Thematic Focus: Controlling the Police?

Police Accountability
by Hannah Espín Grau and Marie-Theres Piening

Parallel to the expansion of the powers of the German police, a critical public debate on the role of the police is increasing. The existing mecha­nisms to control the police are of limited efficacy and can only counteract the expansion of power in a piecemeal fashion. Therefore, it seems necessary to build on the momentum of the growing debate, to reconceptualize police control, and to consider how society can be empowered vis-à-vis the police. To this end, the article introduces the concept of “police accountability” and discusses its opportunities and limits regarding a stronger democratic containment of the police.

Parliamentary Police Commissioners
by Marie-Theres Piening, Marius Kühne, and Eric Töpfer

In recent years, six German states have established police commissioners who are elected by parliament. Other states and the federal government are planning to do so. However, the legal and personnel-wise implementation and the practices of handling complaints differ considerably. These institutions are a long way from the independent bodies that have been called for to investigate serious police misconduct liable to disciplinary action or criminal prosecution.

Compulsory Identification of Police Officers
by Norbert Pütter

The compulsory identification of police officers on duty is a controversial issue in Germany for many years. Meanwhile, ten federal states have made identification tags for police officers mandatory; three other states and the federal government intend to do so in the current legislative periods.

Committees of Inquiry as Means of Police Control
by Maximilian Pichl

Due to various scandals and excesses, calls for greater police oversight have increased. However, many of the conventional instruments are proving to be insufficient. Parliamentary committees of inquiry can be used to shed light on the structures of the police apparatus by way of exemplary incidents. However, there are also legal and de facto limits to effective in­vestigation.

Strategic Reviews: Civic Police Control in the UK
by Genevieve Lennon

This article examines different approaches by independent police oversight bodies in the UK to strategic reviews of police conduct. It describes the workings of some of the major UK oversight bodies before examining how His Majesty’s Inspectorate of the Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services conducted their inspection of police stop and search powers and how this impacted upon police practice. Next, it considers the “super-complaint”, a relatively new procedure whereby designated bodies (typically from the NGO sector) may file a complaint regarding an area of police practice. The discussion highlights the benefits and limitations of these approaches, which offer interesting exemplars for the oversight of police in Germany.

The Memorial against Racism and Police Violence
by Sonja John

Deadly police violence leaves relatives of victims helpless. Existing forms of police control bring neither justice nor comfort. The Memorial for the Victims of Police Violence and Racism in Berlin offers at least a place to be heard and to build connections.

Go Film the Police
Interview with Maren Burkhardt

The “Kampagne für Opfer rassistischer Polizeigewalt” (Campaign for Victims of Racist Police Violence) is calling on the public to document police actions. Video footage can serve to break up hierarchies of credibility between police witnesses and victims. In practice, however, the police regularly prevent videos being recorded. While this practice was initially being based on the Artistic Copyright Law, attempts are now being made to classify remarks by police officers as non-public utterances. As of yet, the legal situation is still unclear, and judicial decisions on the issue are not free of contradictions.

A New Kind of Parliamentary Oversight
by Dirk Burczyk

In 2017, the Joint Parliamentary Scrutiny Group was established to serve as the European and national parliaments’ means of oversight over Europol. This was preceded by tough negotiations that also shaped the committee’s first phase of activity. Conflicts are ongoing: Europol is trying to aggressively use the meetings to present itself favorably, while still only a few of the committee’s members are persistent in trying to exercise their rights.

Non-Thematic Contributions

Shopping for Powers in Fighting Encrochat
by Dirk Burczyk

In 2020, French authorities infiltrated an encrypted communications network named “Encrochat” and diverted thousands of users’ communication data, amounting to mass surveillance. The scavenged data have been introduced as evidence in criminal trials in Germany, as well, and have led to multiple convictions. There remain considerable doubts as to whether the methods are in accordance with the rule of law.

Fatal Police Shootings in 2021
by Otto Diederichs

Eight people died in 2021 by police shooting, 31 people were injured. Three of those killed were experiencing a mental health emergency. None of the eight fatal cases concerned a police action prepared in advance. In one of the fatal cases, a police officer was injured. Of the almost 18.000 shots that were fired by police overall, only one (fired at an object) was considered unlawful.

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