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Police officers riled by new ID requirement

Published: 18 Aug 2011 08:47 GMT+02:00

Police officer Thomas S. says his job on the streets of southern Berlin is hard enough as it is.

So he’s angry that he’s now forced to wear an ID badge with his personnel number on it. It puts his life at risk, he says.

“Even as police officers we live completely openly in our private lives,” he told The Local this week. “I’m afraid criminals could track me down. You deal with the same people for years and they start to hate you personally.”

Although police officers in other western countries like the United States and Britain have been required to wear numbers or name tags for years, Berlin last month became the first German state to mandate their use among uniformed officers.

But the move, made in the face of stiff opposition from Germany’s two main police unions, has outraged officers such as Thomas S., who refused to offer his surname while talking to The Local. He and many of his colleagues consider it part of a nationwide trend that will erode police privacy.

Now the GdP police union is mobilizing its resources to fight the requirement. This week it said it was supporting officers who are filing a complaint with Berlin’s chief law enforcement officials. If that’s rejected, union officials said, further legal action is possible.

“There is no compromising on this,” said Detlef Herrmann, a GdP administrator based in Berlin, who believes the open display of officers’ names or personnel numbers poses unacceptable risk. “We want things to go back to the way they used to be.”

That would mean mandating Berlin’s roughly 13,000 police officers to provide their service numbers when demanded, but letting them decide on their own whether to wear ID badges all the time, he said.

Controversial or common sense?

The new ID requirement was announced by Berlin’s police superintendent in 2010 following long-standing demands from human rights groups like Amnesty International. Although officials initially said officers would have to wear tags displaying their last names, they eventually compromised, allowing just ID numbers.

After months of controversy, the tags were distributed to officers last month.

“For us it’s always been a necessary requirement,” said Joachim Rahmann, who researches police issues for Amnesty’s Germany branch. “We’ve identified numerous cases in which a lack of identification hindered investigation of police abuses.”

Amnesty’s latest report on police practices in Germany points to a 2010 study by the Berlin’s Free University that found mandatory police IDs could have helped identify perpetrators in at least 10 percent of investigations into police brutality that later had to be terminated.

The GdP says that while that could be true, such mandates may be a violation of Germany’s strict privacy laws and could put police officers in great danger.

Rahmann said that there’s been no evidence of increased danger for police or their families in countries where officers are required to wear IDs.

But Hermann argued that comparing Germany with countries like the United States is akin to dealing with apples and oranges.

“Germany society is very different,” he said. “For one thing, in the US, there is much more respect for police.”

The proof is in the abuse police officers already face even though their names aren’t known publicly, said the union, pointing to cases of German officers’ family members being phoned and verbally harassed.

Debate goes national

The controversy in Berlin has spurred intense debate about police name tag requirements across Germany.

The state of Brandenburg recently announced it would require officers to wear ID by 2013.

But other states, and the federal police, have responded more cautiously, with Saxony-Anhalt’s premier even comparing mandatory police IDs to the yellow stars Jews were forced to wear under the Nazis. National officials have said there are no plans to require federal officers to wear name tags.

In an interview with The Local, a Berlin police spokesman suggested the entire controversy may be much ado about nothing.

“Wearing identification is a form of customer service,” said spokesman Florian Nath. “It doesn’t matter if officers don't want to. They have to wear it anyway.”

But Thomas S. said officers provide service that’s good enough already.

He said the ID requirement, despite the fact he doesn’t have to display his name, is an attack on his personal safety.

“I'm afraid,” he said. “We deal daily with criminals and people who want to hurt us.”

Moises Mendoza

moises.mendoza@thelocal.de

twitter.com/moisesdmendoza

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Your comments about this article

08:45 August 18, 2011 by ECSNatale
The solution seems perfectly logical to me: if the desire for badges is to make officers accountable and to allow the public to be able to identify an officer in the event of a complaint, why not just have the wear badges with their ID numbers clearly visible. That way the public can identify an officer without asking and the police officers can maintain their privacy. Seems like a win/win to me.
09:34 August 18, 2011 by moistvelvet
"Germany society is very different," he said. "For one thing, in the US, there is much more respect for police."

Obviously if German police could be identified then they would act more professionally and in turn EARN the respect a police officer should have.
10:07 August 18, 2011 by The-ex-pat
Moistvelvet, you do have a point. I learnt very soon after first arriving in Germany that German's seem to think that respect comes with a certain position, be it policeman or any other (self) important job. They can't understand that you earn respect and it is NEVER given away for free and they seem to think that respect is a one way street too....from you to them!

Back to the story, do what the UK police do and put their numbers on the uniform. That maintains the anonymity of names and in reality with today's criminal mind I think it is required. Also how do you make a complaint about a policeman? He was in a blue uniform, a gun, radio and 5' 8"...........that narrows it down!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
10:10 August 18, 2011 by PiggyPoo
@ECSNatale:

I agree entirely. I think a name badge is unnecessary and potentially dangerous, but a number is a good idea.

@moistvelvet:

Your comment makes it sound as though all German police officers act unprofessionally, which I personally can't agree with.

