Special Report

Countries Where Police Have the Most Firepower

Juris Paiders / Wikimedia Commons

The American Civil Liberties Union has for years highlighted the militarization of U.S. police departments. The organization has denounced federal programs that, for decades, have channeled surplus military equipment to the nation’s law enforcement agencies. Police are now armed with such equipment and firearms that are “often far beyond what is necessary for their jobs as protectors of their communities,” the ACLU notes.

The practice dates back to the defense bill of 1991 that has since transferred $7.6 billion worth of surplus military equipment to more than 8,000 local law enforcement agencies, according to the Department of Defense. (Here is how the size of each states police force changed in the last year.)

These facts beg many questions, including how the United States compares to other countries when it comes to law enforcement firepower.

Based on 2017 estimates, the latest available, the U.S. has 1.6 firearms for every sworn officer of the law, above the global average of 1.2 but lower than dozens of countries with the world’s most heavily armed law enforcement agencies.

The 30 countries with the most police firepower range from peaceful democracies like Switzerland, which has 1.9 firearms per officer, to conflict-ravaged Chad, with 3.6 firearms per officer.  

To find the 30 countries where police have the most firepower, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed data from Small Arms Survey, an international firearms-monitoring organization. We ranked all counties covered by the Small Arms Survey with populations of at least 1 million by the estimated number of police firearms per sworn police officer in 2017, the most recently available year of police firearm data. Population-adjusted police officer figures were calculated using 2021 population data from the World Bank. 

Nine of the 30 countries with the most police firepower are located in Eastern Europe, and all but Chad are located in Europe. Law enforcement agencies in Belgium and Estonia are the most highly armed in Europe, while Albania, Macedonia, and Northern Ireland also rank high in police firepower. (This is the richest country in the world.)

In terms of number of police officers, Belarus, Russia, Romania, and Kosovo lead the way with more than six officers for every 1,000 residents. Out of the countries on this list, Hungary and Chad have the fewest number of officers at less than one for every 1,000 residents.

Here are the countries with the most police firepower.

30. Switzerland
> Estimated number of police firearms: 1.87 per sworn officer (34,000 total)
> Police officer count: 2.1 per 1,000 people (18,150 total)
> Population: 8,697,723
> Region: Western Europe

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29. Bosnia and Herzegovina
> Estimated number of police firearms: 1.88 per sworn officer (29,000 total)
> Police officer count: 4.7 per 1,000 people (15,445 total)
> Population: 3,263,459
> Region: Southern Europe

28. Kosovo
> Estimated number of police firearms: 1.88 per sworn officer (21,000 total)
> Police officer count: 6.1 per 1,000 people (11,179 total)
> Population: 1,831,000
> Region: Southern Europe

27. Croatia
> Estimated number of police firearms: 1.89 per sworn officer (39,000 total)
> Police officer count: 5.3 per 1,000 people (20,687 total)
> Population: 3,899,000 (2017)
> Region: Southern Europe

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26. Belarus
> Estimated number of police firearms: 1.90 per sworn officer (165,000 total)
> Police officer count: 9.3 per 1,000 people (87,000 total)
> Population: 9,340,314
> Region: Eastern Europe

25. Moldova, Republic of
> Estimated number of police firearms: 1.90 per sworn officer (21,000 total)
> Police officer count: 4.3 per 1,000 people (11,071 total)
> Population: 2,573,928
> Region: Eastern Europe

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24. Romania
> Estimated number of police firearms: 1.90 per sworn officer (251,000 total)
> Police officer count: 6.9 per 1,000 people (132,202 total)
> Population: 19,115,146
> Region: Eastern Europe

23. Denmark
> Estimated number of police firearms: 1.90 per sworn officer (20,000 total)
> Police officer count: 1.8 per 1,000 people (10,533 total)
> Population: 5,856,733
> Region: Northern Europe

22. Portugal
> Estimated number of police firearms: 1.90 per sworn officer (89,000 total)
> Police officer count: 4.5 per 1,000 people (46,852 total)
> Population: 10,299,423
> Region: Southern Europe

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21. Russian Federation
> Estimated number of police firearms: 1.90 per sworn officer (2,432,000 total)
> Police officer count: 8.9 per 1,000 people (1,280,000 total)
> Population: 143,446,060
> Region: Eastern Europe

