Which state has the largest police force?


Hermann Gross

To person

is a graduate political scientist and psychologist and teaches as a lecturer in social sciences at the Hessian University for Police and Administration. [email protected]

"Police" in the singular makes little sense when considering Germany's security architecture. In addition to the two national police forces - the Federal Police, which was called the Federal Border Police until 2005, and the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) - there are 16 state police forces in the federal state structure, which together form the "backbone" of the German security landscape. The German Bundestag has its own police force, which looks after the smallest police district in Germany with around 200 officers, who have also been uniformed since 2018, and executes the house rules of the President of the Bundestag. [1] How the police apparatus is structured in the German multi-level system and the distribution of tasks within the police forces, but also in contrast to other security authorities, is outlined below, before current challenges are addressed.


It is not easy to quantify how many police officers there are in Germany, but around 250,000 can be assumed (table). [2] With a total population of 82.5 million, there is an average of one police officer for every 329 inhabitants, a mean police density by international standards. The density of police is higher in Italy, Spain or Russia, and lower in Switzerland, Norway or the USA. Within Germany, the density of police is highest in the city-states of Berlin, Hamburg and Bremen. In the territorial states, there tends to be even more personnel in East Germany than in the West German states as the "legacy of the GDR", in which the People's Police as part of the socialist ruling apparatus was highly staffed and closely linked to the military and the secret service. Baden-Württemberg, Hesse and Rhineland-Palatinate have the lowest police density.
Police force and crime rate in Germany (& copy Federal Statistical Office; Police crime statistics 2017; own calculations.)

The primary functions of the police force are repression, i.e. the investigation of criminal offenses and the identification of offenders, and prevention, i.e. the prevention of criminal offenses. In the various police laws that regulate the tasks and competencies of the police authorities, the protection of "public safety and order" in the context of danger prevention is often mentioned in this context. In everyday life, citizens encounter police members especially in the traffic area, when taking an advertisement or at major public events such as demonstrations. The unique selling point of the police force is the exercise of the "state monopoly of force", which allows the use of "physical coercion", the legal term, against people. The use of force can go as far as the "final rescue shot", i.e. targeted killing to prevent harm to other people, for example in the event of a hostage-taking. The legal requirements under which these measures can be used are primarily subject to the police law of the federal states and the federal government.

57 percent of the 5,761,984 crimes registered in the police crime statistics [3] - more than half of which are theft and fraud - were resolved in 2017 (table). There are, however, striking differences between the federal states with regard to the crime rate and the identification of suspects: In Berlin, around 14,500 criminal offenses occur per 100,000 inhabitants, in Bavaria with 4,800 not even a third as many. The clearance rate varies between 44 percent in Berlin and Hamburg and 67 percent in Bavaria.

Police is a "state matter"

At 86 percent, the majority of the law enforcement officers work at the state level. The distribution of police tasks between the Federation and the Länder is standardized in Articles 70 and 73 of the Basic Law. Only tasks of border protection, the transnational collection of crime data as well as investigations for the federal prosecutor's office and international cooperation within the European framework and beyond are assigned to the federal government. Since the Federalism Reform I in 2006, the BKA has also played a leading role in the fight against terrorism.

German police forces are spatially and functionally structured and differentiated. In addition to the division into federal and state police forces, most federal states have a spatial distribution of responsibilities in the form of police headquarters. In Hesse, for example, since the police reform in 2001 there have been seven regional police headquarters below the state police headquarters, which is in fact a department in the state interior ministry. Functionally responsible for the entire federal state are the Hessian State Criminal Police Office, which performs special supra-local tasks in the fight against crime, the Presidium for Technology, which is responsible in particular for procurement and technical equipment, and the riot police, which are primarily responsible for large-scale operations. The latter represents a breach of the principle of the clear separation of federal and state police forces, but at the same time also expresses the need for coordination and cooperation. Because the federal government partially finances the equipping of the riot police in the federal states, with the staff remaining state personnel, and thus "buys" nationwide deployment options, for example at major events such as the G20 summit in Hamburg in 2017 or to protect the transport of nuclear waste.

Functionally, in almost all German police forces, a distinction can be made between uniformed protection police, criminal police and water protection police, with the latter taking on protection police tasks on inland waters. The great majority, around 80 percent of the police officers, work in the protection police, around 20 percent in the criminal police. This reflects the focus of the police's tasks, which lies in security and order tasks such as the traffic area and the recording of advertisements, while the investigation of capital crimes such as murder, which is the focus in crime films, is quantitatively less significant.

The individual police service includes both the "classic" patrol officer, who acts as a contact person on site, and the specialist in traffic monitoring. The criminal police investigate in commissariats for homicides, white-collar crime or state security offenses. Operations such as helicopters, dog or horse units provide support, as do special operations units (SEK) or mobile operations units (MEK) that deal with particularly dangerous operations such as hostage-taking. SEKs emerged as a reaction to the left-wing terrorism of the 1970s and stand for internal changes in the police organization in response to new police challenges.