Aspects of non-democratic policing: the rise of the NAZI policing system

Published date25 August 2009
Date25 August 2009
AuthorPeter K. Manning
Peter K. Manning
The study of policing in Anglo-American societies has been severely
restricted in the last 20 years to quasi-historical overviews, studies of
policing in times of stable, non-crisis periods in democratic societies that in
turn had survived the crisis as democracies. Perhaps the epitome of this is
the sterile textbook treatment of policing in Canada and the United States –
a sterile rubble of functions, duties, training surrounded by cliche
´s about
community policing. Scholarly writing on democratic policing and its
features is severely limited by lack of inclusiveness of the range of
contingencies police face, and many respects this work is non-historical
and non-comparative. In the present world of conflict and strife that spreads
beyond borders and challenges forces of order at every level, the role of
police in democratic societies requires more systematic examination. In my
view, this cannot be achieved via a description of trends, a scrutiny of
definitions and concepts, or citation of the research literature. Unfortu-
nately, this literature makes a key assumption concerning police powers
in democratic societies: that the police are restricted by tradition, tacit
conventions, and doctrinal limits rooted in the law or countervailing forces
Special Issue: New Perspectives on Crime and Criminal Justice
Studies in Law, Politics, and Society, Volume 47, 27–70
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ISSN: 1059-4337/doi:10.1108/S1059-4337(2009)0000047005
within the society. While these constraints are sometimes summarized as
a function of ‘‘the rule of law,’’ this assumption is much deeper and more
pervasive than belief in the rule of law. It is possible to have a non-
democratic police system that conforms to the rule of law and reflects the
political sentiments of the governed. It is also possible to have non-
democratic policing emerge from a quasi-democratic system as I show in
reference to the transformation of the police in the Weimar Republic to the
police system of the Third Reich. The complex relationship between policing
and a democratic polity remains to be explored.
In order to examine democratic policing and its vicissitudes, it is necessary
to see how it succumbs as well as how it comes into being (Bayley, 1975).
While democratic policing has been the subject of important recent work
(Bayley, 2005;Sklansky, 2004), it has not been contrasted with an ideal-type
non-democratic policing. Stating the characteristics of democratic policing
should alert us to alternatives and to the social forces that shape policing
in a non-democratic direction. This chapter is an effort to characterize a
contrast conception, non-democratic policing. My primary concern is to use
the palimpsest of the NAZI police system as a set of interrelated coordinated
elements with a functional purpose, to reflect on the current trends in
American policing and the vague notions that are used to shape and
rationalize it publicly. My example, the NAZI
police under Hitler and
Himmler from 1933 to 1936, is critical because it identifies the features that
were transformed to produce a new form of policing, not yet envisioned in a
democratic state (Chapman, 1970).
The structure created was radical and
visionary: a combination of the NAZI ideology of racial purity and
superiority, chauvinism, anti-Semitism, and imperialism (Merkl, 1987,
pp. 91–92). It reverberated with unrestrained powers, but was rooted in
centralization of bureaucratic authority. The state as a bureaucratic
apparatus and the party as a network of loyalists in and out of government
were intertwined. Nazi ideology produced a social object – the Jews as a
threat – but it also was a facet of the powerful, effective organizational
The centralized policing system was a bureaucratic creation that
was formed in the context of a coup d’etat.
While some of the strategies
and tactics used by the inner cadre are revealed in any study of bureaucratic
in-fighting and policy formation, the rapidity of the success and its
murderous consequences are worthy of closer attention.
This chapter describes the transformation of the German police pre-1933
to the NAZI police system. From 1918 to 1933, the German police in their
several forms were legally guided, state-based, and authorized by a
legitimate elected government whose executives were accountable to an
electorate (Westermann, 2005, pp. 23–25). Merkl (1987, p. xiv),ina
somewhat ironic point, states that the NAZIs ‘‘won power legally that is,
without a violent revolution.’’
The transformation of the Weimar police in
less than 14 years, even given their frequent reorganization and the rising
power of the paramilitary police (Diehl, 1977), to a police that were a part of
a reactionary police state reveals the fragility of such forms of democratic
social control.
The initial question addressed in this chapter is: what is democratic
policing? Following this, I ask: it is possible to contrast this formulation
with an example of non-democratic policing, policing in Nazi Germany
from February 1933 when Hitler was named pro-Chancellor of the German
Republic to late 1935 with some reference to events prior to September
1939 – the beginning of World War II? Using criteria that characterize
democratic police, I contrast these to the police of the Third Reich and find
them wanting. The final section of the chapter notes some non-democratic
trends in the United States.
This chapter is limited in significant and important ways. It is not
intended as a social history of Germany in this period, and certainly is
neither a full description of the causes of the rise of the Nazi Party and the
careers of its powerful charismatic leaders, Hitler, Himmler, Goering,
Heydrich, Hess, and Goebbels, nor a full description of the group threat
ideas that seem to lie behind the mobilization of the NAZI and German
citizens in complicity against their dramatized opponents. My sources are
secondary but the bibliographies of the key books noted below contain the
relevant primary sources in the original language. My aim is to describe the
changes within a sociological framework in which a democratic and loosely
coordinated set of policing organizations was transformed into a quite
centralized system that, while legalistically grounded and rationalized, failed
to meet the criteria of democratic policing.
The ways in which the public police are assembled to combat threats to
public order and security, i.e., those not covered immediately and obviously
by legal doctrines and laws, vary. Symbolic violence, that is officially
legitimate violence directed toward socially defined enemies of a vague and
categorical sort, has various targets, is unpredictable and multifaceted, and
patterns and accompanies what might be called the management of threats.
The threats to security in modern democracies are now cast in the language
The Rise of the NAZI Policing System 29

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