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Germany

German Police Around the World

In March, experts from the German Bureau of Criminal Investigation will begin training Iraqi police officers in the United Arab Emirates. But the Persian Gulf isn't the only area where German police are active.

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German police officers on their way to a mission in Afghanistan.

Germany has had to use the back door in order to contribute to peace-building efforts in Iraq. The German people neither want to see German soldiers in Iraq, nor is this politically feasible at the moment. Instead, the government has sent in the police.

Experts from the Federal Bureau of Criminal Investigation will soon begin work in the United Arab Emirates, training a group of 154 Iraqis police officers. On a recent tour of the Persian Gulf, German Interior Minister Otto Schily and UAE officials agreed on the course content -- criminology techniques, such as how to secure evidence and manage a crime scene.

The UAE has agreed to take on the cost of providing food and shelter for both the Germans and the Iraqis. "The German government only has to pick up the travel costs," Interior Ministry spokeswoman Isabel Schmitt-Falckenberg told DW-WORLD.

Focus on Kosovo

When the training gets underway in March, the UAE will become the sixth country to play host to German police officers taking part in peacekeeping missions. According to the Interior Ministry, Germany has 439 police officers working abroad, of whom 323 are concentrated in Kosovo. Significantly smaller contingents are in Bosnia, Macedonia, Georgia and Afghanistan.

Depending on where they're stationed, the German police may perform mundane tasks, such as prosecuting traffic offenses, or deal with complex challenges, such as fighting drug barons and corrupt politicians.

"In Kosovo, the German police officers have taken on all the duties expected of a local police force," said Uwe Mainz, who oversees foreign assignments for the further education department of the North Rhine-Westphalian Police. The Bosnian unit, on the other hand, plays more of an observer role, helping to regulate the police work of local officers. In Afghanistan as in the UAE, German officers are helping create a local force.

The deployment of police officers in a crisis region is normally only possible with a United Nations mandate, said police union spokesman Rüdiger Holecek. In some cases though, such as in the UAE and Afghanistan, a bilateral agreement with the government in the country of deployment is all it takes for a mission to be approved.

Deutsche Polizei im Kosovo

Kosovo is an example of a UN deployment. "Police from 50 countries are all working there together," said Mainz, who himself served a year in Kosovo. The result? A "mishmash of activity," according to Mainz, where different approaches to police work regularly collide. "The Americans, for example, are quick to slap on the handcuffs, whereas an Indian policeman would never do that, because the person they're arresting would lose face," explained Mainz.

He said the German police tend to be low-key, emphasizing de-escalation rather than intimidation. "People respect that," Mainz said. German police have a good reputation abroad, because people notice that they've been very well trained, according to Holecek.

Not for thrill-seekers

"People in search of adventure are not people we want on foreign assignments," said Mainz. Only applicants with at least eight years of on-the-job experience, knowledge of a foreign language and intact relations with their families are sent abroad. But a successful application doesn't inspire much joy in the police station. The German police force lacks of personnel, so when the best people pack their bags, those left behind are often left to fill the gap.

One of the perks of a foreign assignment is financial. Successful applicants sometimes earn double their normal salary. "That's justified though," said Mainz. "Foreign assignments are hard." Going a week or more without running water or electricity is a common occurence. But the real difficulty is dealing with the harsh reality of life in a crisis zone. A German policeman in Kosovo, for example, was confronted with a traumatic situation when two children stepped on a landmine in front of him. A father himself, he had to watch as they bled to death in his arms, because no medical help was available.

A common problem for police officers who have served abroad is returning to their former lives and jobs. "Many have difficulties integrating themselves again, that's something we worry about," Mainz said, adding that a one week "debriefing" course is on offer to ease the transition back to everyday life in Germany.

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