Hearing the daily reports of police shootings in the U.S. has become a normal occurrence. Police are meant to protect us, but can they be trusted? According to a Washington Post database, 963 people were shot and killed by an American police officer in 2016. And it is this reality Americans face that is recognized across the world, but how does it compare to Germany where most people trust the police over their doctor?
A survey put out by Stern magazine revealed that 88% of Germans trust their police, where as only 80% trust their doctors and less than half trust the press. The best understanding of why the police rank so high here can be found in the surprising number of police shootings, or lack thereof, in Germany.
Since 1990, there have only been 269 people fatally shot by a German police officer. That is an average of only 10 killings a year — less than the number that most major U.S. cities see alone in a year.
Despite this low number, some have found reason to still criticize German police forces. Of the people killed, a growing number have been found to be suffering from mental illness. Six out of the seven people killed by police this year were known to have some form of distress psychologically. The question now is whether or not this piece of information makes the shooting unjustified.
Erik Peter, a reporter for Berlin’s Tageszeitung (TAZ), has been pushing for the German police to train officers on how to deal with people who are mentally unstable, even suggesting the hiring of psychiatrists or counselors, but according to Hamburg police academy professor Rafael Behr, that is just not realistic.
“When a person is holding a knife, the police don’t ask if they have psychosis,” Behr said in response to Peter’s suggestion. “They handle a dangerous situation the way they’ve been trained to, and that can lead to a killing. There’s no perception that something wrong has occurred. The evaluation of ‘dangerous’ outweighs the evaluation of ‘ill,’ so they say: ‘Whether he was ill or not, he was dangerous, so we handled him like a threat.'”