End of Berlin model project: Politicians, police dispute about tasers

Since the turn of the millennium, German special forces have been equipped with „distance electric pulse devices“, and more and more states now allow them in patrol duty. Within three years, six people died in Germany after being shot. The use of this weapon is contested in Berlin.

For five years, the police in Berlin have been testing tasers in everyday service. The Berlin tabloid B.Z. reported last week that this trial run, which has already been extended by one year, is to end without continuing, citing an email from State Secretary Torsten Akmann (Social Democratic Party, SPD). His party colleague and superior Senator of the Interior, Iris Spranger, contradicts this today in a press release that begins with the words „The taser must stay“. The Social Democrat had already made similar statements to the dpa press agency.

The Special Operations Command (SEK) of the Berlin police also has tasers. For them, the continued use of tasers is out of the question, even with the left-wing partner of the coalition with the Social Democrats and the Greens. Since 2017, SEK units have used the devices in three missions to stop a suicide, a total of 18 times they were triggered in total.

Shots „against the back if possible“

The tasers used by the police nationwide are called „distance electric impulse devices“ (DEIG) and are made by the company Axon. When armed, they show an arc of light between the electrodes and the target is aimed with a coloured laser. Tasers can fire two wires with electrodes that penetrate a few millimetres into the skin. The victim is paralysed for a few seconds by a shock of electricity.

Since the turn of the millennium, tasers have been used by the police in all German states, but until a few years ago exclusively by SEKs. This is still the case in Saxony, Thuringia and Saxony-Anhalt. In Bremen, the parliament spoke out against it, but there is an exception for Bremerhaven. Nationwide, they are said to have been used at least 1,005 times last year, reports RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland, citing a query in all state interior ministries. Compared to 2020, this is an increase of over 65 per cent. The reason for this is said to be a large-scale trial phase in North Rhine-Westphalia with 1,392 devices. In total, the state police forces and SEKs are to have at least 2,432 tasers at their disposal.

Another pilot project is being conducted by the Federal Police in Berlin, Kaiserslautern and Frankfurt/Main Central Station. There, according to an administrative regulation, the officers are to fire shots „if possible against the back“ or on the lower upper body of the target. The simultaneous use of two devices against one person is not allowed. Children may be shot at if it is a case of self-defence or emergency assistance.

40 more tasers for Berlin

As part of the Berlin model project, police sections 53 (Kreuzberg) and 57 (Mitte) are each equipped with ten tasers. The „focal point and presence unit“ of police section 5 (City) has another eight. Together with devices used for training or as a reserve, 40 tasers were procured for the project.

The trial run in the patrol service goes back to an idea of the former Christian Democratic Union (CDU) Senator of the Interior Frank Henkel, but it was implemented by his SPD successor Andreas Geisel. According to the answer to questions by Niklas Schrader, a member of parliament for the Left Party and spokesperson on interior policy for his parliamentary group, the Berlin police spent €144,102 on this. This includes „ammunition“ and maintenance of the equipment. In February, at the time of the question, 69 officers had been trained to use a DEIG.

According to the figures, the police on patrol made little use of the „distance electric impulse devices“. Since 2017, they had been triggered 15 times, in a similar number of cases the use was only threatened. According to its own information, the Senate is not aware of any complications after the deployment. In an earlier answer, it had said that the tasers left „only small wounds through the electrodes“. Those affected were therefore treated by a doctor.

Police union wants to use them like truncheons

The Berlin taser test officially ends on 31 December 2022, when the Berlin Senate will decide whether to equip more police stations with tasers. Interior Senator Spranger also refers to this in her press release today. „I will take a close look at the results of the evaluation,“ writes Spranger. If the decision is negative, the remaining devices will be made available to the SEK, the Senate declared in February.

According to the Senate’s answer to Niklas Schrader’s question, in all of the operations the requirements for the use of firearms were met. The tasers may therefore not used like a police truncheon or pepper spray.

This is exactly what enrages the police unions, which have been demanding a lowering of the threshold since the beginning of the model project. The Police Union (GdP) complains of a „lack of trust“ in the police. The German Police Union (DPolG) accuses „Berlin politics“ of a „denial of reality, presumably for ideological reasons“.

No law for tasers in Berlin

The DPolG spokesperson therefore even wants to extend the trial run and demands that „its legal basis be improved“. However, these legal foundations do not exist at all, because the Senate has not passed a law of its own for the tasers. Therefore, they are still considered a firearm and are equal to the use of pistols or long guns.

The opposition has also scandalised the issue after the tabloid report. The spokesperson for interior policy of the CDU parliamentary group speaks of a „genuflection“ of the SPD-led interior administration „before police opponents of the Left and the Greens“. In fact, however, the Berlin Greens are not blanketly negative on the issue. „I am fundamentally sceptical because there are too few figures for a valid data basis,“ writes Vasili Franco when asked. Tasers could, however, „make sense in principle“, according to the interior policy spokesman of the Green parliamentary group.

Amnesty International in Germany is clearly against the extension of tasers to the Berlin patrol – but in favour of retaining them for SEKs – and refers to figures of the US-American section. Their statistics already count hundreds of deaths in connection with taser operations.

Six dead after operations in Germany

In Germany, six people have died after being fired at with a taser in the past three years, two each in Rhineland-Palatinate and Hesse, and two more in Bavaria and Lower Saxony. With the exception of Lower Saxony, these federal states also allow the use of tasers in patrol duties.

In most cases, the victims of the fatal operations were in an exceptional psychological situation. „But the police are not trained for this,“ writes Niklas Schrader after being asked. The goal should therefore be to de-escalate dangerous situations „before weapons are used“. If the taser were to become an everyday police tool, the dangers would increase, especially for people with pre-existing conditions or under the influence of drugs.

Vasili Franco, the Green Party’s interior politician, wants to send „multi-professional crisis intervention teams“ into critical operations instead of police with tasers or firearms. These are „an approach that could effectively support the police and better protect those affected“. Schrader refers to the Berlin coalition agreement of the Left, the Greens and the Social Democrats, which provides for the creation of „mobile crisis intervention teams“ with psychologically trained experts. These are to be tested in a model project. Schrader points out that the coalition agreement does not provide for the expansion of the use of tasers.

Image: The 2,500 or so Tasers in use in Germany are made by the US company Axon (Ratzeburg Police Headquarters).

Autor: Matthias Monroy

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

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