Interning with German Drug Cops Made Me a Decriminalization Advocate

I was only 17, but my short time spent busting weed dealers turned me into a lifelong fan of making all drugs legal.

by Jack Barry
Jul 20 2017, 3:19pm

Credit: James Deacon

This article originally appeared on VICE UK.

Interning, much like puberty, is a great way for teenagers to enjoy their first taste of the horrors of the adult world. Usually, it's an efficient way to experience one job, so you'll know what you definitely don't want to do when you're older. My cousin, for example, interned at a veterinarian's practice. One day, when the vet went out to buy a chocolate bar, a parrot keeled over and died, taking with it to the grave any ambitions my cousin had of working with animals. I, on the other hand, spent a week working for the Augsburg Police Department, in Bavaria, Germany.

As was the case with my cousin, rather than spurring me into a successful career in law enforcement, I now campaign for the decriminalization of drugs. This is, in part, due to what I learned in my time as a policeman.

I don't know how most people end up working for the police, but for me, it was through incompetence and panic. It was while I was studying for my German AS Level language test at Cherwell School in Oxford, England. We were told to think about what we each wanted to do on our yearly trip to Augsburg to help us gain work experience through interning. I'd forgotten to do any thinking about it, so when my teacher went around the room and asked us all, I panicked and said the coolest thing I could think of in German. "Police." And that's where I ended up. Like a real-life McLovin.

I was staying with the family of a girl who went to our partner school. Her dad worked for the police. However, he told me on the first day that he worked in fraud, which is quite boring, so he suggested I spent some time with the guys in the anti-drug squad because they saw a lot more action.

This turned out to be very true. On my first day, immediately after dropping my exchange partner at school, we arrested one of her fellow students right outside for selling weed. We took him back to the station for questioning, where my "colleagues" told me that, seeing as I didn't speak much German, I could play the role of the bad cop. I just had to sit in the corner of the room and look mean, to intimidate him into giving us the name of his supplier. This was no easy task, seeing as I was rocking this look at the time:

Nevertheless, I must have looked pretty terrifying because the guy snitched on his dealer in almost no time. We drove to the address provided, on the outskirts of town accompanied by a full squad of ten police officers. They were dressed in bulletproof vests, with guns; I, on the other hand, was dressed pretty much exactly the same as in the picture above. As we approached the apartment, I was put at the back of the line, for my own safety, but due to an administrative error —we went up too many flights of stairs, to the wrong apartment—I ended up at the front of the line and first to the door.

No one was home, so they kicked the door in, screaming, "Polizei!" I ambled along behind with my hands in my pockets, with their expressed permission to help them search the apartment. The policemen I was with were obviously better at searching than me because they managed to find a stash of heroin and other drugs fairly quickly. I managed to find a stack of hardcore pornography. As a virginal teenager, that's what I'd been trained for. Before going home, we made a quick stop to arrest one of the people whose name was on the lease of the apartment; we arrested her at her job in a local supermarket. My first day was over.

It was during my time with the police that my attitude toward drugs and drug laws really started to change. Before then, I'd always subscribed to the inherited wisdom that if you ever took drugs you were a loser and that drugs were evil. Yet, the policemen I worked with—while very good at catching criminals—didn't seem to believe in the laws they were upholding. They told me that every dealer they arrested was immediately replaced by another and that addicts never got the help they needed and always ended up back on the streets. They were fighting a pointless, losing battle, and their time would be much better spent solving other crimes, they said.

The training day was probably the most fun I had, largely because I was in the least danger. I was taken to an actual police academy and given a day of refresher courses. First, there was martial arts class, which should be fairly self-explanatory. Then we had a class in which we were taught useful bits of info, like what happens if a bullet hits your bulletproof vest when you have a metal button underneath it (you're fucked), or what happens if it hits your police radio first (you're super fucked). We watched some slow-mo videos of bullets hitting melons and rubber men. They taught me how to break out of handcuffs, and then they took me outside and set a huge German Shepherd on me.

Finally, I was allowed to play around at the shooting range. I was given a Heckler & Koch pistol and an MP5 submachine gun and let loose on a projected video of men jumping out from behind barrels and shooting at me. It was like playing a live-action video game, and one of the best afternoons of my life. I have to say, a part of me can see why so many Americans are opposed to gun control because guns are really fun. It's such a shame that their primary function is to kill people. If they only worked on tin cans and bottles, they would be absolutely superb.

"As we were leaving the pub, one of the officers noticed something fishy about a guy who'd started running down the street. They chased him, tackled him to the ground, and reached into his jacket. Then they tossed me what I later found out was $35,000 worth of heroin."

On my penultimate day, my police friends wanted to show me what German court proceedings are like. We drove down to the Augsburg courthouse, but unfortunately, after a couple of hours of waiting, it became clear that the defendant had jumped bail and wasn't going to show. My colleagues were very disappointed and bored, so they decided to take me on an impromptu raid at a bar in the center of town that, in their words, "always have creeps hanging around."

I'd always thought that drug raids were carefully planned affairs, but apparently not. It's just something to do, to kill time. Three officers and I stormed the place at around lunchtime. They were armed with pistols; I had an old Nokia 3310 and a pretzel I'd bought on the way. There was an awkward moment when I made eye contact with a Latvian sex worker I'd taken mugshots of a couple of days before, but otherwise, it was uneventful. However, as we were leaving the pub, one of the officers noticed something fishy about a guy who'd started running down the street. They chased him, tackled him to the ground, and reached into his jacket. Then they tossed me what I later found out was $35,000 worth of heroin.

I had the mother load and was allowed to hold onto it as we drove back to the station. At some point, the man we'd arrested—who I was sharing the back seat with—found out that I was only 17 and still in high school. He'd assumed I was a visiting English policeman and was mortified, not to mention very worried about what being arrested by a schoolboy would do to his street cred. Our bust made the local paper a few days later.

My time in the German police force gave me some very niche German vocabulary and enough pub stories to last me the next 12 years. I definitely learned a lot from my work experience. It completely changed my career trajectory, personally starting me on the path to recreational drug use and a deeply held conviction that all drugs should be legalized. I now campaign for the decriminalization of drugs, and my new stand-up comedy show is all about legalization and will be debuting at a local music festival this summer.

Oh, that, and I know how to say "gear" in German now.

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