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The Greek Police has jurisdiction over the entire territory of Greece and operates under its own rules and disciplinary code.  The types of weapons and other equipment used by the Greek Police to fulfill their duties are governed by a decree that is not  published in the Official Gazette of Greece and thus not made publicly available.  The use of lethal and nonlethal force by the Greek Police is governed by law.  Human rights organizations have published reports on the excessive use of force and other human rights violations by the Greek Police, especially against refugees, migrants, Roma, and other vulnerable groups.

I.  Introduction

The Greek Police is an armed security force that has jurisdiction over the entire territory of Greece, except in areas that fall within the competence of the coast guard.[1]  In 1984, the police in Greece underwent a major reform when the Gendarmerie merged with the City Police.[2]  In 2000, Law No. 2800/2000 reorganized the Ministry of Public Order, which was renamed as the Ministry of Public Order and Citizen Protection, and also introduced new provisions regarding the headquarters of the police.[3]  A further reorganization occurred in 2014 under Law No. 4249/2014 on the Reorganization of Police Forces.[4]

The Chief of the Greek Police is in charge of the management of the police force and reports to the Ministry of Public Order and Citizen Protection.[5]  The Greek Police operates under its own regulations and disciplinary code[6] and is composed of the regular police force, the civilian force, border guards, and special police guards.[7]  The border guards and the special police guards are regulated by their own laws.[8]  Structurally, the Greek Police is divided into central authorities, whose jurisdiction extends over the entire Greek territory, and regional authorities, whose jurisdiction is limited to their respective areas. [9]  The central and regional authorities fall under the authority of the police headquarters.[10]

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II.  Equipment

The use and carrying of weapons by police, border guards, and special guards are regulated by Law No. 3169/2003 on Weapons Carrying, Use and Training.[11]  Equipment is classified in three groups, depending on the specific purpose assigned to each group: (a) official personal equipment charged to each police officer for the exercise of his/her duties, and which may be carried while the officer is off duty; (b) private personal equipment that belongs to the police officer; and (c) specific equipment used for a specific purpose and then returned for proper storage.[12] 

Information on the type of equipment used by the Greek Police is not publicly available.  As Law No. 3169/2003 states, the procurement of weapons to be used by the Greek Police, types of weapons, oversight, storage, and use of explosives are addressed in a decision issued by the Minister of Public Order that is not published in the Greek Gazette.[13]

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III.  Rules on Use of Force

The Greek Police may use firearms to achieve four purposes: (a) to instill fear among the crowd by firing warning shots; (b) to shoot at nonhuman specific targets; (c) to incapacitate humans by shooting at nonvital parts, especially lower limbs; and (d) to hurt a human being and possibly deprive him/her of his/her life.[14]

The use of firearms by the Greek Police is permitted in the following cases:

  • If during the exercise of a police officer’s duties there is a threat of an armed attack against the police officer or another person, including a threat with a fake or concealed firearm; and
  • When the use of force is required to fulfill the police officer’s duties and the following conditions have been met:
  • All other measures have been exhausted, such as the use of warnings, barriers, physical force, batons, or warnings that lethal or permitted chemical weapons may be used;
  • The police officer has identified him- or herself, expressed a clear intention to use firearms, and has given sufficient time for the attacker to respond, unless this is not necessary; and 
  • The use of firearms is proportionate to the severity of the threat.[15]

When all the conditions specified above have been met, a police officer must use less lethal weapons, unless doing so would prove useless or heighten the danger of loss of life or limb by police officers or other people.[16]

The use of “lethal force” (Eksoudeterosis) is permitted, if this is warranted, in the following two instances: (a) to defend against a group attack that poses the risk of death or serious bodily harm; and (b) to free hostages who are at risk of death or serious bodily harm.[17]

The use of force with the intention to kill or incapacitate a human being is prohibited if

  • there is a serious threat of harming a third person from a missed shot or ricocheting bullet;
  • the use of force is directed against an armed group and could hurt unarmed people;
  • a minor (i.e., anyone under eighteen years of age) is the target of the use of force, unless using such force is the only means to avert death;[18] and
  • a person flees after being asked to submit to a lawful search.[19]

A police officer who uses a weapon on a superior’s orders that are in violation of the Constitution or clearly unlawful may still be held liable for illegal use of force.[20]

In 2009, the Prosecutor of the Supreme Court in Greece, in response to a legal inquiry from the Office of the Greek Police, issued an opinion concerning the legality of the use of nonlethal force, specifically plastic bombs that detonate in small pieces to incapacitate people.[21]  Basing his analysis on Law No. 3169/2003 on Weapons Carrying, Use and Training, the Prosecutor reasoned that because the Law allows police to use firearms, bombs, explosives, and batons in order to injure or incapacitate people, it also allows the use of nonlethal weapons such as plastic bombs that, on exploding, break into small pieces to “shock” and incapacitate protesters.[22]

The Prosecutor also held that the use of firearms by police is permitted, inter alia, when they are allowed under the Criminal Code in cases of self-defense and necessity.  The use of firearms in self-defense must be proportionate to the dangerousness of the attack, the kind of harm that could result, the method and severity of the attack, and overall conditions.[23]

