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German Police Vehicles

German police cars have a reputation for being well-crafted, reliable machines. While many people assume that all of that nation’s police vehicles are made in Germany by such companies as Audi, Opel, Volkswagen, BMW, Mercedes, or even Porsche, this is not necessarily the case, especially for unmarked cars. Traditionally, however, the police of a particular federal state operate vehicles that were manufactured within that state.

Under the German Constitution (Basic Law), each of the 16 federal German states has the right to police itself, so there is a state police force for each state. For example, Bavaria is policed by the Bavarian State Police—a large police force consisting of 40,000 officers and civilian employees all under the control of the Bavarian State Ministry for Interior Affairs. Within Bavaria, the officers belong to different headquarters (Polizeipräsidium) consisting of 3,500 to 7,200 officers and other employees. These are further broken down into smaller police subdivisions (Polizeidirektion) of 350 to 1,250 officers, not unlike the sizes of the medium and large police departments in the U.S.

Each of these smaller German subdivisions has its own garage operated by civilian employees under contract. The fleet manager is a police officer. Presently at these locations, the mechanics only perform routine maintenance like checking the air, water, oil and so forth. (In the near future when operations are centralized, the Polizeidirektion will be abolished and there will be only smaller units, Polizeiinspektionen, with 50 to 250 officers under the command of the Polizeipräsidium). Meanwhile about 30% of all police vehicles are leased. These are returned to private garages for the maintenance work covered under new car warranty and for repairs after accidents. The police vehicles owned by the department are taken to a large garage that is commonly located at the barracks of the readiness or riot police. These Bereitschaftspolizei, or Bepo, units are made up of young police officers right out of the academy, as well as specialists such as police divers. At the barracks garage, unmarked police vehicles from the special intelligence units (MEK), detectives, and SWAT (SEK) are worked on, ensuring that the identity of these police cars remains secret.

In addition, the Bepo garage also works on specialized vehicles such as armored vehicles, those used for loud speakers and water cannons, and signal and engineer trucks. Bepo is also the only unit to have heavy-duty police trucks such as Unimog trucks by Mercedes Benz so that items like police barriers can be transported.

Selecting Vehicles

Because Bavarian Motor Works is located within Bavaria, previously, all of the police cars within that state were BMWs. According to Polizeihaupt-kommissar (Captain) Heinrich Babiel, a police specialist for car mechanics, since 2003, the German police no longer have free choice of the manufacturer producing their police cars.

By agreement, when German police departments are ready to buy vehicles, there is now a European-wide request for carmakers to bid. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the bid goes to the lowest bidder, but rather the offers are checked through a neutral office that evaluates the police vehicle packages to determine which is the most economical.

The bid announcement is public and comes with a catalog listing the performance features required to be installed by the winning bidder. Such police vehicle package specifications include the equipment, engine, siren, overhead lights, radio, PC docking station, H&K MP-5 case, etc. For most car manufacturers, these specifications can present problems regarding the compatibility of the various special electronic elements in the police car. For example, when the siren and overhead blue lights are turned on, the airbag can not suddenly engage.

According to Kriminalhaupt- kommissar (Detective Senior Captain) Peter Ammon, today the Bavarian State Police operate BMW vehicles with police cars markings—silver paint with green adhesive decaling. These are leased for a three-year period and are generally driven about 40,000 miles per year. Once the leases have expired, the car manufacturer rebuilds the vehicles and transforms them back into standard cars. Then they are sold to the general public, and anyone can buy them. After the three-year lease is up, there is a new bidding announcement, and it is possible for another manufacturer to get the bid. All of the federal German states follow such a bidding procedure.

Most state police forces operate marked BMW police cars, with some operating Volkswagens. Within Bavaria, there are also marked Audi police cars. Unmarked cars—such as those used by detectives—can be Ford, Opel, Volvo, Mazda, Citroen, Renault, etc.

Before the European bid announcement, there is a meeting much like a pre-build conference in the U.S. when a custom vehicle is planned. For example, in the state of Bavaria, the meeting will consist of officials under the leadership of the Bavarian Ministry of Interior Affairs, car and radio specialists, members of the budget bureau, police officers from the uniformed police, and detectives. The performance of police vehicles is continuously monitored by experience reports to better prepare for the next generation of police cars.

Standard police vehicles are not custom built but are produced on the assembly line along with other cars. It is after leaving the assembly line that the automobiles are turned into police cars by the car maker.

Police vehicles come from the manufacture’s dealer with special equipment such as radios, sirens, and overhead emergency blue lights. Computers are installed by the manufacturer or a company that has been subcontracted to do such work. The guarantee stipulates that technical problems are the responsibility of the car maker.

Of interest, prisoner transportation screens are not standard in German police cars. In most cases, there are two police officers in the vehicle when a prisoner is transported; one officer sits next to the prisoner, who is handcuffed when necessary. However, some police vehicles are equipped with wire or plastic shields that are installed at police garages. These are used for such details as transporting arrested suspects to court or jail or during large police operations such as a demonstration.

