The culture that is Germany

According to Germany’s Der Spiegel, German police shot only 85 bullets in all of 2011…As Boing Boing translates, most of those shots weren’t even aimed [at] people: “49 warning shots, 36 shots on suspects. 15 persons were injured, 6 were killed.”

In some cases the United States police manage to best that number while firing at a single suspect.  The short article is here, the German-language source is here: “Unsere Polizisten sind keine “Rowdys in Uniform”.  Of course not, they are too busy counting.


Heaven and Hell?
Heaven Is Where:
The French are the chefs
The Italians are the lovers
The British are the police
The Germans are the mechanics
The econ professors are from GMU
And the Swiss make everything run on time

Hell is Where:
The British are the chefs
The Swiss are the lovers
The French are the mechanics
The Italians make everything run on time
The econ professors are from { }
And the Germans are the police?

Most British police don't even carry guns. And I recently drove a Citroen that was a surprisingly great car.

I think 'where the British are the police' would be hell and it would have lots of cctv.

I've found that "where the British are the police" is a pretty nice place to live. And my interactions with those police have all been excellent.

Can we assume that neither British nor German police would be a good fit with American citizens?

I mean to suggest that Tyler was right to title this post: "The culture that is Germany" as opposed to "The culture that is German policing". Perhaps the much higher number of bullets fired by American police is not due solely to the nature of the police in that country.

Obviously so. Otherwise where is the enormous pile of dead cops. As I've said, a majority (unfortunate concept) of people I PERSONALLY know who have been murdered were cops.

So, I went looking -
'The U.S. Department of Justice does not require police departments to report deadly shootings statistics. Some FBI statistics indicate the number of people fatally shot by police each year has changed little in the past five years, with about 360 dying at the hands of police in one recent year. ' (Unfortunately, the article seems undated, but feels fairly recent.)

And in contrast, here is the information about police officers from the past decade -
'Variances in the number of police officers killed from year to year are common. In 2009, 117 were killed, a 50-year low, compared with 160 killed in 2010 – 59 of them in shootouts. But in five of the past 10 years, the number of police officer deaths topped 160, making the decade almost as dangerous for police as the street wars of the 1970s, when the average number of officers killed per year hovered around 200.'

Fascinating statistics - the number of people killed by police in the U.S. is more than twice the number of killed police.

German statistics I could find seem to suggest that the number of police killed in the line of duty through shots or stabbing or getting hit by a car in a year are very, very roughly the same - that is, somewhere between 5 and 10 each year. Though with such small numbers, an incident can have a large effect - like in 2000, where three police officers were killed intentionally by a single murderer.

Fascinating statistics – the number of people killed by police in the U.S. is more than twice the number of killed police.

Good! I'd be a lot worried if the ratio were reversed. When police is in the shootout, I want it to be competent and kill instead of be killed. Google "shooting at police" - it seem to be a common practice here in the USA.

Fascinating - and the only thing an American can joke about such statistics revealing an amazing difference between two cultures is German police being 'too busy counting' while referring to the number of single suspects shot with more bullets in a single encounter in the U.S.? How about this amusing reality - those suspects shot at with more than 85 bullets are often dead. But who's counting?

No, really - who is counting? Anyone? The joking econ professor isn't (it isn't his job, I'm sure will leap to a number of minds as a defense). Anyone else in the U.S.?

Really, this post should be about the culture that is the U.S., and how at least one person within it was amazed at the idea that police aren't supposed to be acting as killers as part of their public duty, while introducing that same foreign idea for discussion.

To be honest, 85 firings of a police weapon in an entire year for an entire nation is a remarkable achievement for its police forces. And for its citizens, who obviously back their police with the resources and political support to ensure that their police need not become executioners using battering rams before shooting dogs while mistakenly crashing into yet another innocent person's home. Balko's work at Reason comes to mind - including trying to keep track of the senseless violence that Americans continue to feel is required to keep them safe.

You seem to assume that Tyler thinks Germany compares unfavorably to the U.S. in this regard. I'm not sure this is warranted--jokes about Germans counting notwithstanding. I thought the comment on the number of bullets fired at a single U.S. suspect was meant to be taken negatively.

Our police are out of control. Our culture is out of control. These are the reasons we carry guns, not the other way around. Etc.