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IV.  Issues/Controversies

A.  Violations of Human Rights

Two human rights organizations have published reports that raised concerns about human rights violations by the Greek Police.  In 2012, Amnesty International published a report titled Police Violence in Greece: Not Just “Isolated Incidents, which highlights the excessive use of force and other human rights violations during protests over the fatal shooting of a fifteen-year-old in 2008 and demonstrations against government-imposed austerity measures during the 2010–12 economic crisis.[24]  Subsequently, in 2013, Human Rights Watch published a report titled Unwelcome Guests: Greek Police Abuses of Migrants in Athens.[25] 

Then, in 2014, Amnesty International followed up on its first report with one titled A Law unto Themselves, A Culture of Abuse and Impunity in the Greek Police,[26] which documents claims of excessive use of force by the Greek Police during peaceful and nonpeaceful demonstrations.  The Greek government denied such allegations by referring to them as “isolated” incidents.  Only a limited number of the cases identified in the report have been subject to further investigation by the Greek Police.[27]  Another issue highlighted in the report is that riot police display their identification on the back of their helmets, rather than on the front, as required by law, which consequently prevents victims of police violence from identifying riot police and reporting them.[28]  Moreover, the report documents allegations received by Amnesty International about the Greek Police using excessive force against refugees and migrants in detention centers.[29]

The Greek Police conducted its own investigation on the orders of the Ministry of Public Order and Citizen Protection into allegations of police officers who “turned a blind eye” or supported offenses committed by Golden Dawn, an extreme-right wing organization.[30]

B.  Case Law

The European Court of Human Rights has found against Greece in a number of cases involving the ill-treatment of detainees or misuse of firearms by the Greek Police, including lack of an effective remedy.  In some cases, the victims were migrants or members belonging to minority groups.  The Court has also found against Greece for police brutality against Roma people.[31]

Addressing the issue of using excessive force in the 2010 case of Galotskin v. Greece,[32]  the European Court of Human Rights emphasized the need to conduct thorough investigations into serious allegations of ill-treatment at the hands of the police, and to close such investigations quickly without rushing to conclusions.[33]  

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Theresa Papademetriou
Senior Foreign Law Specialist
September 2014


[1] Law 2800/2000 on the Restructuring of the Services of the Ministry of Public Order, the Composition of the Headquarters of the Police and Other Provisions art. 8, para. 1, Ephemeris tes Kyverneseos tes Hellenikes Demokratias [E.K.E.D.] Feb. 29, 2000, A:41, http://www.et.gr/index.php/2013-01-28-14-06-23/search-laws.

[2] Id.; Law 1481/1984 on the Organization of the Ministry of Public Order art. 54, E.K.E.D. Oct. 9, 1984, A:152.

[3] Law 2800/2000, art. 8, para. 1.

[4] Law 4249/2014 on the Reorganization of Police Forces, E.K.E.D., Mar. 24, 2014, A:73.

[5] Law 2800/2000, art. 23.

[6] Id. art. 9.

[7] Id. art. 18.

[8] Id. art. 18, para. 4.

[9] Id. art. 10.

[10] Id. art. 11, para. 2.

[11] Law No. 3169/2003 on Weapons Carrying, Use and Training, E.K.E.D., July 24, 2003, A:189.

[12] Id. art. 1(δ).

[13] Id. art. 2, para. 8. 

[14] Id. art. 1. 

[15] Id. art. 3, paras. 1, 2.

[16] Id. art. 3, para. 3.

[17] Id. art. 9, para. 6..

[18] Prohibiting the use of force to kill or incapacitate a minor was enacted in response to the police killing of a fifteen-year-old during demonstrations in 2008.  See Amnesty International, Police Violence in Greece: Not Just “Isolated Incidents” 7 (2012), http://www.univie.ac.at/bimtor/dateien/greece_ai_2012_police_violence.pdf.

[19] Law 3169/2003, art. 9. 

[20] Id. art. 3, para. 9.

[21] Office of the Prosecutor of the Supreme Court, Legal Opinion 8/09, June 24, 2009, http://www.eisap.gr/sites/ default/files/consulations/%CE%93%CE%9D%CE%A9%CE%9C.%208-2009.pdf.

[22] Id. at 8.

[23] Id. at 4.

[24] Amnesty International, supra note 18, at 7.

[25] Human Rights Watch, Unwelcome Guests: Greek Police Abuses of Migrants in Athens (June 2013), http://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/greece0613_ForUpload.pdf.

[26] Amnesty International, A Law unto Themselves, A Culture of Abuse and Impunity in the Greek Police (2014), http://amnesty.org/en/library/asset/EUR25/005/2014/en/47005cd7-f536-4c21-851f-e595076dcaef/ eur250052014en.pdf.

[27] Id. at 11.

[28] Id. at 14.

[29] Id. at 17.

[30] Id. at 31.

[31] Human Rights Watch, supra note 25, at 35.

[32] Galotskin v. Greece, App. No. 2945/07, Eur. Ct. H.R. (Jan. 14, 2010), http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/sites/eng/pages/ search.aspx?i=001-96687.

[33] Id. para. 41.

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Last Updated: 06/09/2015