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Austria Table of Contents



The earliest urban police force was Vienna's City Guard of 1569, consisting of 150 men. By the beginning of the Thirty Years' War (1618-48), the City Guard consisted of 1,000 men organized as a regiment, individual companies of which took part in military campaigns. The soldiers of the guard were subject to the authority of the Imperial War Council, and the city was required to pay for their services. In 1646 the city set up its own Public Order Watch; serious frictions between the two bodies resulted in their replacement by a new service under a commissioner of police in 1776. Its personnel were still made up of soldiers, either volunteers or assigned, but they failed to meet the city's needs because of a lack of training and continuity of service. Police functions were organized in a similar form in other large cities of the empire. It was not until a series of reforms between 1850 and 1869 that military influence over the police force was finally ended with the introduction of an independent command structure, a permanent corps of police professionals, training of officers in police skills, and distinctive uniforms and symbols of rank. The Gendarmerie (Gendarmerie in German) was created by Emperor Franz Joseph I in 1850 after the disorder and looting that accompanied the uprising of 1848. Initially composed of eighteen regiments and part of the army, its operational command was transferred to the Ministry for Interior in 1860 and wholly severed from the armed forces in 1867. Nevertheless, training, uniforms, ranks, and even pay remained patterned after the army. A special Alpine branch was formed in 1906, mainly to protect the part of Tirol that bordered Italy. Alpine rescue operations and border patrols have remained an important Gendarmerie function.

As of 1993, the more important law enforcement and security agencies were organized under the General Directorate for Public Security of the federal Ministry for Interior. The directorate is divided into five units: the Federal Police; the Gendarmerie central command; the State Police (secret service); the Criminal Investigation Service; and the Administrative Police. Security directorates in each of the nine provinces are also under supervision of the General Directorate for Public Security. Each of these is organized into a headquarters division, a state police division, a criminal investigation division, and an administrative police division.

Contingents of the Federal Police (Bundespolizei) are stationed in Vienna and thirteen of the larger cities. As of 1990, approximately one-third of the population of Austria lived in areas receiving Federal Police protection. The Gendarmerie accounts for nearly all of the remaining areas. A few small Austrian localities still have their own police forces separate from the Federal Police or the Gendarmerie. The Federal Police are responsible for maintaining peace, order, and security; controlling weapons and explosives; protecting constitutional rights of free expression and assembly; controlling traffic; enforcing environmental and commercial regulations; enforcing building safety and fire prevention rules; policing public events; and preventing crime. A mobile commando group is organized in each city directorate, in addition to a four-platoon "alarm group" in Vienna and a special force to maintain security at the international airport. In early 1992, it was announced that 150 officials would be assigned to special units reporting directly to the Ministry for Interior to fight organized crime.

As of 1990, the Federal Police had a personnel complement of 10,000 in the regular uniformed service (Sicherheitswache-- Security Watch) and 2,400 plainclothes police in the Criminal Investigation Service. Federal Police contingents are armed with Glock 17 9mm pistol and truncheons. These can be supplemented with the standard army weapon, the Steyr 5.56mm automatic rifle, as well as various kinds of riot-control equipment. A separate women's police corps serves in the cities, principally to oversee school crossings and to assist with traffic control. As of 1990, about twenty-four women served in the Gendarmerie and sixty-six in the Federal Police, mostly to deal with cases involving women, youth, and children.

The secret service branch of the Federal Police, the State Police (Staatspolizei; commonly known as Stapo) specializes in counterterrorism and counterintelligence. It also pursues rightwing extremism, drug trafficking, illicit arms dealing, and illegal technology transfers. It performs security investigations for other government agencies and is responsible for measures to protect national leaders and prominent visiting officials. Members of the State Police are chosen from volunteers who have served for at least three years in one of the other security agencies.

Numbering 11,600 in 1990, the Gendarmerie has responsibilities similar to the Federal Police but operates in rural areas and in towns without a contingent of Federal Police or local police. There is one member of the Gendarmerie for each 397 inhabitants in the areas subject to its jurisdiction; there is one member of the Federal Police for each 316 residents in the cities it patrols.

The Gendarmerie is organized into eight provincial commands (every province, except Vienna), ninety district commands, and 1,077 posts. A post can have from as few as three to as many as thirty gendarmes; most have fewer than ten. The provincial headquarters is composed of a staff department, criminal investigation department, training department, and area departments comprising two or three district commands. Basic Gendarmerie training is the responsibility of the individual provincial commands, each of which has a school for new recruits. Leadership and specialized courses are given at the central Gendarmerie school in Mödling near Vienna. The basic course for NCOs is one year; that for Gendarmerie officers lasts two years.

The Gendarmerie has its own commando unit, nicknamed Kobra, as do the separate provincial commands employing gendarmes with previous experience in Kobra. Alpine posts and high Alpine posts are served by 750 Gendarmerie Alpinists and guides. In 1988 more than 1,300 rescue missions were conducted, many with the aid of Agusta-Bell helicopters in the Gendarmerie inventory. Members of the Gendarmerie are armed with 9mm Browning-type semiautomatic pistols. They also have available American M-1 carbines and Uzi machine pistols.

The Administrative Police, in addition to maintaining the bulk of routine police records and statistics, work on importexport violations, illegal shipments of such items as firearms and pornographic materials, and alien and refugee affairs. Customs officials are ordinarily in uniform; other Administrative Police dress according to the needs of their assignments.

The late 1980s witnessed a growing incidence of complaints alleging police misconduct and unnecessary use of force. The minister for interior reported that there had been 2,622 allegations of ill-treatment by the police between 1984 and 1989, of which 1,142 resulted in criminal complaints leading to thirtythree convictions against police officers. In addition, 120 disciplinary investigations were carried out, and disciplinary measures were taken against twenty-six police officers. However, victims of police misbehavior were liable to be deterred from pressing their complaints because of the risk of being charged with slander by the accused officers. A new police law that went into effect in May 1993 stipulates more clearly the limitations on police conduct and imposes restrictions on holding persons on charges of aggressive behavior without an appearance before a magistrate. In addition, leaflets are to be given to detained or arrested persons setting out their rights, including the right to call a lawyer and to have their own doctors if medical examinations are required.

In 1990 it was disclosed that the State Police had extensively monitored the activities of private citizens without sufficient justification. Security checks had been carried out for private companies on request. Of some 11,000 citizens who inquired whether they had been monitored, some 20 percent were found to have State Police files. These actions appeared to be in violation of laws protecting personal data collected by the government, public institutions, and private entities, as well as constitutional protection of the secrecy of the mail and telephone. These revelations gave rise to a restructuring of the State Police, including the reduction of its staff from 800 to 440. The new police law that came into effect in 1993 also introduces parliamentary control over the State Police and the military secret police, with oversight to be exercised by separate parliamentary subcommittees.

Data as of December 1993

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Austria Table of Contents