One study about racism in society, one study about everyday life of security officers in Germany

by Thorsten Koch

The Federal Government will have a study carried out on everyday racism in society – instead of focusing solely on incidents of racism within the police. In addition, Federal Minister of the Interior Seehofer has pushed through that there will be a further study on changed working conditions, difficulties and frustration in the everyday life of security officers – including violence and hatred against the police. Seehofer agreed on this with Finance Minister Scholz and Chancellor Merkel. In addition, a separate analysis of the facts from the situation report of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution on right-wing extremism in the security authorities should be carried out, and future situation reports could cover the entire German public service.

Not concerning the police only

There will be no racism study with a view restricted to the police. Seehofer spoke of unproven allegations against police officers. The authorities followed a zero-tolerance policy with regard to right-wing extremism, racism and anti-Semitism, he emphasized. Seehofer had previously presented a situation report on right-wing extremism in the security authorities. There is no structural problem, he summed up. Over 99 percent of the employees of the police forces at the federal level fully support the constitution.

According to the report, there were around 377 right-wing suspected cases of extremism, with a total of 300,000 employees of security authorities subordinate to the Federal Ministry of the Interior as well as the interior ministries at the level of the federal states from the beginning of 2017 to spring 2020. In 319 cases, investigations were initiated at state level. 58 suspected cases were reported at federal level, with an additional 1,064 suspected cases reported to the military counterintelligence service, which is subordinate to the Federal Ministry of Defense.

Tangible solutions

Police officers should not stand alone with their experiences, said the government leaders. “There is no tolerance for extremism, racism and anti-Semitism,” according to an internal document. One of the studies should therefore contain suggestions as to how this “can also be lived in the future.”

Seehofer spoke out against a general suspicion against the police regarding right-wing extremism. More than 99 percent of the police are “firmly grounded on the” Basic Law. Scholz had previously stated that the government leaders were looking for a way to ensure “that the unbelievably large majority of police officers who do a good job, make a great effort, and do everything right, do not feel that they are meant”. The forthcoming study on everyday racism in society aims to investigate “the development and spread of discriminatory acts in civil society, in business and companies as well as public institutions that are motivated by racist attitudes”.

FDP parliamentary group leader Thomae called for the studies to be implemented urgently. The Police Union expressed its hope that the two studies, now pending, would provide the opportunity to analyze everyday police operations against the background of the cases uncovered and to uncover the causes. For example burdens and prejudices, the union added. The union complained that police officers were offered insults and blanket suspicions, even attacks. State authority had to stand behind the police. Police officers needed to be certain of that. Recently, individual officers were spat at and coughed at, the union reported.

Incidents in various Federal States

In recent months, several right-wing extremist chat groups were uncovered – entertained by police officers in various Federal States. The SPD subsequently called for a racism study with a view to the police. This position was supported the Greens, the FDP, and the Left Party. Several interior ministers of the Federal States announced that they would commission their own studies.

There are around 40 disciplinary proceedings pending in Berlin, for example due to racist omissions in a chat group. In half of the cases, authorities wish to dismiss the police officers in question because they have damaged the reputation of 99.9 percent of their colleagues who obey the rules. The Berlin police chief Slowik said she was “annoyed and angry” about this damage to the reputation of around 26,000 police workers in the German capital.

Investigations are being carried out against around 150 police officers in North Rhine-Westphalia. For example, there is the issue of 150 cases of criminal content – forbidden symbols and images – discovered on a cell phone. Disciplinary proceedings have been ongoing in a total of 29 cases since September. In Essen, for example, 31 police officers are listed as “right-wing extremist suspected cases”. In North Rhine-Westphalia, employees of the State Office for the Protection of the Constitution also shared xenophobic and Islamophobic content in chat groups. Saxony-Anhalt’s Interior Minister recently commented on allegations of anti-Semitism against the state riot police. In Hesse, right-wing extremist threatening emails with the sender NSU 2.0 had been sent by employees of security authorities.

A study of the Federal States or individual policing?

Bavaria’s Interior Minister Herrmann has criticized the fact that some federal states would like to research the extent of right-wing extremism in the police by means of their own studies. “We can only solve specific problems if we act consistently in each individual case and draw the right conclusions from it,” explained Herrmann. “It is particularly important to recognize misconduct as soon as possible and then to take immediate action.” State Interior Minister Pistorius from Lower Saxony and State Interior Minister Stahlknecht from Saxony-Anhalt called on other countries to participate in country studies. Pistorius said there should be a long-term investigation into how democratic officials are. Brandenburg’s Interior Minister Stübgen campaigned for reforms and warned against infiltration of the public service.

According to a poll conducted by Infratest dimap, two thirds of German citizens are calling for an independent complaints office to investigate possible violations by police officers. So far, public prosecutors have been responsible for controlling the police. This is criticized by critics as not being effective. There are state police officers in six Federal States. In Schleswig-Holstein, Rhineland-Palatinate and Baden-Württemberg – unlike in Saxony, Thuringia and Lower Saxony -, they are completely independent.

Better equipment for complaints offices needed

The Institute for Human Rights criticized that the previous police-independent complaints offices lack sufficient staff and equipment. “And they cannot lead criminal investigations.” The Police Union, however, sees the current options of control as sufficient. One commentator called for “a culture of looking, not looking away” among the police. There is “probably a considerable amount of unreported” cases that were not known – due to a “misunderstood spirit of the corps”, he said. Seehofer himself asked the employees of the security authorities to take a closer look and to pass on cases of right-wing extremism: “Passive followers cannot be allowed.”

The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution set up a Central Office dealing with right-wing extremist suspected cases in the public service in August 2019. Berlin’s Senator for the Interior Geisel presented an 11-point plan almost three months ago, which includes the introduction of an Anti-Extremism officer for cases within the police, to whom anonymous information can be directed.

The Federal Government will probably delete the term “race” from the Basic Law. According to Federal Minister of Finance Scholz, the position of an Anti-Racism Officer is to be created, who would serve as a contact point for those affected by discrimination, in the future. What is more, the promotion of democracy is to be expanded by the Federal Government.

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