers' ID card and to write down their details. This is important if you later want to file a criminal complaint. It is also always helpful to ask passers-by to witness the situation, so that you have witnesses too. Important: You must file a criminal complaint within three months of the incident. You can do this directly at the public prosecutor's office. So, you don't have to go to the police.

If you are arrested, you have the right to call a lawyer. If you don't know any lawyers yourself, you can contact the "Emergency Service of Criminal Defense Lawyers Berlin" on 0172-3255553 and ask for support. The employees there are available day and night.

Can I become a police officer?

In principle, German citizenship is the prerequisite for becoming a police officer in Germany. Police forces are categorised as civil servants, and, according to the German law, one may only work as a public servant as a German citizen.

In some federal state, however, , there are laws according to which one can become a public servant even without a German passport. Therefore, under certain conditions, you may be able to start police training, even if you do not have German citizenship. To find out more about the relevant rules and regulations in your federal state, get in touch with the Police Union, your local police or www.polizeitest.de. There you can also find out about the other requirements, such as school leaving certificate, physical fitness requirements, etc.