The recent discovery of right-wing extremist chat groups between police officers in North Rhine-Westphalia and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania has led many to ask how to combat these tendencies in Germany’s police force. EURACTIV German spoke to Oliver von Dobrowolski about extremism and the possibilities for reform.
Oliver von Dobrowolski is the chair of the professional police association PolizeiGrün, which gathers police officers and officials in other security agencies affiliated with Germany’s Green Party. He has been working for the Berlin Police since 1998 and has been detective chief inspector since 2012. He spoke with EURACTIV Germany exclusively in his capacity as the head of the PolizeiGrün.
Professor Rafael Behr of the Hamburg Police Academy recently said on WDR radio: “I assume that such chat groups exist in almost all cities and authorities.” Do you believe this too?
I must agree with Mr Behr: I, too, fear a much larger dark area. This is also due to the fact that police officers are already well versed in how investigators proceed by profession. They can therefore seal off their networks better and protect themselves from detection for a long time.
Regarding the police officers who participated in the chat group but did not send the racist messages: How does PolizeiGrün deal with the balance of camaraderie and holding colleagues accountable for unacceptable behaviour?
The current accusations against the colleagues in NRW (Nord Rhein Westphalia) are severe, and there, the boundary of good taste has not only been crossed. These are substantial, serious crimes that undermine our democratic order in particular.
In such cases, a zero-tolerance policy must apply. I can understand that it is difficult to testify against one’s own colleagues in a profession that is very much characterised by cohesion. But that is part of the police job: to act as the “good” against the “bad.” And this applies all the more because “good” and “bad” are blurred here, and that must not be allowed to happen.
For those who want to reform the police: is the logical next step after these findings to push even harder for a study on racial profiling? Or is there something else people should focus on?
A scientific investigation of the internal situation of the German police is a good step, but not the only one.
The working conditions must also be improved in such a way that missions are followed up on, that supervision prevents stereotypes from developing and becoming established among police officers. An even better selection of personnel, good political education and strengthening communication and diversity skills are further building blocks for tackling the problem in the long term.
Regarding the Interior Ministry’s recent position that a larger study of right-wing extremism in German society is needed – not a specific study of the police – do you believe that such an investigation will effectively address the problem in the police? Is there a need to look at the police more specifically and separately, given their important role in society?
The police profession is associated with many special features. The demands on police employees are also higher than in other jobs. If a scientific study on racism and discriminatory behaviour is conducted, it must also focus on the police.
I personally don’t understand at all why the responsible politicians are so strongly opposed to a pure police study. If – as is usually claimed – the accusations are not confirmed in the end, then one could be proud. I think everyone involved knows very well that a study would reveal deficits and thus truths that one might not want to hear because they contradict the existing agenda.
On the other side of the coin: will there have to be a major change in German society’s understanding of racism to achieve change in the police force?
Of course racism unfolds a destructive power in the whole society, and therefore, it is necessary to outlaw and fight it in all classes and in all areas. Understanding of this must be created and there must be resources for it.
The depth of research can therefore not be too deep for the police. The police as an institution in which armed and uniformed people are active must be considered with special attention.
In your opinion, is there anything that can be learned from discussions in other countries on this topic, or does Germany have a completely different context? I am thinking specifically of the US, but perhaps also of other European countries.
Even in the United States, in some large police agencies, there is a commissioner in the police leadership who, as a non-police officer, can take an external perspective and thus counteract undesirable developments.
As far as Germany is concerned, part of the necessary solution is to finally introduce independent and external complaints bodies, which are demanded internationally and could offer real legal protection for those affected by police misconduct. Denmark, England and Wales have had good experiences here, for example. German efforts are far too timid and do not do justice to the need for constitutional control of the police.