There can’t be that much to being a cop can there? You wear a special hat, strap on a gun or truncheon and head out onto the streets to thwart wrongdoers, spread civic virtues and help old ladies across the road.
If only life, law and order were that simple. Criminals, sadly, don’t sit still (they’re nasty like that) and are as keen to find new methods and technologies to help them go about their business as anyone else. And the police have to be at least one step ahead of them.
When Robert Peel founded the first modern police force with the Metropolitan Police Force Act of 1829, his Bobbies went out on the streets with pretty simple instructions and an emphasis on muscle over mind. These days things are very different.
1 – GSG 9 of Germany
The 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, when 11 Israeli athletes were killed by terrorists, was an international tragedy, and the German police’s unpreparedness for such an attack led to the formation of GSG 9.
GSG 9 is only open to officers with two years’ service under their belt and applicants undergo rigorous medical and psychological training before taking a 16 week basic training and a further nine weeks of specialised lessons. They must also be top marksmen. Only one in five applicants make it through the tough training programme.
Since they first got started in 1973, GSG 9 have been involved in more than 1,500 operations and have only had to use their guns five times, a great testament to their discipline and training.
2 – Junglas of Colombia
Guess where the Junglas operate? That’s right, theirs is the job of taking to the Colombian jungles where the coke barons rule and the FARC guerrillas have been fighting a brutal civil war against the government. They are very tough indeed.
In most countries, Junglas would be considered a military unit. They were founded in 1989 and set up with training programmes from US special forces and Britain’s legendary SAS. They now look after their own training with some input from US DEA agents and, possibly, British MI6 agents.
There are around 600 Junglas and their chief job is destroying jungle drugs labs. An even more elite cadre of 40 within the Junglas form the Special Reconnaissance Team who are responsible for their most dangerous missions.
They are armed like a special forces unit and have specialist explosives and sniper teams. The training programme is four months long and is internationally acknowledged as one of the best in the world – police from around the world are sent to learn drug war techniques. When the US invaded Afghanistan, Junglas instructors followed in 2006 to help get the war on opium production started.
3 – BOPE of Brazil
The Batalhão de Operações Policiais Especiais (BOPE) are the top cops in Rio, Brazil’s beautiful, but often violent seaside paradise. BOPE are considered an urban warfare unit, tasked with policing the city’s sprawling shanty towns – the favelas – where gangsterism and drug violence is rife. Their operations are often controversial and they have been accused of executing suspects among other abuses of their considerable power.
The all black uniforms, masks, skull and crossed pistols badges and a training song that begins, “”Man in black, what is your mission? To invade the favela and leave the bodies on the ground” leaves little doubt that BOPE mean business.
Their duties include policing prison riots, and in time of war they will be sent to the front lines.
The fallout rate is brutal. A recent commanded – called just 01 – reported that of a class of 100 applicants, only three made it onto the force. The final three days of the training involve staying constantly awake with almost no sustenance running mock missions. Finally they have to run up the daunting slope to the unit’s HQ fighting MMA-style almost all the way.
4 – Yamam of Israel
Whatever you think of the political rights and wrongs of the situation in the Middle East, you’ll have to acknowledge that Israel is going to need some pretty special police. Yamam are the elite anti-terror cops of the Israeli Border Police.
The Yamam was founded after the massacre of 21 children at Ma’a lot in 1974. The military special forces tasked with ending the hostage crisis failed to save the children and a special police unit was founded to tackle similar crises in future.
They are highly armed, of course, but one of their favourite weapons is an armoured bulldozer with which they simple destroy buildings thought to be harbouring terrorists.
The force has twice won the Urban Shield competition – a sort of Olympics for special forces – in America.
Security in Israel is such that many of Yamam’s operations are classified, but we do know there are around 200 officers, who undergo rigorous training.
Applicants are already trained soldiers, having completed their three year military service with some distinction. Many come straight from special forces. The training lasts for six months and includes a ‘hell week’, which is said to be the toughest such ordeal in the world.
5 – The Grupo de Operaciones Especiales of Mexico
Mexico is a state on the verge of collapse. Powerful drug cartels have all but replaced elected state authority in parts of the country and the police are often considered to be in the pay of narco gangs and when they are not they’re likely to end up with a bullet in the head.
The GOPE are the elite unit of the Federal Police, tasked with tackling the worst criminals, drug lords and terrorists. Despite Mexico’s terrible law and order problems, the GOPE have only 87 officers, who work in groups of eight to 12 on their missions.
