Twenty-nine German police officers have been suspended after they were found to have taken part in a series of chat groups filled with neo-Nazi and racist messages. But this is not the first time that authorities have discovered right-wing extremism in the police. EURACTIV Germany reports.
In a series of WhatsApp groups, 29 police officers from the district Essen in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) are said to have exchanged images of swastikas, Hitler, and fake photos of refugees in gas chambers with 11 actively sending the hateful content. The groups were years old – one dated back to 2012 while the other four started in 2015.
State Interior Minister Herbert Reul (CDU) described the messages as the “most evil and repugnant neo-Nazi, racist and anti-refugee hate” as well as “disgrace for the NRW police.”
All of the officers involved in the chat groups have been suspended from duty, and Reul has promised to appoint a minister for the state’s police force specifically to handle right-wing tendencies.
Yet, this is not the first discovery of right-wing extremism in German police forces, or even the most recent.
On Friday (18 September), authorities in the eastern state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania reported discovering online chats between officers exchanging similar right-wing extremist content, during a search of two officers’ homes.
Disciplinary proceedings against the two officers have already begun, but a total of 18 are suspected to have taken part in the groups.
Federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer (CSU) has classified these right-wing extremists in the police as “isolated incidents.”
“In organisations of this size – regardless of whether they are police or not – there will always be isolated incidents or constellations of cases,” the interior ministry spokesman, Steve Alter, told a government press conference on Wednesday (16 September).
However, others say that these continued discoveries point to an issue larger than just a few bad officers. The presence of right-wing extremism in the police should “no longer surprise anyone,” said Sebastian Fiedler, chair of the Association of German Criminal Police Officers (BDK), in a TV interview on 16 September.
Rafael Behr, a professor at the Hamburg Police Academy, told the radio station WDR he assumed that “such chat groups exist in almost all cities and agencies.”
Interior Ministry sees no racial profiling
This latest instance of racist extremism in the police has left some in Germany wondering how best to reform the institution. The most prominent suggestion has been to make the first step of acquiring concrete data about the problem. Recently, this has specifically focused on the practice of racial profiling.
The European Council against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) defines ‘racial profiling’ as “the use by the police, with no objective and reasonable justification, […] ‘race,’ colour, language, religion, citizenship or national or ethnic origin in control, surveillance or investigation activities.”
While the Interior and Justice Ministries had been developing such a study earlier in the summer, Seehofer stopped the planning on 5 July, saying the practice was already against the law. Instances of discrimination are “mercilessly investigated and promptly sanctioned,” spokesman Alter claimed at the time.
In response to questions following the discovery in NRW, the Interior Ministry said such a study had “far too narrow a view, far too limited a perspective,” and instead called for an examination of right-wing extremism in the entire country writ large.
For Oliver von Dobrowolski, the head of the police association PolizeiGrün, a study into racial profiling is “a good step, but not the only one.”
He pointed to the work environment, which “must also be improved in such a way that missions are followed up, that supervision prevents stereotypes from developing and becoming established among police officers.”
Improving personnel selection as well as communication and diversity skills he considers “further building blocks for tackling the problem in the long term.”
Professor Behr has proposed structural changes: “A way must be offered to anonymously point out misconduct, a whistleblower system…and there needs to be an organisation like a police commissioner who is not in the hierarchy of the police.”
Von Dobrowolski said that “it is necessary to outlaw and fight [racism] in all classes and in all areas. Understanding this must be created and there must be resources for it.”
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]