In Germany, Confronting Shameful Legacy Is Essential Part of Police TrainingHistorians in the News
tags: Nazis, Germany, World War 2, policing
Germans have applied the lessons of their unique and horrid history to every aspect of their postwar democracy, not least to how they police their country. Those changes were partly imposed on Germany after the war and took decades to work their way through attitudes and institutions. But over time they have become pillars of German identity.
“You cannot compare the history of policing in America to the history of German policing under the Nazis,” said Mr. Weinhauer, the historian.
But as Americans debate the need to rethink their own law enforcement in the wake of George Floyd’s death under a white police officer’s knee, Germany’s experience may offer insight into what it takes to redesign institutions to prevent a painful past from repeating itself.
In Germany’s case, the greatest preoccupation among the United States, its Allies and Germans themselves was that the country’s police force never again be militarized, politicized and used as a cudgel by an authoritarian state.
So they set out to fashion a postwar force with decentralized responsibility to avoid letting a single agency become too powerful. The privacy of citizens was rigorously protected, and the police and military were strictly separated.
Even today, law enforcement in Germany is in the hands of the 16 states, not the national government, a system that can be cumbersome and imperfect, especially when dealing with modern-day challenges like terrorism.
But its safeguards have earned the respect of Germans. Police officers are required to pass a rigorous multiyear curriculum with history and Germany’s liberal democratic constitution at its core. The bedrock of public safety in Germany is a strategy of communication and de-escalation.
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