The police chief of Cologne on Thursday promised New Year’s Eve revellers that they can party safely this year after the city made global headlines in 2015 with hundreds of sexual assaults and robberies committed predominantly by young men of North African and Arab origin around the train station and cathedral.
“I promise you that you can feel extraordinarily safe there at the cathedral,” Jürgen Mathies told local newspaper Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger.
Cologne plans to deploy 1,500 officers, a ten-fold increase over New Year’s Eve 2015, in the center of the city on Saturday night. There will be more street lighting and 40 new security cameras in the area. Police have also set aside a unit capable of following suspects by helicopter. A firework-free zone has been established around the mighty twin-towered cathedral, the symbol of the city, and there will be bag searches.
The assaults last year in Cologne and other cities fueled criticism of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door refugee policy. In Cologne, more than 1,000 criminal complaints were filed with the police. Almost half the cases involved sexual assault, including a number of rapes.
Mr. Mathies, appointed after his predecessor Wolfgang Albers was forced to step down over the attacks, also said that access to several squares would be blocked by concrete barriers and large vehicles to prevent a repeat of the Berlin Christmas market truck attack on December 19.
Security is being increased for public New Year’s Eve festivities across Germany, especially around Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate, which will host the country’s largest party that in the past has attracted around 1 million people. The move follows the atrocity at the Breitscheidplatz Christmas market in western Berlin in which Tunisian terrorist Anis Amri killed 12 people and injured 50.
Ms. Merkel’s government responded to the Cologne assaults by toughening up laws regulating asylum seekers, including making it easier for authorities to deport criminal foreigners. However, the Berlin truck attack, committed by a failed asylum seeker who was on a security watch list and whose asylum application had been rejected five months ago, has highlighted continued failings in the system.
David Crossland is an editor for Handelsblatt Global. To contact the author: firstname.lastname@example.org