20. Netherlands
> Estimated number of police firearms: 1.90 per sworn officer (96,000 total)
> Police officer count: 2.9 per 1,000 people (50,509 total)
> Population: 17,533,405
> Region: Western Europe

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19. Poland
> Estimated number of police firearms: 1.90 per sworn officer (188,000 total)
> Police officer count: 2.6 per 1,000 people (98,892 total)
> Population: 37,781,024
> Region: Eastern Europe

18. Ukraine
> Estimated number of police firearms: 1.90 per sworn officer (289,000 total)
> Police officer count: 3.5 per 1,000 people (152,000 total)
> Population: 43,814,581
> Region: Eastern Europe

17. France
> Estimated number of police firearms: 1.90 per sworn officer (497,000 total)
> Police officer count: 3.9 per 1,000 people (261,392 total)
> Population: 67,499,343
> Region: Western Europe

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16. Germany
> Estimated number of police firearms: 1.90 per sworn officer (466,000 total)
> Police officer count: 2.9 per 1,000 people (245,072 total)
> Population: 83,129,285
> Region: Western Europe

15. Slovenia
> Estimated number of police firearms: 1.90 per sworn officer (13,000 total)
> Police officer count: 3.2 per 1,000 people (6,827 total)
> Population: 2,107,007
> Region: Southern Europe

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14. Lithuania
> Estimated number of police firearms: 1.91 per sworn officer (17,000 total)
> Police officer count: 3.2 per 1,000 people (8,915 total)
> Population: 2,795,321
> Region: Northern Europe

13. Greece
> Estimated number of police firearms: 1.91 per sworn officer (99,000 total)
> Police officer count: 4.9 per 1,000 people (51,887 total)
> Population: 10,664,568
> Region: Southern Europe

12. Sweden
> Estimated number of police firearms: 1.91 per sworn officer (38,000 total)
> Police officer count: 1.9 per 1,000 people (19,903 total)
> Population: 10,415,811
> Region: Northern Europe

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11. Hungary
> Estimated number of police firearms: 1.91 per sworn officer (17,000 total)
> Police officer count: 0.9 per 1,000 people (8,897 total)
> Population: 9,709,886
> Region: Eastern Europe

10. Czech Republic
> Estimated number of police firearms: 1.91 per sworn officer (76,000 total)
> Police officer count: 3.7 per 1,000 people (39,768 total)
> Population: 10,703,446
> Region: Eastern Europe

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9. Slovakia
> Estimated number of police firearms: 1.92 per sworn officer (43,000 total)
> Police officer count: 4.1 per 1,000 people (22,401 total)
> Population: 5,447,247
> Region: Eastern Europe

8. Latvia
> Estimated number of police firearms: 1.94 per sworn officer (17,000 total)
> Police officer count: 4.7 per 1,000 people (8,758 total)
> Population: 1,883,162
> Region: Northern Europe

7. Finland
> Estimated number of police firearms: 1.94 per sworn officer (14,000 total)
> Police officer count: 1.3 per 1,000 people (7,211 total)
> Population: 5,541,696
> Region: Northern Europe

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6. Northern Ireland
> Estimated number of police firearms: 1.95 per sworn officer (13,000 total)
> Police officer count: 3.6 per 1,000 people (6,682 total)
> Population: 1,873,000 (2017)
> Region: Northern Europe

5. Macedonia, Former Yugoslav Republic of
> Estimated number of police firearms: 1.95 per sworn officer (21,000 total)
> Police officer count: 5.2 per 1,000 people (10,792 total)
> Population: 2,065,092
> Region: Southern Europe

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4. Albania
> Estimated number of police firearms: 1.95 per sworn officer (19,000 total)
> Police officer count: 3.5 per 1,000 people (9,743 total)
> Population: 2,811,666
> Region: Southern Europe

3. Belgium
> Estimated number of police firearms: 2.03 per sworn officer (78,000 total)
> Police officer count: 3.3 per 1,000 people (38,437 total)
> Population: 11,587,882
> Region: Western Europe

2. Estonia
> Estimated number of police firearms: 3.52 per sworn officer (18,000 total)
> Police officer count: 3.8 per 1,000 people (5,116 total)
> Population: 1,329,254
> Region: Northern Europe

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1. Chad
> Estimated number of police firearms: 3.58 per sworn officer (34,000 total)
> Police officer count: 0.6 per 1,000 people (9,500 total)
> Population: 16,914,985
> Region: Middle Africa

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