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Standardized German Police Uniforms

 

British Bobbies have their easily recognizable helmets, and American state troopers have their “Smokey the Bear” hats. Traditionally, Germany’s modern police have worn peaked police hats, a concept that has identified them as police officers. The peaked front of the hat was reminiscent of the peaked fronts of Roman legionnaires’ helmets and represented authority.

Although the basic German police uniforms have evolved over the years, the peaked hat concept remained. Recently, however, their uniform has undergone a more dramatic change, and some German police have switched to blue eight-pointers, something that has not been universally popular with American police officers, who often refer to them as servitude milkman hats. Germany’s Brandenburg State Police and Hamburg State Police have adopted eight-pointer police hats.

Germany has 16 federal states, each with its own history and the right to police itself. This independence was often reflected in their uniforms. For example, the city police of Worms wore leather jackets and high-top jack boots, while the state police of their federal state, Rhineland-Palatinate, wore green cloth uniforms and jackets, and plain-toed, low-quarter shoes. In Bavaria, the Augsburg city police wore brown leather jackets and high jack boots, while in the northern city-state of Hamburg the cops wore blue. Even so, all wore the recognizable peaked hats.

In the years following World War II, there were a number of police reforms. These included incorporating all of the various local police forces into state police forces for each federal German state. In 1972, the police departments were reorganized. At this time, all German state police forces and the federal border police (Bundesgrenzschutz) introduced a new, common police uniform with moss green jackets and ocher (dark yellowish brown) pants. This uniform was designed by the famous fashion designer Heinz Oestergaard.

Then in 1998, a committee of the European Parliament and representatives of all members of the European unit decided to make police uniforms a standardized, dark blue color in Europe regardless of the country. Thus, the change to a blue uniform in Germany began. The Hamburg State Police and the Federal Police, Bundespolizei, were the first agencies to introduce the blue uniform in 2004/2005.

Most of the state and federal police are wearing blue, accompanied by the eight-pointer in some states or the traditional peaked hat in other states. One exception involves the state police of the most conservative federal German state, the Bavarian State Police; they have not changed their uniform and remain with their moss green and ocher uniforms. While the uniforms have changed, efforts are being made to retain the previous quality.

 

North Rhine-Westphalia Go Blue

Two everyday police uniforms were developed in this area, one version for field and another for the office. The designs for both had to be functional as well as recognizable. It was also decided that new uniforms would be designed, and they would not copy those already in service in another country or federal German state police agency.

The North Rhine-Westphalia State Police force began its investment in new uniforms by testing them for suitability for daily wear. A total of 1,400 police officers from the cities of Bielefeld, Krefeld and Mettmann wore the new uniforms on duty for 10 months. Ill-fitting uniforms had to be exchanged within three days of issue. Whether the police officer was on duty in the heat of his patrol car, at night in the rain on a highway, or in pursuit of a fugitive, the uniform had to withstand the rigors of active police work.

Of concern when evaluating the uniform were comfort, visibility and safety, the ability to withstand the stresses of daily police service, and citizen acceptance. Did the modern lightweight, breathable materials function for both the public and the police officers equally well, and contribute to the improvement of police work? Were the new uniforms distinguishable from other uniforms? Did they meet affordability concerns?

Ergonomic features that were considered included the fit and freedom of movement, as well as whether the new uniform would accommodate equipment worn. And while uniforms for both men and women were made to look the same outwardly, changes were made to accommodate differences in male/female body shapes. The physiological functions tested included thermal comfort, wicking of sweat away from the body, and how the uniform felt on the wearers’ skin.

Also taken into consideration was the fact that the new uniforms, as was the case with previous uniforms, have reduced thermal comfort due to ballistic protection. When the 10 months were over, the testing officers filled out evaluation questionnaires with the help of the police Internet system. Individual parts of the uniform were rated on a scale of one to six, with one being the highest score. The feedback from the police and public was very positive, and the police gave the uniform an overall score of 2.1 for function, quality and wearability.

Testers were also asked how they would improve the uniform, and their suggestions were taken seriously. As a result, to counteract the somewhat low score for uniform recognition, the word “Polizei” and reflectors were added to the uniform. In addition, the testing also led to improved pocket openings, extra interior pockets for the duty jacket, additional dirt repellent in the trouser material, and improved collar design to the shirts and blouses. The clothing was judged to be to be practical and contemporary for North Rhine-Westphalia’s policeman and policewomen. For easy recognition, the white peaked hat has been modified and preserved, with reflective tabs added for better officer visibility in the dark.

 

Bundespolizei Goes Blue

According to Polizeioberkommissar (police lieutenant) Rainer Schlemmer, the Bundespolizei uniform was issued to the federal police posted to Nuremberg two years ago. Bundespolizei are the German federal police and include the border patrol and those police officers who patrol the airports and railroad system. Obtaining the uniforms was organized by LHD Professional Equipment Services. This equipment service also supplies the Bundeswehr (German federal defense force, Army, Navy, and Air Force) and their administration and procurement authorities.

With the exception of the federal police stationed in Berlin, the reaction of the population to the new blue police uniforms has been good. In Berlin, however, there is a private security force responsible for the security of the local transportation system, subways, and commuter trains, who also wear blue uniforms, so the federal police changed their new uniform jackets to include the word “Polizei” in white lettering on the back. At first the federal police officers were skeptical about their new uniforms, but now the officers have accepted and like them.

 

Jim Weiss is a retired lieutenant from the Brook Park, Ohio Police Department and a frequent contributor to LAW and ORDER. Mickey Davis is a California-based writer and author.


Published in Law and Order, Jul 2014

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