You don't think that the reason US police shoot early and often has anything to do with a fear, however unjustified or disproportionate, that whatever they are shooting at has a nontrivial chance of shooting back?

Sure. But gun possession doesn't primarily cause violence, violence primarily causes gun possession.

And the cops beat the snot out of shirtless homeless unarmed guys so your assertion has no proof to it. The cops act the same in situations obviously not involving the potential for firearms. In fact, cops create conflicts that would get them killed if their victims were armed.

If cops really were in fear for their lives, they would not behave that way.

Mm. My sketch of the mechanism is that your society cannot summon the political will to regulate its police force, and it cannot do so because its police force keeps dying in the line of duty which gives them lots of martyrs for their cause. Hence: however unjustified or disproportionate. It's not reasonable for the average American suburbian to arm themselves in anticipation of a home invasion, either, as a comparison - the probability of the heroic home defense scenario is actually pretty dang tiny compared to the drab one of injuring yourself or being robbed by surprise. But the scenario is highly emotive to sympathize with.

American society is highly sensitive toward the sympathetic characters, whose influence are massively amplified by more cynical organizations.

We are about to reign in the police force because cameras don't lie.

"the probability of the heroic home defense scenario is actually pretty dang tiny compared to the drab one of injuring yourself or being robbed by surprise. "

Probably not true.

And gun accidents killing people are incredibly emotive, which is why most gun owners are responsible enough keep their hundred million guns designed to kill people safe enough to only kill 600 or s a year.

Guns are inherently dangerous, like cars, except that guns are supposed to kill people.

The comment is 'negative' - but also something along the lines of how American cops shoot (at) a single suspect more than all German police in a year, isn't that just amazing? While leaving out the fact that the people subjected to such poor markmanship are not exactly unlikely to be killed in the process. To put it differently - in how many American cities with a tenth or hundredth of the population of Germany do the police kill more than 6 people a year?

And just as an aside -
'In a comparison of the number of privately owned guns in 178 countries, Germany ranked at No. 4'

Germany is not exactly a paradise of non-gun owners (I know a number of weapon owners here), but much like driving on the autobahn at 100mph is coupled with a very expensive and generally rigorous process to earn a license, those people with guns follow rules and regulations which would be considered unacceptable in the U.S. - such as having to actually prove something resembling competence in terms of not merely safely owning (and only idiots, which includes most of the carry crowd, think that weapons are easily kept safe), but also in using, a weapon.

Of course weapons are easily kept safe. There are 4 rules. Stop talking nonsense while calling other people idiots.

And it's the people. I personally know two cops who've been killed. The culture is completely different.

Well, I'm American, having lived much of my life in Northern Virginia. And most of the people I grew up around were military - and all had served in Vietnam. They knew much more about weapons and killing people than the vast majority of the carry crowd (one hopes you won't dispute that about the Marines, while if you wish, the carrier pilots and amored unit commanders might not be at the same level of intimate familarity with personal firearms), and in general, those older veterans (those still alive) remain appalled at the idea of people walking around armed - after all, it is not allowed on base, for the multiple reasons that people who use weapons as tools of their trade are all too familiar with.

I might add, this includes my gun collection owning father, who hates the Virginia (suburban Richmond) carry crowd as a bunch of scared morons who simply endanger those around them. All in the name of increasing public safety, though their motivations seem to be intimately private, and connected to fear.

Owners also must carry mandatory insurance and have a weapons locker. Self defense is not an accepted ground for a firearms license except in rare circumstances, like for celebrities with a raised-threat level, who can sometimes obtain a carry permit.

And this is why this post is about German culture (from a US standpoint): Germany is a nation of rule-followers with an effective system of law administration. I don't think you'll find many people frequenting this site who are not dismayed at the increasing lethality of our police forces, so this is an excellent example of what should be.

Yep, social capital.

Sounds like a perfect time for an experiment.

Let's have 2800 German Polizei patrol Detroit for a year and count how many bullets they fire.

They don't let crazy asses have guns in Germany, not are their cities are flooded with illegal weapons.

Until a short time ago, guns were illegal in Chicago and DC. Your second point nails it though -- Germany doesn't have an urban subculture of violent crime. Social capital!

