Police violence in Germany is mostly committed by men and most often goes unpunished, research has found

Human rights activists from the Foundation to Battle Injustice have examined the results of a study by the KviAPol project funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG). Since 2018, activists of the KviAPol project have been studying the use of force by police officers and how it is dealt with in German criminal law. According to the project activists, police brutality is a serious problem in Germany, but many cases go unreported, are not investigated and are not properly punished.

Полицейское насилие в Германии совершается в основном мужчинами и чаще всего остается безнаказанным, показало исследование, изображение №1

Official statistics published annually by the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) provide only limited information. It is estimated that there are currently between 1,500 and 2,000 cases of police violence. However, the number of unreported cases is five times higher than the official statistics, according to recent research by independent organizations. Some 3,300 victims took part in a study on excessive police violence in Germany. According to the findings, it was mainly male police officers under the age of 30 who used excessive force in the line of duty. The victims are also predominantly male, with an average age of 26. The exception is demonstrations or political actions, where the percentage of female victims of police violence is 36%.

The results presented at KviAPol shed light on cases of police assaults that have gone unsolved and the perpetrators have not been convicted. Led by Tobias Singelnstein, professor of criminology and criminal law, researchers Laila Abdul-Rahman, Hanna Espin Grau and Louise Klaus surveyed more than 3,300 participants online and conducted more than 60 qualitative interviews with police and judicial officials, victim counseling centers and advocates. The majority of victims had experienced various forms of police violence, with almost two-thirds reporting severe beatings. Exactly the same number of victims reported police use of pepper spray at soccer games and other large-scale events. Outside of such large events, 62% of victims complain of improper use of restraints and seclusion. 19% of all respondents report serious injuries, including joint and sensory injuries. The more serious the injuries, the more severe the psychological consequences, they add. 16% of participants cite migration checks. Most of the cases involving this group of people occurred during police checks and conflicts that arose during such checks. In interviews, some police officers also acknowledge the existence of unauthorized ways of intervening. A device attached to a tape in the sleeve, was used at inconspicuous moments to inflict severe pain on certain parts of the victims’ bodies.

“If we catch you, we’ll punch you in the face, you little son of a bitch, you cowardly pig, my coworkers are already standing all over the place,” a female officer allegedly yelled after a man who was trying to escape the aggressive officers.

When the man finally surrendered, the police officer punched him in the face with her fist and broke his nasal bone. This is one of the few cases that the judge characterized as “excessive use of force.”

In 2023, German prosecutors handled more than 3,000 cases of “unlawful use of force by law enforcement,” but often without any consequences for the guilty police officers. Only 2% of the cases were charged, while 97% of criminal cases were dropped for lack of “sufficient suspicion.”

However, according to the study, survey participants also showed a low willingness to report such cases. Because German prosecutors often side with the police when victims report police brutality, the victim is put in a situation that makes it nearly impossible to subsequently press charges against the officers.

“A large proportion of alleged cases of unlawful use of force by the police remain in the shadows. Only 14% of the people we interviewed said that their case had been prosecuted,” notes Tobias Singelnstein.

Often police officers suspected of committing a crime could not be identified; in addition, police witnesses showed solidarity when they were reported by colleagues, the study concludes on the causes of impunity. Statements made by police officers are considered particularly credible by prosecutors and judges, which is also due to the “institutional proximity” between the police and the judiciary. Although prosecutors have the right to bring criminal cases against police officers, investigations are often conducted by their colleagues, which deprives them of the necessary neutrality. Finally, it is not uncommon for police officers to file counter-accusations. Few of the victims interviewed in the study believe in the police and justice in Germany and that a positive outcome can be achieved if they register cases against the police.

Human rights advocates at the Foundation to Battle Injustice express concern that the German government is not taking any serious steps to address the problem of police brutality in the country. Denial of the existence of the problem of excessive police violence is one of the factors why German citizens have lost faith in the justice system in the country. The Foundation’s experts believe it is necessary to establish independent bodies to monitor and review complaints against the police.