by Thorsten Koch
Politicians from the SPD, the Greens and the Left have expressed criticism after the refusal by Federal Minister of the Interior Seehofer (CSU) to investigate racism within the German security organs. The Greens demanded the appointment of an independent police commissioner. Sebastian Fiedler from the Federation of German Criminal Police Officers (BDK), on his part, demanded that the Federal States adopt “a whole range of measures.” “In order to be able to fight right-wing extremism and racism effectively,” one needs knowledge of the causes, “current distribution” and hidden manifestations of racism, said Federal Research Minister Karliczek (CDU). What is more, Federal President Steinmeier most recently emphasized: “Enemies of freedom and democracy must not be tolerated in the police.” Police officers deserve trust, but a climate in which right-wing extremist networks develop cannot be tolerated, he said.
The Facts: At least 400 Cases
Seehofer shies away from a racism study related to the authorities under his control – the Federal Police, the Federal Criminal Police Office and the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution. He said that his ministry are not hushing up but rigorously following up on right-wing extremist incidents within the security forces. As far as right-wing extremism and racism are concerned, a spokeswoman for the Interior Ministry emphasized that these are the greatest threats to security in Germany. The Federal Government has already tightened laws. Seehofer emphasized that the vast majority of police officers are “firmly on the ground of our constitution”.
According to a survey by the journal Der Spiegel, there have been at least 400 suspected right-wing extremist, racist or anti-Semitic cases among police forces across Germany since 2018. Within the Federal Police, there were 36 suspected cases of right-wing extremism and 25 suspected racist cases. At least 12 officials apparently sympathize with the Reich Citizens’ Movement. In the first half of 2020 there were 40 new suspected extremism cases in the Federal and State Governments, 17 cases in the Hessian Interior Ministry alone. Illegal data queries on police computers are particularly problematic.
In North Rhine-Westphalia alone, before the four current cases, a total of 100 employees were suspected of racism or right-wing extremism. Some cases are statute-barred or the investigations have been stopped. State Interior Minister Reul (CDU) emphasized that it was not treason if colleagues reported errors made by police officers.
Political scientist Hans-Gerd Jaschke said practical experience from police work could lead to frustration and generalizations and ultimately to extremism. In addition, addressing racism often remains a taboo at service meetings and in training courses. According to reputed police scientist Behr, instead of clearing up, blocking takes place early. Because the “code of silence”, not to report offenses, is part of the police culture.
Behr warned of suspicious self-referential cases – members of certain population groups are more often checked by police officers and therefore appear more often in crime statistics. However, there is great support from the police among the population. Nevertheless, individual Federal States and leading politicians have now recognized the racism problem in the security authorities as structural.
Numerous Cases in North Rhine-Westphalia
In mid-September it became known that around 30 police officers in the Federal State of North Rhine-Westphalia had run right-wing extremist chat groups. They have been suspended. 14 are to be permanently removed from the service. State Interior Minister Reul said the extent of right-wing extremist incidents had been underestimated. Extremist image files were distributed in the chat groups of the aforementioned observation unit. Reul spoke of the most disgusting neo-Nazi agitation and racism in the last four cases in his state.
At the State Office for the Protection of the Constitution in North Rhine-Westphalia, three members of an observation unit who were deployed against right-wing extremists and an administrative employee in the State Ministry of the Interior exchanged Islamic and xenophobic content, such as videos, with each other in chats. Disciplinary proceedings were initiated, the observation command was dissolved and the management personnel replaced.
The administrative officer, connected to the so-called “Gruppe S.,” may have also gathered official knowledge about the scene of the Reich citizens. Despite apparent evidence, his office did not check the person – despite Reich citizens stickers on his car. According to the State Ministry of the Interior, before the Federal Prosecutor’s Office opened a terrorist investigation, disciplinary proceedings and a so-called “test procedure” should have been initiated.
Cases in Berlin and Hesse
In Berlin, more than 25 police officers compared Muslims and refugees with animals and insects. Racism and hatred, and even violent fantasies, were reflected in chat logs, often hidden in supposed jokes. One of the police officers’ superior did nothing. “Unacceptable,” said the Berlin Senator for the Interior, Geisel, in the event that the cases were confirmed. Thousands of Berlin police officers are doing an excellent job. The BDK commented that the chats were diametrically opposed to the Basic Law and the oath that the officers in question swore on it.
The previous Hessian police president had to vacate his post after sensitive data sets had been illegally queried by police computers in Frankfurt and other offices. So far, more than 80 threatening letters, faxes, SMS and e-mails have been sent by the “NSU 2.0.” sent, partly with an anti-Semitic background. The LKA Hessen has been in charge of determining “NSU 2.0” without success for two years. There were also “NSU 2.0” activities in Berlin and Hamburg.
Calls for Anti-Racism Training
Police scientist Behr said it was legally mandatory to report criminal offenses. In addition, you make yourself punishable for obstruction of punishment in office. Radicalization mostly results from narratives from colleagues well after completing police training and working in socially disadvantaged areas. External agents are required to whom people affected by racism and discrimination can turn.
According to Behr, anti-racism training is required. The police union also demands special training. But it’s not just about taking action against right-wing extremist representations. The police in Ingelheim, Rhineland-Palatinate, encircled demonstrators after attacks at a rally against a right-wing extremist political party and attacked them with batons and pepper spray. The SPD-led state government then set up a reporting office.
Outlook: Will a German-Wide Racism Study be Commissioned?
The professional association “PolizeiGrün” appealed to police officers to leave behind the false spirit of the corps in the event of misanthropic abuses and suggested a study of the internal state of the police. The larger Police Union (GdP), on the other hand, proposed a study of the stresses and strains on police officers in their daily work. Seehofer was more open to a study that looked at racism in society as a whole. He had previously made a tactical stand for a study on violence against police officers. However, there has been a federal situation report on violence against police officers in June this year.
The Vice-Chairman of the CDU-CSU parliamentary group in the German Bundestag, Frei, fears that a study on racism in the police would come up against methodological limits. It is “relatively naive to believe that around 300,000 police officers indicate in surveys or sociological studies whether they have extremist attitudes.”
The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution is working on a situation report on right-wing extremism in the security authorities, which is to be published on October 6th. Since there was a lack of solid data from the federal states, it is not yet foreseeable whether the picture depicted in the report will be realistic.
The SPD-led Federal States may want to jointly commission a study on racism in the police on their own. In Hamburg, for a study on prejudices and radical attitudes from October 3,000 civil servants and management staff will be interviewed – in cooperation with institutes from Lower Saxony and North Rhine-Westphalia.
One could no longer speak of mere individual cases of police racism and extremism, said several experts – it is about entire networks. But in the medium term, it depends on the practical consequences. In the SPD-led state of Berlin, the post an extremism commissioner is being created. In education and training, greater attention should be paid to conveying basic democratic values. In addition, an anonymous reporting system is being created. In October, the Federal Government would like to introduce further measures to combat racism and right-wing extremism.