Police Cars

Today, the marked police cars in use in Bavaria as rural and urban patrol vehicles are mainly the Audi Type A4s; the heavier A6 is used by officers of autobahn (highway) police units. Also used are the BMW 320 Dt (“D” means diesel and “t” means touring with better sport rims and tires, better instrument panel, more horse power, etc.) for urban and rural patrol, and the heavier BMW Type 525 is used by autobahn police.

The BMW 320 Dt is used because it has a 163-horsepower, common-rail four-cylinder, and a 1,998 cc diesel engine. Diesel engines do not have spark plugs, but rather they operate using fuel injection. This gives more power with less fuel consumption than with a carburetor. When the officer is under pressure, it takes only a light touch on the accelerator to react instantly. The car reaches 62 mph in just 8.3 seconds; its top speed is 145 mph.

These qualities make this common rail diesel engine one of the most powerful in its class. In addition, diesel fuel is also generally 15% to 20% less expensive in Germany than super gasoline, resulting in money saved. The BMW Dt is not sold by BMW dealers in the U.S.; instead, larger BMWs are offered. Without adding in the leasing contract costs, each police car runs about $50,000. All new Bavarian police cars are being leased.

Special Police Vehicles

All police cars and specialized vehicles and other equipment used by Bereitschaftspolizei of the various federal German states are paid for by the federal government. This is true of the vehicles, police uniforms, and all other Bepo equipment, except for the police patch or emblem of each state police. A Bepo unit can be called upon to go to another federal state to assist the police there or work with the federal border police (Bundespolizei formerly known as the Bundesgrenzschutz). They also have the same equipment with a few exceptions. Bepo platoon leaders operate Opel and Daimler-Benz cars. When a platoon moves out to a crisis situation, it responds with the platoon leader’s (Zugführer) patrol car and three personnel carriers. The personnel carriers are small buses capable of carrying the clothing and supplies that the unit will need for an extended operation.

Many of the specialized vehicles are operated by Bepo police officers who belong to a special staff company of four platoons called an Einsatzhundertschaft. The four platoons are telecommunications, reconnaissance on motorcycles (BMW), a technical platoon of drivers and technicians, and a special platoon with water cannon and armored vehicles. Other special vehicles include cross-country Jeeps, searchlight trucks, field kitchen trucks, motor pool vans, medic vans, trailers and police helicopters.

Water Cannon (Wasserwerfer)

There are various models of water cannon trucks in use with the Bepo police of Germany: Mercedes 2628 WAWE 9 SH (in the federal state of Schleswig-Holstein), Mercedes 2628 WAWE 9 NW (North Rhine-Westphalia), and the Mercedes WAWE 9 BGS (federal border police). WAWE 9 means that its water tank holds 9,000 liters of water (2,500 gallons). Each WAWE holds four officers, a driver, commander, and two officers to man the water guns.

WAWE 9 water cannons were developed in 1980 after large-scale demonstrations. Presently, there are 116 police water cannons in Germany; most are up to 20 years old. Built by Mercedes, they come with eight-cylinder engines. The 169-horsepower, six-cylinder engine on the cannon can shoot water up to 200 feet.

It must be noted that police use of water cannons can bring a harsh reaction from the media and problems in the courts. The question that has to be addressed is whether the use of the water cannon was appropriate. Before being employed, the commander of a water cannon must announce over a loudspeaker that it will be used. This allows those not involved in the demonstration to move to safety. Using high-pressure, short water shots, or water mixed with CN or CS irritant gas (which the police are permitted to do), has caused injuries in the past.

The new water cannon truck planned for 2008-2012 will be equipped with acid-resistant windows and vaulted roofs for better protection against Molotov cocktails. In addition to crowd control, the vehicles are also used to provide drinking water after a disaster and to support firefighters during a forest fire.

Armored Vehicles (AV)

Called a Sonderwagen 4 (SW 4), a police AV is crewed by a commander, two marksmen, and a driver. In the military, this AV is known as the Henschel Wehrtechnik TM 170 APC. The numeral “4” in SW 4 means that it is a fourth generation police AV. Inside are special gun ports in small glass windows along the sides for the marksmen to use and a turret on top for the installation of a rifle. It is equipped with an obstacle-clearing blade and is amphibious.

According to SEK and Bepo officers, the shooting results from AVs have been amazingly good. The SW 4 is used in support of SEK teams during hostage situations to clear obstacles such as downed trees and wrecked vehicles that have been put across roadways by demonstrators, to transport and protect people, protect and enforce police barriers and water cannon trucks in difficult situations, and to rescue endangered people and officers.

SW 4 is produced by Henschel Wehrtechnik (formerly known as Thyssen Henschel) and has a Unimog (truck) chassis. It can offer chemical, radiological and biological protection.

Jim Weiss is a retired lieutenant from the Brook Park, OH Police Department and a frequent contributor to LAW and ORDER. Mickey Davis is a Florida-based writer and author. They can be reached at and mdavisfla@

Published in Law and Order, Jul 2008

Rating : 8.8

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