Their selection and training is very tough. Among the organisations who help train these ultra-elite police officers are Mexican military special forces, Spanish police special forces, the Colombian military’s urban anti-terror units, French police special units, America’s Air Marshalls service and the Mexican navy’s airborne marine unit.
6 – Special Task Force of Sri Lanka
The STF is the counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency police unit of the Sri Lankan police. It’s prime task has been taking the police lead in dealing with the Tamil Tiger separatist guerrilla movement, and it’s so well-regarded that it often goes on teaching missions around the world – the STF helped the Chinese authorities prepare for the Beijing Olympics.
They were formed in 1983, with a Sri Lankan Olympian at their head. The first training came from the Sri Lankan army, but the SAS from Britain were also brought in and Shin Beth officers from Israel also had input.
Many of their operations have been essentially military in character, and like many of our top 10, their training has not included the niceties of human rights; they have often been accused of unlawful killings and disappearances.
They carry handguns, but mortars, grenade and rocket launchers and armoured personnel carriers are also amongst their armoury.
7 – Royal Canadian Mounted Police
The most highly trained RCMP Police/husky unit of the 90s:
The force who according to legend, always got their man, have some of the world’s coolest uniforms, and some of the police world’s best training too.
The training programme to join the Mounties lasts for a demanding six months, each day starting at 6am and finishing no earlier than 4.30pm.
Some of the forces in this list are close to paramilitary forces, but the Mounties have moved with the times and ‘community policing’ is a big part of their training. The recruits are expected to take a large responsibility for developing their own physical and mental talents in an academically challenging environment.
Once those six months are completed, there’s another six months training in the field.
Although the training programme is broad, candidates are warned that they could face marching at 6.15am, jogging between classes, sparring, push ups, a four mile run and getting up nine flights of stairs before noon.
Canada’s police are some of the most successful and respected in the world, this training regime is one of the reasons.
8 – French Police Nationale RAID
Named the Black Panthers because of their stylish noir get up, the RAID were formed in 1985 to tackle violent criminals and terrorists. They’re on duty when President Obama or the like arrive in Paris and they’re so elite that there are only 60 of them.
Selection is voluntary and only Nationale Police officers with at least five years’ experience and tip top physical fitness need apply. The success rate is about 10 from every 600 applicants.
The training process lasts about nine months and includes six hours-a-day of tough physical work. They learn martial arts, tactics, shooting, learn how to get into buses, planes and trains, rescue hostages, attack from helicopters, drive like lunatics and even how to parachute. They are often sent off to elite military units to take their courses too.
They go into action wearing fire-proof overalls and balaclavas. RAID is allowed to use any vehicle in the Ministry of the Interior fleet and officers chose their own weapons.
9 – Grupo Especial de Operaciones, Spain
The GEOs tackle counter-terrorism in Spain and were formed in 1977 as a sort of partnership between the military and the police.
They started out well, freeing five hostages in a bank raid with no bloodshed. In fact, their operational record is excellent, with 424 hostages freed and 41 armed terrorists captured in their history. Only one officer has ever been killed on duty, when the Madrid train bombing suspects reacted to the GEOs approach by blowing up their flat.
Like most of our groups, most who apply to join the GEO are deemed not good enough. Each year, 97% of potential candidates are shown the door. To join, you must be a two-year police officer and be either a martial artist, scuba diver, shooting instructor or explosives expert or have worked in a provincial special unit.
The training is both physical and mental. Among the physical tests is a 3km run that must be completed in 11.5 minutes. Some candidates fail after getting through initial training, when they are given specialist training, including very demanding tests in police science and technique.
10 US Marshals Service
American law enforcement is liberally littered with special units, and one of the toughest to get into is the US Marshals Service, the details of whose selection and training processes are a closely guarded secret.
The officer of Marshal is almost as old as the United States themselves. The service became a federal government agency in 1789, and has been in action ever since. Marshals are the enforcers for the federal court system, handling everything from protecting courts to tracking down fugitives.
Of those who apply only around 5% make it through selection and training. To even get to the starting line you must have a four year degree or the equivalent work experience in the police. Even before training begins, applicants must pass an exam, an interview board, full vetting, medical and drug testing and a demanding physical.
The training programme lasts for 19 weeks and is considered one of the toughest in the US.