Home Lifestyle Internship with German federal police helps Berge map career steps

Internship with German federal police helps Berge map career steps

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Wingate senior and Germany native Joelle Berge made her way to the Berlin Brandenburg Airport security checkpoint with a knife in her sock and a lie on her lips.

“I’m pregnant, so I can’t go through the X-ray machine,” she said in perfect English. As one security officer began to pat her down, she wondered if others would sound the alarm when they saw what was in her luggage.

A criminal justice major who hopes to work in law enforcement in her home country, Berge interned with the federal police in Berlin last summer and was part of a sting operation of sorts to help keep airport security officers on their toes.

“I was undercover at the airport with a female officer,” Berge explains. “I had a knife hidden under my pant leg in my sock. She had a round knife hidden under her clothes under her arm on her side. Our suitcases had fake bombs in them.”

As she tried to convince the guard that the stiff-feeling object on her leg was really an ankle brace, two federal police officers watched from nearby, noting whether security personnel followed procedure. When the guard raised her hand signaling for backup and Berge’s ruse was revealed, the federal officers immediately swept in to explain that Berge was part of a test and that the security officer had passed.

The fake bombs in both suitcases were found, but security guards let Berge’s colleague through the checkpoint without discovering her knife. As a result, the one who missed the knife in her pat-down was immediately removed from her post and sent for retraining.

“It was sad that she didn’t pass the test, but it’s really important that the people who work in the airport know what they are doing,” Berge says.

Before her internship, she had no idea that the federal police ran frequent checks on the Association Of Aviation Security, labeled the BDLS in German and similar to our Transportation Security Administration. What she learned is that they do roughly five tests per month like the one she was able to play a role in.

Although Berge was obviously limited in what she could do at the federal police office since she is not an officer, she said the internship gave her insights into several areas of the law, including border security. She spent time along the Polish border observing the process that noncitizens must go through before they are allowed into Germany. In fact, she’ll probably never look at a passport the same way again.

“They showed me every little thing that they have to look at to try to spot it if someone has a fake passport,” Berge says. “They are looking for every detail.”


She says the three weeks of her internship gave her a chance to see the practical application of theories she’s learned in her Wingate classes. It also helped her better identify cultural differences in German and U.S. police procedures and to home in on what occupations she may want to pursue.

“Because I am an international student, it is cool to see what I learn here about criminal law and theories and then compare it to what I know from back home,” Berge says.

She’s using what she’s learned in her criminal justice classes to dispel the myths that first drew her to the major.

“When I was younger, I was always watching the crime shows like Law and Order, and I was so fascinated with the question of a criminal’s background, why the person becomes a criminal, the profiling and all that,” Berge says. “I wasn’t sure what I wanted to major in, but I couldn’t see myself working in an office every day, and since I loved watching crime shows, why not major in criminal justice?”

It’s what Dr. Mitch Mackinem, chair of Wingate’s Department of Criminal Justice and Sociology, hears from a lot of students.

“They all want to fly around the country chasing serial killers,” he says. “I have to tell them that what they see on TV isn’t really how it works.”

Although he bursts some bubbles, he also has the privilege of expanding perceptions about the wide range of careers that a degree in criminal justice can lead to.

“In the modern world, we’ve moved far beyond simple frontline police officers,” Mackinem says. “The business world, the computer world, the transportation industry – everyone is looking for ways to keep people safe. The modern criminal-justice graduate is going to fill that need.”

He says internships, which are required by Wingate’s program, help students get a better understanding of career opportunities so they can find their fit.

Berge, who will graduate in December with her bachelor of science, plans to head home to Germany, take some time for travel and then study up before taking a test that will help determine whether she’s eligible to interview for the BKA, equivalent to the FBI in the United States. She would one day like to work with the federal agency and is most interested in its divisions that handle state security and international terrorism.

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