These days there seems to be a general lack of respect, for people and objects. I certainly would not want to be a police officer now.
10:50 August 18, 2011 by Johnne
They should wear the numbers and leave all these unnecessary arguments! what are they afraid of if they don´t have anything to hide. We all know that many of them feel too much on top of the world once they put on that uniform and sometimes it makes them really really misbehave.. I think wearing IDs will make them sit up & actualy earn the respect they deserve.
11:55 August 18, 2011 by DoubleDTown
I'm not a voting German citizen, and don't even live in Berlin, but I think displaying numbers would be sufficient for accountability and should not be objectionable for the police. As to names, I am very skeptical that it puts the cops at risk, but can see it's theoretically a possible risk. As to American cops wearing I.D., yeah they do except when they don't. I can well remember a certain August evening in 1995 when state troopers deployed in Boston during a Green Day concert all seemed to have lost their name tags. What did they tell the Boston Globe? Oh, some of the college kids ripped them off our uniforms. Yeah, right.
13:54 August 18, 2011 by wood artist
I'm intrigued about this. In the US police almost all wear nametags (often along with badge numbers) and have little or no problem with being identified. I would also suggest that there is little intrinsic respect for officers, especially in the larger cities.

From what I've seen and read of Germany, respect for authority is generally much greater, although I understand the societal sensitivity regarding privacy too. That said, I find it funny that Germans (as a whole) were concerned about Google Street View but willingly register their residence with local authorities...something unthinkable in the US.

At the least they should wear badge numbers. If they are acting appropriately, there is no reason to fear being identifiable. Will criminals target them? Possibly, but having been a police officer in the US, I'm not sure that risk is all that great.

The differences between the US and Germany sometimes seem very random, and often contradictory.

wa
14:38 August 18, 2011 by William Thirteen
badge numbers!
15:38 August 18, 2011 by catjones
No surprise, but the german police confuse secrecy with privacy. Police in general have enormous powers that civilians do not. Those who fear name recognition probably should.

As for berlin police, will they issue name tags to the seeing-eye dogs as well?
16:43 August 18, 2011 by Loth
So why not just a badge number to protect the policeman from being tracked?
17:57 August 18, 2011 by Shiny Flu
1) Do not list your name in the White Pages or other open directories - this should be made free for die Polizei.

1b) If a criminal really wants to find your house and kill your family, they'll be able to do it with or without a visible number/name. QED.

2) HTFU, if you want to carry a badge, a gun and a baton then you've got to be open to accountability.

Just like in society, there are bad apples out there and die Polizei is no exception. Even the 'average' good-intentioned copper is prone to impulsive acts and are not immune to ignorance of the law.
18:48 August 18, 2011 by meinreich
das ist wunderbar.
09:56 August 19, 2011 by Johnne
@internationalwatch

Gbam!! you just hit the point :-)
17:27 August 19, 2011 by Jollyjack
As a Brit I have no sympathy for these police officers whatsoever. I see them daily and they look scruffy and unprofessional to me. It seems to me that they only way they solve crimes is by means of offering rewards. Sherlock Holmes was no Berliner.
18:07 August 19, 2011 by Jack Kerouac
Thomas S.? Could it be Schoene, maybe?
00:43 August 20, 2011 by BorninDachau
I noticed one person stating that they have more respect for police in the US. Not entirely true, it depends on where you live in the US. In some of the larger cities the police are treated almost as badly as the criminals are. They have to travel in large groups in some areas to avoid being shot. Yes, we do have a lot of guns in the US, but it is too late to give them up now, because if we did, then only the criminals would still have them. But, never fear it is still safe to travel and stay in the US in the vast majority of the country. Most Americans are friendly and helpful, but like any where in the world you have to use your common sense to stay away from areas that seem dirty or broken down. Alles Gut. Or like we say in Tennessee; "it's all good!"
14:34 August 20, 2011 by thor2748
Perhaps the Berlin Police Superintendent should have agreed with the long-standing demands from human rights groups like Amnesty International by saying the police officers will wear the name tags and ensure the tags are clearly visible. With today¦#39;s technology they can even wear name tags with brail or tags that speak in different languages. However, it¦#39;s always been very difficult for the police to quickly and properly identify suspects/criminals which usually contributes to many hours of investigation and high cost to the tax payers. As such, perhaps the Police Superintendent should go one step further by asking Amnesty International to ensure the criminals also wear names tags ensuring those tags are clearly visible, with brail and/or tags that announce their name in different languages. Fair is fair.
17:15 August 20, 2011 by johnny108
"Germany society is very different," he said. "For one thing, in the US, there is much more respect for police."

He is mistaking respect for fear.

I just moved to Germany after living in the US my entire life. Americans break the law just as often as the American police do.

It balances out, in the end- Americans are corrupt, in order to counter their police force.
23:09 August 20, 2011 by Kölner
Comment removed by The Local for breach of our terms.
18:43 August 22, 2011 by Jack Kerouac
American police are a victorian police force, looking out of foggy windows, watching and spying on everything and everyone that is deemed suspicious. Often they can arrest people on suspicion alone, with the presumption of guilt. Johnny is right - respect is being confused with fear. The problem in American police is that everyone is doing what they think they're SUPPOSED to be doing, instead of what needs to be done.
20:13 August 22, 2011 by montanisemperliberi
As an American criminal defense attorney I can tell you that in general the police in the U.S. are not "looking out foggy windows, watching and spying on everything and everyone". To the contrary, where I live, which is admittedly a smaller city (
13:53 August 26, 2011 by BraveGurkhas
Huhahahaha So Coward German Police, U r afraid of criminal then why do you work for Security what a Pity!!!
00:00 September 11, 2011 by bartschaff
Comment removed by The Local for breach of our terms.
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