Lassen Sie die Waffe. Du hast 30 seconds to comply.*

Seems like it would beat having Omni Consumer Products take over the Detroit police franchise.

*Give me a break. Highschool german was a looooong time ago.

Germany is about 10% ethnic minority citizen and an additional 8% non-citizen. How do you feel about immigrant Turks?

A topic that rarely seems to come up in non-US gun control debates (i.e., debates where "take away all non-state guns" is a respectable position) is the resulting level of armament that police are going to carry in such a society. For some reason it seems commonly taken as exogenous and constant, when in practice many police forces will arm themselves less or more depending on what they expect non-police civilians to carry.

Almost all minorities in Germany are either Turks or other Europeans (from the east and south). In other words, to an American eye, there all just white people. Although some Turks look sufficiently non-white to be noticeable. There are also a small number of ethnic Vietnamese, who are the only immigrant group that manages to outperform the ethnic German majority in education and the labor market.

The Turks in Germany are actually very well-behaved. The criticism against them is their lack of assimilation and ambition.

Which would be quite debatable... In my experience the Turks in Germany and Austria are far less well behaved than those from North America and Turkey itself.
Which is not all so much surprising, considering German immigration laws and the resulting dynamics.

The point about Turks and other middle eastern immigrants is very valid in this context: "The culture that is Germany" vastly differs from "The culture that is Germanys Immigrants from the middle east" specifically when it comes to police confrontations. For example: Police officers are just not attacked, except by drunks or by political radicals - and yet: There are now parts in cities, where police offercs only go in force, because a small group of police officers might very well come under attack by the "brothers, cousins, friends and gang" of a suspect. This is relatively new.

Also, with the opening of the eastern borders (which was generally a good thing), attacks on officers controlling vehicles have risen.

And i feel "The culture that is Germany" is changing. Another example: A few years back, police officers started wearing vests when controlling vehicles and they actually have a hand on the gun handle until they have assessed the situation. I can still remember the first time a police officer approached me that way and it felt really out of place and creepy, had never been that way. It's not that I don't understand them, but still creepy.

"36 shots on suspects. 15 persons were injured, 6 were killed.” They're pretty good marksmen, then.

They are no George Zimmerman.

But seriously. How many home invasions per capita do the Germans have? If they have as many as we do the peopel should should be outraged that the cops aren't shooting more. There is no way they should be shooting as much as us, but we've bracketed the solution. Somewhere between our violence and incarceration rates and eugenics on the other end.

Home invasion data is hard to find, but German robbery rate is less than half the US.

Home invasion data will be close to impossible to find - mainly because it doesn't happen. (Isolated examples are possible, but motorcycle gangs and various ethnic organized crime gangs generally don't call the police.) One reason it doesn't happen is the general nature of how communities are organized here - suburbs in the U.S. sense don't really exist, and people call the police - a lot.

As an aside, it always seemed a bit of an overkill to me that Americans refer to it as a "invasion". Isn't a home a bit tiny to invade?

Well, my first familarity with the term comes from Northern Virginia, in the late 80s or so (possibly a bit later), and involved Vietnamese gangs robbing Vietnamese businessmen.

It generally happened because those businessmen kept large amounts of cash at home, and had no trust in the police at all, and was often kept quiet - that's right, the Fairfax police attempted to make home invasion something that those Vietnamese business owners could report to the police. Apparently, such things also happened in California, though I am much less aware of any details.

As for the current intense fascination for 'home invasion' that all too many Americans seem to share - as near as I can tell, it has very little to do with professional travelling bands of Vietnamese criminals knocking off cash rich targets by using terror and violence among a community where they shared the language and customs. And since in those cases the number of criminals involved would be something like a dozen, even automatic weapons would not have been very useful - after all, the criminals were interested in money, not murder - they simply used the threat of murder to get the cash.

They have to be - it is possible to charge a police officer in Germany with murder unless it is clear that their markmanship was up to the expected standard - which most definitely includes not shooting to kill except in the most exceptional circumstances. Which in the case of Germany means six people killed by police in a year - in a nation of 80 million.

Here is another thing - German riot police carry batons which are designed to break before actually breaking bones, heads, etc. (At least according to my past police equipment and training source.) I don't actually quite agree with this personally, but I am not a police officer either.

