Berlin cops, firefighters testing bodycams

The police union says the government hasn't ordered enough cameras, which it says help protect its officers. Other agencies already use the devices.

Bavarian police officers demonstrating bodycams last year.
Bavarian police officers demonstrating bodycams last year.dpa

Berlin-Berlin police officers and firefighters will begin wearing the capital's first body cameras this summer. Various types will be tested by both agencies beginning in July, if the cameras arrive on time. Twenty cameras will initially go to the Polizei and another 10 to the Feuerwehr, government officials told the Berliner Zeitung. Devices won't be assigned individually but rather to patrol car crews and fire trucks.

The 5th Precinct, which oversees Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, Neukölln and Mitte, as well as two fire stations in the area, will be the first to test the cameras.

The cameras must be worn visibly, according to a new policing law (Asog) that went into effect this month, and will only be turned on when situations threaten to escalate. The goal is to both de-escalate situations and help protect the wearer. The recordings can later also be used to review the legality of police actions.

Everyone involved must be informed any time an officer switches on a camera and filming is only allowed in public spaces. If, for example, officers enter an apartment, the cameras must be turned off. Their use is initially just a test for three years, after which the cameras will be re-evaluated.

Hopes for a "quick increase" in the number of cameras

The GDP police union says the number of cameras ordered is laughable. 

"We had 7,505 attacks last year against the police alone, but now get a handful of bodycams for their protection, although 10 smartphones are pointed at my co-workers during every operation in this city," said GdP state chairman Norbert Cioma.

Government officials say the number of cameras will be "quickly increased." Other state police forces as well as the federal police have used body cams for years. A federal officer just last Sunday activated his camera when four men attacked one of the officer's co-workers. The situation then de-escalated, federal police said. The officer also drew his stun gun.

But Berlin's threeway, left-leaning coalition government is also cautious about the use of these less-than-lethal weapons. Tasers are currently in a two-year extension of a three-year test phase that began in 2017 in departments in Kreuzberg and Mitte.