More German state police forces introduce tasers for patrol police

Four out of 16 federal states are now introducing electric pulse weapons across the board. The right-wing conservative police union DPolG has declared itself to be the mastermind and is sponsored by a manufacturer. Whether the officers will use less violence with the new weapons, as claimed, is questionable. Every year there are two deaths in Germany after being tasered

Shortly after the end of a pilot project in five large cities, the state parliament of North Rhine-Westphalia approved another 4.5 million Euros for the procurement of 620 Tasers. The weapons, in Germany known to the police as „distance electric pulse devices“, are now to be used in twelve more cities, including Aachen, Bochum, Gütersloh, Münster and Wuppertal, as well as parts of the Sauerland region. Currently, there are 766 Tasers in use by the police of Germany’s largest state, according to two Paderborn MPs. Altogether, the stock will thus be expanded to more than 1,360 devices; the total cost of the procurement is 8.5 million euros. This also includes training.

Only recently, the German Press Agency (dpa) had presented figures after a survey. According to this, the police in North Rhine-Westphalia drew the taser almost 160 times in their pilot test until the end of September 2021. This involved 123 threats and 31 actual firings. Two times, the devices were used in contact mode, where the electric shock is delivered directly to the target’s body without the usual wires.

Taser use in the beginning exclusively by special task forces

The worldwide market for Tasers is dominated by the US company Axon, and the yellow devices in North Rhine-Westphalia are also produced by them. They shoot two electrodes that are attached to wires and burrow a few millimetres under the skin. The target person is thus paralysed for a few seconds at a distance of up to ten metres by an electric impulse. When the device is armed, it shows an electric arc between the electrodes. The target is also targeted with a coloured laser. This is intended to intimidate potential targets of a deployment.

In Germany, tasers have been used by the police in all federal states since the turn of the millennium, although until a few years ago they were used exclusively by special task forces. This is still the case in Saxony, Thuringia and Saxony-Anhalt, and in Bavaria, where tasers are now also available to the 30 riot police units.

Before North Rhine-Westphalia, Hesse, Rhineland-Palatinate and Saarland had decided to expand the use of tasers for patrol duties, where the vehicles of all police inspectorates are equipped with the devices. In Bremen, the parliament voted against it last year, but they will remain part of the special forces. Bremerhaven, which belongs to the federal state of bremen, however, has an exception also for patrol duty.

Other federal states are currently considering introducing them nationwide, including Brandenburg and Berlin. More than two years ago, the Federal Police also started a pilot project at three inspectorates.

Six deaths by taser in three years

With the new weapons, the police want to close the gap between the use of batons, pepper spray and pistols. They are also advertising that tasers could reduce the use of firearms. There are no studies on this yet, but according to the Ministry of the Interior in North Rhine-Westphalia, the pilot project showed that the threat of the taser alone contributed to a reduction in the use of force by the police.

In the past three years, six people have died in Germany after using a taser, two each in Rhineland-Palatinate and Hesse (the states that are now expanding their use), and two more in Bavaria and Lower Saxony. All fatal operations took place in residential buildings, almost always the persons concerned were in a psychologically exceptional situation, in at least one case the tasered person was presumably under the influence of drugs. Death was caused by circulatory arrest or heart attack, among other things, and in one case the victim died from pneumonia and blood poisoning after vomiting himself unconscious.

Oesten Baller, a professor of public law at the Berlin School of Economics and Law, draws attention to another problem when asked for this article. Special forces often use the taser to prevent suicide. This, however, is hardly compatible with the fundamental right to suicide, which the Federal Constitutional Court explicitly affirmed two years ago.

Axon finances police ball

Whether taser use and thus deaths will increase is also determined by the question of how the devices are classified in the police laws of the Länder. Baller explains that the Federal Criminal Police Office originally classified the Taser as a firearm under the Weapons Act. For political reasons, however, this ruling was deleted from the BKA’s website.

Today, the police laws of the federal states make their own regulations and classify tasers either as „aids to physical force“ (as in Berlin and Schleswig-Holstein) or „weapons“ (as in North Rhine-Westphalia), or, on the contrary, as „firearms“. In the latter case, there are higher hurdles for the threat of use, also detailed reports have to be written as in the case of shooting. As an „aid“ or „weapon“, on the other hand, tasers can be drawn like pepper spray or batons, so they would presumably have little influence on the number of firearm deployments.

In federal states where tasers are equated with firearms, police organisations are vehemently demanding a lowering of the use threshold. The German Police Union (Deutsche Polizeigewerkschaft, DPolG), which also claims the starting gun for the Federal Police test, is particularly prominent. In Saxony-Anhalt, the right-wing conservative police association invited the taser manufacturer Axon to a demonstration six years ago in order to persuade the conservative interior minister to procure the devices. According to a newspaper report, the US company returned the favour by sponsoring a police ball on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the DPolG state association in a four-star hotel.

Image: In some federal states, tasers are considered „aids to physical violence“, which means that they can be used in a low-threshold manner like pepper spray or batons (Ministry of Interior NRW/ Tim Wegner).

Autor: Matthias Monroy

Knowledge worker, activist, editor of the German civil rights journal Bürgerrechte & Polizei/CILIP.