Law and order

Germans Talking Tough on Crime

G20-Gipfel – Demonstration “G20 Welcome to hell”
Stand down or we squirt. Source: DPA

After a rise in robberies, a string of terrorist attacks, and violent protest during the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany’s political parties agree that it’s time to hire more police officers. Ahead of September’s election, both the conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) and center-left Social Democrats (SPD) have promised to hire 15,000 new cops.

But Oliver Malchow, head of the German police union, argues that the parties’ pledges aren’t enough. The number of police officers in Germany has dropped by 16,000 since the year 2000. And out of the 215,000 officers now working in Germany, one fifth is set to retire by 2021, Mr. Malchow said. He argues that there’s a need for at least another 20,000 police jobs. “Police want to do more intensive work, but they lack the means,” he added. Officers across the country have racked up 22 million hours in overtime work, according to Mr. Malchow.

“Four years ago law-and-order issues would not help anyone win an election,” one police officer said last month at a gathering near Berlin of around 700 riot police. Officers at the meeting worked up an average of 105 overtime hours each. Their unit has of late seen a lot of action: it has dealt with hooligans, far-right demonstrators, and the G20 protesters. Some of the unit’s buildings are so run-down that they can’t be used anymore.

“Domestic security has long been an important concern for citizens, but politicians are unfortunately only reacting now.”

Oliver Malchow, head of the German police union


“Domestic security has long been an important concern for citizens, but politicians are unfortunately only reacting now,” Mr. Malchow said. He points to the success of a right-wing party, the Alternative for Germany, in several regional elections as proof that voters want to get tough on crime.

But while parties across the political spectrum agree that Germany’s police force must grow, they differ on how far they want to extend new security measures. The Christian Democrats are pushing facial-recognition software—the technology has attracted a lot of attention since a test run started this week in a Berlin metro station. They also want to expand intelligent video technologies, to set a minimum time limit during which police must retain citizens’ personal data and to start using DNA tests to identify crime suspects. The Social Democrats, the CDU’s junior coalition partner in the current government, are open to setting up more video cameras to monitor public spaces.

But the liberal Free Democrats (FDP) reject data-retention laws, registers to store flight passenger information and automatic license-plate recognition technology as threats to personal freedom. They are also pushing back against proposals limit the use of cash as a way of fighting money laundering, arguing that cash is the only way to store money without state oversight or bank fees.

The Greens and the Left Party are also positioning themselves against expanding state surveillance, a popular stance in a country that has living memory of two dictatorships. Conflicts between security and civil liberties could become a point of tension in coalition talks after the election. The CDU “puts the protection of victims before data protection,” said Armin Schuster, the party’s spokesman for interior affairs, whereas “our possible partners see that the exact opposite way.”


Handelsblatt’s Frank Specht writes about politics and labor. To contact the author:

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