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German Polizei on patrol in Alabama

German Polizei on patrol in Alabama

The Decatur Daily

April 15, 2011

Decatur, Ala. — Four German police officers had just begun their first day with the Decatur Police Department and immediately noticed some differences between here and their home country.

“It’s much hotter, and the food is different,” said Silvia Berte of Hamburg, a vegan at mealtime. “Everything’s about meat.”

Officer Jim Archuletta of Decatur police agreed, saying that on a previous trip to Germany he learned the bread is tougher and that breakfast is cold in Europe.

Berte and three other Germans, Markus Dedmann of Hamburg, Christine Wirschun of Wiesbaden and Jurgen Reimers of Schleswig-Holstein, will be in Alabama until April 23 as part of the STAR International Police Exchange program. They started Monday.

Officers pay their own way to participate and stay with host families to cut the cost and better absorb American culture. In September, some Decatur police officers will make the trip to Germany to learn about procedure there.

Archuletta said the goal is to see how officers in other countries live and work, and to have a mix of tourist and police experiences. “Sometimes you can find a new way of solving old problems,” he said.

The German police force is all federal, and officers sign up at 16 and work until they’re 60. They also process criminals differently, focusing on rehabilitation instead of punishment. Berte said her first question when she saw the Decatur City Jail was how human rights groups felt about it. The facility offers little privacy — though separated by gender, all prisoners share a common area with bunks and tables, and stainless steel showers and toilets are openly visible. Local officers say it’s not meant to be a nice place because nice people don’t end up there.

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