The eastern German state of Brandenburg, which surrounds Berlin, is planning to drastically reduce its police presence. This is causing concern among local residents.
Brandenburg may see fewer police officers in the future
The Interior Minister in the eastern German state of Brandenburg, Rainer Speer, appears adamant in his resolve to reduce the regional police force by almost 2,000 by 2020. Brushing aside assertions by his critics that all the 8,900 policemen and women that Brandenburg has now will also be needed in the future, the Social Democrat politician is hoping to begin implementing the cuts next year.
Many police stations in Brandenburg may soon be closing their doors for good
"What will be left after the cuts will correspond to the personnel in other German states," said Speer. "Other states with a smaller police force have been doing a good job in protecting citizens because of more efficient organizational structures and closer cooperation between the different units."
The minister has set his sights particularly on slashing the number of police stations from 50 at present to about 15. Officers at these stations work in shifts around the clock. To do away with almost two thirds of the stations would certainly save the state a lot of money. But this is not how Speer has communicated the planned cuts in public.
"We simply need to explain to people that a policeman doing a shift at a station can only do so much for the security of the people," Speer argued. "It's those on the beat or in the patrol cars who can help more directly."
Mayors up in arms
But regional opinion polls have shown that the majority of Brandenburg residents think little of the Interior Minister's plans to reduce the size of the police force. They doubt whether the same level of security can be guaranteed after the reform. The loss of some 1,900 police, they argue, cannot be compensated by a few structural changes and perhaps better equipment.
Dietlind Tiemann is one of 40 regional leaders opposed to the planned cuts
Aware of the groundswell of public opinion against the planned cuts, mayors from over 40 towns and communities in Brandenburg have openly protested against the reform plans. Among them is the mayor of the town of Brandenburg an der Havel, Christian Democrat Dietlind Tiemann, who's keeping her fingers crossed that her town will not be affected in a major way.
"We have to see to it that the police stay in town," Tiemann told Deutsche Welle. Our people say they don't understand that so many policemen might no longer be out on the streets, and residents say they'd definitely feel less safe."
The mayor of the town of Guben which borders Poland, Klaus-Dieter Huebner, shares her opinion, and says the Interior Minister of Brandenburg is too far away to be able to know what's good for the people.
"From where he is in Potsdam, the minister shouldn't be allowed to decide what we do or don't need to protect our citizens properly," said Huebner. "He knows too little about our specific situation here along the border with Poland and should really have debated any reform proposals with us here."
This is where German-Polish police cooperation is coordinated
Guben police officer Marco Mette is also upset about the Interior Ministry's plans. He believes that trying to save money by reducing the police force is extremely short-sighted.
"We simply need to maintain a situation where potential criminals feel permanently watched by the police," said Mette. They must know that, wherever they are, the police are not far away."
In a state with so many sprawling rural areas like Brandenburg, the planned reform may result in a situation where two neighboring police stations may be as far apart as 100 km (62 miles). People can, of course, call the emergency number instead of going to a police station in person - and hope it won't take too long before the patrol car turns up.
Author: Hardy Graupner
Editor: Susan Houlton