"Hey, you, the anti [ ] protester in the mask and hood! Put down that molotov cocktail before I hit you with my balsa wood baton and you get a sliver!"

Note that this was 85 ROUNDS, not even 85 separate incidents. Amazing.

Interestingly, further down in the article we learn that police shot 8,812 bullets at "dangerous, sick, or injured" animals last year (down 5% from 2010), mostly putting them out of their misery after car accidents.

Guess they have to take out their aggression somewhere.

There is that, no denying it. But there is also the idea that animal suffering is not acceptable, while death is a universal fate - a deer with all legs shattered is only destined to die. For example, hunters can be charged with a crime if they do not kill cleanly - German hunters tend to be good marksmen too.

But there is another point - wild boar, as roaming nocturnal group animals, are really quite dangerous, and are often enough hit by cars. Reaching an accident site and finding one means shooting it as a means to stay safe - nobody fools around with wild boar. There is essentially no equivalent in North America. Of the animals killed, I'm sure a not insignificant number were boar.

"There is essentially no equivalent in North America."

Aside, of course, from the occasional elk, moose, deer, antelope, oryx, cougar, bobcat, alligator, wolf, bull, bison, bear, horse, javelina, badger, wolverine, rattlesnake, and coyote, you are correct: all of our other animals are completely safe to fool around with after they are injured.

You left out boars. They're all over the place in the southestern US, and they are definitely dangerous.

I remember an article a few years back about how Berlin has licensed an elite group of Marksmen to serve as urban hunters and cull aggressive boar populations.

The highlight of this type of hunter is the port of Rotterdam where the marksmen must be even better. A bad shot can mean a tank farm on fire. Burrowing animals destroy their cables, apparently so must be shot.

I am not totally sure what @prior_approval is talking about, but I think he has a point about counting. I know no actual facts, but I expect that in most police forces in the western world, every bullets are counted, and if any are gone the policeman has to write down what happened to them. I also expect that America contains many exceptions to this rule.

The then Sheriff of Stockton got notoriety in Germany September 2011 because he told "Der Spiegel" that he will only go after serious crime, like murder, because of budget cuts.
Comparison to Berkeley or Poughkeepsie showed, his department was still pretty bloated.

When I look up Stockton data

and German Bavaria data
(see also the systematic cost cutting !!)
I get about twice as many police men (2.6 vs 1.4 per thousand people) for a 20 % lower price
268 vs 334 $/capita (other input, about 11.5 Mio people in Bavaria, and a exchange rate of 1.25 $/Euro assumed)

burglary is 123 000 / 82 Mio = 0.15 %

2.2 Mio burglarys / 315 Mio US people = 0.7 %

The interesting comparison is what do the police shooting records look like, in say North Dakota, off the reservations.

I doubt Germany differs much from the rest of Western Europe in this matter. In Finland, police shoots approximately 15 gunshots a year, most of them being warning shots. On an average year 1,7 people are hit by police bullet with 0,29 people dying from a police gunshot. This means approx. 1 bullet shot per 360000 people per year, 1 injury per 3,2 million people per year and 1 death per 18,6 million people per year. Respective figures for Germany are 1 bullet shot per 950000 people per year, 1 injury per 5,4 million people per year and 1 death per 13,5 million people per year. Data for Finland is from 2006, but I don't think it's changed much since. (

Does anyone have an estimate for the annual number of guns / rounds sold in the two nations?

In many US jurisdictions policemen are required to be trained to the extent that they are then licensed peace officers in order to hold the position. They are ostensibly professionals. If this is the case, why does police gunfire seem to occur so early in confrontations? Just about any goof can attempt to resolve a confrontation with firearm violence. It would seem that a trained professional might be able to employ less lethal options.

"49 warning shots, 36 shots on suspects. 15 persons were injured, 6 were killed"

In other news, there are still no leads on the Epidemic of randoms shootings that have injured 49 people in the last year.

When I was doing my military service in France, every single bullet was accounted for. Our nightmare was that ammo could be misplaced and end up in the hands of criminals.

