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The Estonian Police is comprised of the State Police Force, Border Guard, and Immigration Service.  This joint entity is the largest state institution, which is highly trusted by the public.  The State Police Force is funded through a national appropriations process, and military-type equipment is used.  The application of firearms by police is limited and strictly regulated by national legislation.  Military-type weapons cannot be transferred to the municipal (local) police.

I.  Introduction

The formation of the Estonian State Police Force was formally established on March 1, 1991, pursuant to the 1990 Police Act, following the restoration of national independence in the early 1990s.[1]  The police system was further reformed after Estonia became a member of the European Union in 2004.

In 2010, under the Police and Border Guard Act,[2] the Police and Border Guard Board (PBGB), a department under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Interior, was created.  The Board is headed by the Director General, who is the national police chief.[3]  The PBGB is the state police authority charged with the duty to protect public order, secure national borders, resolve issues in the area of migration, conduct search and rescue operations, respond to environmental accidents, and protect the highest government officials.[4]  These tasks are divided between four major PBGB divisions: the Border Guard, Public Order, Criminal Police, and Citizenship and Migration divisions.  All personnel of the PBGB, regardless of their full title or position are considered police officers and the entire organization is named the Police.[5]  The State Police is divided into four regional prefectures, which consist of constable stations, border guard stations, and service offices of the Migration and Citizenship Bureau.  Local subunits secure the presence of the police force in towns and villages.[6]

Some larger municipalities, such as the capital city of Tallinn, have nominated local officials to supervise local public order departments called Municipal Police.  Municipal police may cooperate with the State Police but have no special police rights.[7]

The PBGB is the largest Estonian state agency, employing more than 6,000 people, of which 3,500 are engaged in public order and criminal police functions.[8]

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II.  Police Weapons and Equipment

All PBGB material resources are provided by the Ministry of the Interior according to the national budget.  The acquisition of equipment, including weapons and ammunition for the police, is conducted through the regular government procurement process.[9]

The standard service weapons for State Police include firearms, gas and pneumatic weapons, cut-and-thrust weapons, and electric shock devices.[10]  A complete list of weapons and equipment used by the police was not located; however, published sources show that automatic and semiautomatic weapons are used by the police force.  According to a manufacturer’s press release, the new Walther pistols P99Q were supplied to PBGB in February 2014.[11]  Additionally, the Estonian Defense Forces official website provides information about weapons that are used in this country, including by the Border Guard, which is part of the Police.  Among them are the Heckler & Koch (H&K) USP Semi-automatic 9×19mm Parabellum, Machine Gun Galil AR, SAR, ARM, AK-4, M14 rifle, Shotgun Benelli M3T, and Negev light machine gun.[12]

Special equipment used by the Estonian Police includes handcuffs; shackles; binding means; restraint jackets or chairs; service animals; technical barriers; means to force a vehicle to stop; water cannons; tear-gas grenades; smoke, sonic, light or other effects; sensation of pain devices; explosive devices for special purposes and not used against a person; lighting and audio devices for special purposes; and coloring and marking device for special purposes.[13]

In 1991, a special unit called K-Commando was created within the Criminal Police.  This unit mainly deals with hostage situations, counterterrorism, the arrest and escort of high-risk criminals, high-risk detention, searches, and the protection of VIPs and important witnesses.[14]  K-Commando’s tasks and duties are close to those of other units of the same or similar purposes in the army and police.  K-Commando has the equipment mainly used by SWAT-like teams in other countries.  Its arsenal includes military armored personnel carriers, helicopters, motor boats, and speed boats.[15]

The special equipment of this unit consists of a mixture of old Soviet and Western weapons, such as the Makarov pistol (9mm); Browning HP pistol (9mm); H & K MP5K (9mm), H & K MP5A3, and H & K automatic MP5SD3 (9mm) submachine guns; AKS-74U (caliber 5.45 mm) automatic rifle; H & K G36V (5.56-mm) rifle; and SIG SG551 SWAT-2P (5.56-mm), Sniper PSG1 (7.62 mm), and DSR-1 (7.62 mm) special rifles.[16]

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III.  Rules on the Use of Firearms

The Police and Border Guard Act allows police officers to use their weapons to defend themselves or someone else, stop crime or a serious threat, or eliminate a disturbance.[17]  The Act requires a police officer to warn a person or crowd before applying weapons and to give people an opportunity to retreat voluntarily.[18]

While special means can be used under any circumstances based on police discretion, lethal firearms can be used only if there is no other way to counter a threat.[19]

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IV.  Recent Controversy

The only reported case of mass rioting occurred in April 2007, when ethnic Russians living in Tallinn protested the removal of a Soviet war memorial.  Police fired rubber bullets and a water cannon at hundreds of protesters, and more than three hundred people were taken into custody while ten protesters suffered minor injuries.  Public opinion mainly supported the actions of the police and no accusations of excessive force were made.[20]

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Olena Yatsunska-Poff
Foreign Law Consultant
September 2014


[1] Police Act [Politseiseadus] of September 20, 1990, Riigi Teataja [RT] (official gazette) 1990, No. 10, Item 113, http://www.riigiteataja.ee/akt/13093343.

[2] Police and Border Guard Act of May 6, 2009 [Politsei ja piirivalve seadus], RT 2009, No. 26, Item 159, https://www.riigiteataja.ee/en/eli/512112013003/consolide.

[3] Id., ch. 2, arts. 4.1, 4.3.

[4] Id. art. 3.

[5] Police and Border Guard Board – In Cooperation We Create Security, PBGB (Sept. 12, 2014), http://www.politsei.ee/en/organisatsioon/organization/.

[6] Id.

[7] Lauri Tabur, Estonia: From Police Force to Public Service, in Handbook on Policing in Central and Eastern Europe 81 (Gorazd Mesko et al. eds., 2013).

[8] Id. at 82.

[9] Police and Border Guard Act art. 75(13).

[10] Id. art. 28.

[11] Press Release, Carl Walther GmbH, Walther P99Q for Estonian Police (Apr. 9, 2014), http://www.carl-walther.de/cw.php?lang=en&content=press.

[12] Hand Firearms, Eesti Kaitsevagi [Estonian Defense Forces], http://www.mil.ee/et/kaitsevagi/ tehnika/relvad/kasitulirelvad (last visited Sept. 9, 2014).

[13] Police and Border Guard Act art. 27.

[14] K-Commando Special Unit of Estonian Criminal Police, Special-Ops.org, http://www.special-ops.org/k-commando-special-unit-of-estonian-criminal-police/ (last visited Sept. 9, 2014).

[15] Id.

[16] Id.

[17] Police and Border Guard Act art. 30.

[18] Id. art. 31.

[19] Id. art. 32.

[20] Jari Tanner, Riots in Estonia After Memorial Removed, Washington Post (Apr. 27, 2007), http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/04/27/AR2007042700165.html.

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Last Updated: 06/09/2015