Coronavirus – Challenges facing the police using Germany as an example

COVID-19 (Coronavirus) has not only changed the lives of the entire population, the economy and politics, but also the work of the police. Alongside health care workers, thousands of police officers are also facing this phenomenon on a daily basis.

Germany has 16 federal states (‘Bundesländer’), each with its own police force in addition to the Federal police and the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) at the national level. Thus, there are not only different responsibilities in Germany, but also different rules, regulations and consequences. This article therefore only provides a rough overview of the situation, without claiming to be exhaustive and without going into more nuanced specificities.

With regard to the overall situation: The Federal Republic of Germany is portrayed in the police Coronavirus strategy as a ‘patchwork’ in terms of service practice (organizational aspects), deployment arrangements and personnel planning.

Occupational safety and health (OSH) measures:

The police have also been affected by the general problems connected with the procurement of protective equipment, such as so-called ‘infection protection kits’ (respiratory, eye and hand protection, disinfectants, protective gowns and disposable shoe covers). However, these kits are now available. Leaflets have been made on how to use these kits and communication portals for the police medical service have been set up. The use of personal protection equipment (PPE) is case-related but is largely left up to the discretion of the police officers. While officers from the national police force generally wear face masks during border controls, currently there are no orders for police officers from federal forces (at the ‘Bundesland’ level) to wear these masks at all times.

Risk groups within the police forces (e.g. older colleagues, employees with pre-existing medical conditions etc.) are given assignments involving a lower degree of risk, if possible. Pregnant women are not allowed to come into work – working remotely, i.e. from home is possible. Police officers that have been in contact with persons infected with the Coronavirus are sent home for self-isolation and are subject to further observation. Those who have been infected with the Coronavirus while on duty benefit from accident protection measures in accordance with the relevant regulations.

Service practice/organization:

Discussions and police force meetings are currently only held via video link or conference call. Arrangements for working from home have been established, where possible. To this end, additional laptops and computers have been procured and the appropriate technical requirements have been put in place. Since it is not possible to work from home in the police patrol and criminal investigation services (with a few exceptions), permanent patrol or investigation teams are formed, if possible, with the aim of minimizing the risk of infection and, more precisely, the spread of the disease in departments. Where necessary, duty rosters and working time models are modified, even if this means straying from the working time guidelines.

Training and ongoing training:

Classical training and ongoing training at police schools and academies have been suspended. Police trainees are given e-learning assignments. All relevant information on the Coronavirus situation or important relevant police issues are included on the police intranet.

Effects on traffic and crime:

Due to the restrictions placed on the population and the entry and exit bans, the number of police cases has decreased. Police deployment and inspection arrangements are determined within the respective organizations but have generally been reduced to a strict minimum.

Violations of Coronavirus restrictions are punished consistently, but at the same time, police officers are required to follow their intuition. Due to different legal interpretations of various bans, police action may well be subject to later judicial review in many cases.

Police union work:

The regular meetings of the union bodies in the first quarter of the year were cancelled. Board and committee meetings are held, if necessary, via video link or conference call. The offices of our unions are also working from home to the extent possible.

Representatives of police unions are frequently interviewed by the media on current relevant police issues or problems.

Hermann Benker

Vice President