Bullet making requires fairly high precision manufacturing. In places like WWII Soviet Union, making each bullet count was a vital necessity. See the movie "Enemy at the Gates" for an illustration

Now compare to the US Armed Forces firing over two billion bullets each year during the Iraq War (250,000 per insurgent killed), to the point of outstripping our own manufacturing capabilities and requiring us to import bullets from Israel. Needless to say, that handed quite a PR windfall to the insurgents.


US soldiers use at least 52 rounds each of ammunition for their annual or semiannual rifle qualification. Machineguns and automatic cannons use much more.

We used lots of ammunition to train tens of thousands of Afghan Army and police, each of which required hundreds if not thousands of rounds each.

So right there you have millions of rounds fired, and not one dead enemy combatant. Those are TRAINING costs, not war costs.

In combat, a large volume of suppressive fire is used to keep the enemy from returning fire. This SAVES American lives which are not counted in your screwed up calculus. Not all bullets are fired with the intent to kill.

Needless to say, enemy propagandists are trolling economics websites.

Still, if a superpower engaging in two wars at once outruns the capability of its own ammo industry ... it indicates quite a planning failure on the side of the appropriate officers.

You know the old joke about the French gun for sale on Ebay? "Thrown down in surrender once, but never fired..." etc etc.?

That explains it! Never fired because bullets must be accounted for.

PS -- not sure a movie is the best source for information, though the Beevor book might be.

German police officers always carried a hand gun. And in many police cars there is a machine gun in the trunk. So I dont think your reciprocity argument (spelling?) is good.

Crime rates of Turks in Germany are about 3x average, Africans 5x.
I think in general the integration of foreigners in Germany is on track.
We have for example 170 finance ministry experts of Greek anchestry standing ready to airlift into Greece anytime they accept technical help.
Call it the Omega team : - )

Turks have extra some difficulties, because for example they still dont learn the German language, but we will nudge them to getting their kids into kindergarten at 1 or 2, and this will work out. And this will diminish their gang like behavior over time as well.

Crime levels in general are decreasing with about 2%, of course has to be worked on constantly, but, well, sort of OK

German police officers always carried a hand gun. And in many police cars there is a machine gun in the trunk. So I dont think your reciprocity argument (spelling?) is good.

Crime rates of Turks in Germany are about 3x average, Africans 5x.
I think in general the integration of foreigners in Germany is on track.
We have for example 170 finance ministry experts of Greek anchestry standing ready to airlift into Greece anytime they accept technical help.
Call it the Omega team : - )

Turks have extra some difficulties, because for example they still dont learn the German language, but we will nudge them to getting their kids into kindergarten at 1 or 2, and this will work out. And this will diminish their gang like behavior over time as well.

Crime levels in general are decreasing with about 2%, of course has to be worked on constantly, but, well, sort of OK

The "they are too busy counting" line is a bit off-- don't you think? Especially coming from an economist...

As for "minorities in Germany" being "to an American eye, they are all just white people" and the "Turks looking sufficiently non-white"--
1) It is not the American eye that matters. It is the German eye. American perceptions don't matter. German ones do.
2) Funny-- I thought that the Turks looked more Caucasian than the Germans-- especially since they are a lot closer to the Caucasus. Maybe you should describe the Germans as "looking sufficiently non-Caucasian."
3) Many Germans would be thrilled to exchange the Muslim immigrants from rural Turkey with Christian (i.e., Catholic) immigrants from even rural Mexico. Imagine the "Sturm and Drang" on Fox if Mexican immigrants were Muslim.

It is really not possible to explain away the differences in levels of violence by some alleged differences in the immigrant populations of both countries.


> Of course not, they are too busy counting

Cheap shot. Not nice.

Does not the general stereotype and the obsession with "in ordnung" explain this? (culturally native) Germans love order and regularity and tend to respect order, discipline, and hence the police. This is not an insult to Germans.

However, Polizei are not kum-by-a singing ambassadors carrying flowers, they will put down any disturbance with force if they must as shown with the recent disputes between the Neo-nazis and Salafists or football hooligans or drunk idiots coming from the clubs etc..

Can I just point out that a minimum of 21 hits (6 killed, 15 wounded) off 36 shots reflects an incredible level of accuracy?

I wonder how this compares to the violent crime rate among ethnic Germans in the U.S. -- I suspect they are very similar.

Comments for this post are closed