Right at the beginning of the latest “Polizeiruf 110” episode from Halle (Saale), the not exactly small alcohol problem of Chief Inspector Henry Koitzsch (Peter Kurth, 67) is brought into the center of the action. After a drunken drive through the city’s concrete canyons, he loses his driver’s license and has to take a taxi or tram to carry out his investigation.

In the inside pocket of his battered leather jacket is a hip flask filled with hard liquor, which he sometimes uses in the middle of questioning witnesses as if it were the most normal thing in the world. During the crisis discussion with the official addiction counselor, he appears to be aware of the problem and confidently quotes from Jack London’s (1876-1916) classic admonition “King Alcohol”.

Even if it is usually less obvious in reality, the widespread problem of alcoholism naturally also plays a significant role in the police authorities. After the problem of addictions was ignored within the company’s ranks for a long time or not addressed due to a lack of support concepts, the “Federal Working Group on Addiction Help in the Police” was founded in 1990 in order to establish the basis for the care of alcoholic colleagues. Members of this working group are police employees, those affected and experts from various scientific disciplines such as medicine, education, psychology and social work.

According to a report in “Spiegel”, it was assumed at the time that around five percent of police officers in the Federal Republic were alcohol dependent. Even if there are only a few current figures, everything indicates that the problem has by no means disappeared. As the “Berliner Zeitung” reported, a study by the Free University of Berlin in 2016 showed that around 25.5 percent of Berlin police officers consumed at least some risky alcohol consumption.

Not least thanks to the work of “BAG Addiction”, a changed awareness of the problem and structured health management have prevailed among police authorities over the past decades. At special training courses, supervisors receive precise instructions on how to deal with affected colleagues and disciplinary principles. As soon as the problem has been identified, those affected are provided with standard therapy options, some of which are specifically tailored to police officers and other emergency services.

An important point of contact here is the Paracelsus Berghof Clinic in Bad Essen, Lower Saxony, which always takes into account the special stresses that the police job entails in its treatments. On the website Dr. Peter Subkowski, former chief physician at the clinic, said: “According to our clinical experience with patients from the police sector, police officers are exposed to increasing psychological stress in their work. This is not just about traumatizing experiences or confrontation with violence and the risk of death, but also about the increasing staff shortage.”

The provisions laid down in the Federal Civil Servants Act (BBG) result in an obligation for law enforcement officers affected by alcohol problems to cooperate with such therapy offers. Although alcoholism itself is not an official offense, the impairment of service caused by alcohol abuse is. As the trade union magazine “Deutschepolizei” explained in a 2009 issue on the main topic of “alcohol and service”, the general duty of loyalty of civil servants also results in a duty to maintain the ability to serve.

“This obligation to maintain fitness for duty,” it says there, “includes the obligation to keep oneself healthy and productive (duty to maintain health) and, subsequently or in connection with this, also the obligation to restore health.” Anyone who refuses counseling or therapy will face disciplinary consequences, which can result in their removal from public service.