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Police in NRW must be 163cm tall

Louisa Wright
June 29, 2018

A German court has ruled three women less than 163 centimeters tall cannot become police officers. Arguments included small officers being hard to see in a crowd, and hips being too narrow to attach all the police tools.

Deutschland Münster Attacke mit Campingbus | Polizei vor Wohnung des Täters
Image: Getty Images/AFP/M. Gottschalk

Police officers in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia must meet the minimum height requirement of 163 centimeters (5 feet and 3.5 inches in imperial measurements), a regional court ruled Thursday.

Three female police recruits, who were 161.5 cm, 162 cm and 162.2 cm tall, had argued the regulation was discriminatory, as it was less likely that women would reach the minimum height requirement.

The law had already been changed once, it used to demand women stand at least 163 cm tall, and men at least 168 cm, but it was made gender-neutral after a legal challenge. 

Read more: German police height requirements not measuring up

The three women will now have to halt their police training.

The Münster High Administrative Court found that "the employer is entitled to a degree of freedom" and "according to a comprehensive investigation by a state working group, it was only possible to assume police service suitability from a height of 163 cm."

The working group's report had found that a body height between 160 cm - 162.9 cm led to unacceptable risks in terms of carrying out duties and also posed risks to the safety of other police officers, according to the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper.

Height minimum 'is justified'

"The fact that more women than men would be excluded from the police service because of the different average body sizes is justified by the legitimate purpose of ensuring that the police can properly carry out its duties, and therefore that this important state institution can function," the court documents said.

"Candidates would have to be suitable for all possible tasks," the court said, and "the state should not make an exemption for smaller, particularly strong and trained candidates." 

The ruling comes despite a Düsseldorf court ruling in August last year that found a woman who was 161.5 cm tall could not be dismissed only because of her height.

Hips too narrow to carry police tools

Arguments against allowing people shorter than 163 cm into the police force included problems with tasks such as climbing onto chairs during apartment searches, difficulties handling fire blankets when trying to extinguish a person on fire, and the potential for small officers to be overlooked during traffic control, according to Süddeutsche Zeitung.

It also said small people have such narrow hips that it is not possible to attach all of the police officer's tools, such as a gun and flashlight, Süddeutsche Zeitung reported.

Read more: Opinion: Tougher enforcement needed – not tougher laws

Male height reduced to 163 cm

In September last year, the High Administrative Court ruled that the minimum height of 168 cm for male police applicants was illegal under Basic Law. The court found the higher minimum height for males was irrelevant, as it had been put in place as an attempt to avoid appearing to discriminate against female applicants.

Read more: Amid controversy, Germany's police struggle to find recruits

"With the higher minimum size for men, the country does not substantiate physical fitness requirements, which are generally considered to be 163 cm or more," the court said, "but purportedly intends only to 'balance the benefits' to avoid discriminating against women."

Police height requirements in Germany

Height requirements for police officers vary greatly across Germany, with some states having a one-height-fits-all policy and others, such as Brandenburg, Bremen, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Saarland, having no height requirement at all.

While the women were refused entry into the North Rhine-Westphalia police force, their heights would be less of a problem in Berlin (165 cm for men, 160 cm for women), Rhineland Palatinate (162 cm), and Baden-Wurttemberg, Hamburg, Hesse, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia, which all have a height minimum of 160 cm.