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Culture

Cologne's Cop Rappers

A group of police officers in the western German city is trying to reach out to local youth by staging their own hip hop concerts.

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They've got the moves to go with the rapping.

They rap about love, life and hope. They dance in unison across the stage and crowds of young people watch them, enraptured at the sight before them. Germany's next chart topping boy band? Hardly. The four men are members of the Cologne police force, and they are committed to encouraging moral courage in local youth. Along the way, they are changing the way young people think about the cops.

They call themselves P.I.4 — an abbreviation for Police Inspection Four. The 25- to 30-year-old policemen shake their hips and raise their arms in sync with the beat while dressed in their standard issue, green police uniforms. From the microphone the lyrics blast: "Some say, I know it already, policemen on stage and an MC on the microphone, and you wanna say something, come to us after the show, you can ask whatever you want..."

Preventing youth violence through music

Kölner Polizisten mit HipHop gegen Gewalt

P.I. 4 at one of their concerts.

It's a creative way of dealing with youth violence that brings young people into contact with authority figures who they often look upon with distrust. Faced with rising crime and a lack of resources in the German metropolis, many Cologne police officers have come to the conclusion that prevention is the best answer to youth violence.

Three years ago, four such policemen formed a band of their own, and set out to transmit a positive message that might help stop the violent brawls which have become a daily feature of the officers' work. Today their lyrics can be heard at live performances across the city—in youth homes, at football games, demonstrations and concerts: "Is it really so bad, things on a new path, bringing people together who weren't together before/it's not about this crew winning a battle or having their single on the number one charts..."

The young civil servants take their mission seriously, which is one reason why Hip Hopper Mr. Man q.x., also known as Philip Schwieren lent the dancing police officers his voice. With Schwieren's help, the band has gone from corny wannabees to respectable hip hoppers.

According to Schwieren, the opportunity to work closely with the police has changed his opinion about them: "Before, you'd see a police car and a police officer and first you'd think skeptically, 'what do they want from me, did I do something?' Since then, I've realized that you can talk with them like normal people, you can talk about whatever and it doesn't have to be so hostile or against each other," said Schwieren.

Building bridges and trust

Still, dancing policemen on stage is an unusual sight, and the police officers don't always have it easy with critical spectators, who wonder what the police are doing acting like rap stars. But the police officers turned rappers see it differently, as they express in their lyrics "I tell you, hip hop has a job, hip hop has a job, a job, what's hip hop got, hip hop has a job." Indeed, for the officers, hip hop's task is building bridges and trust. Their motto is, "look, act, call for help" against violence.

Andrea Löhr, band member and police officer says the group gives their free time and energy to practicing their act in hopes it will have some positive effect on the communities they serve. It's not a professional act, but they give it their best shot, says Löhr. "There is a large conference room at the station where we meet. There are speakers in the room and we put the music on and we try and see how we can do it. We also had some professional help, a choreographer who helped us, and some things we have tried out ourselves."

Kölner Polizisten mit HipHop gegen Gewalt

Looking the part

The choreography isn't perfect and the police are only able to practice outside of work hours. And whether or not their message has helped prevent violence may be difficult to measure. However, members of P.I.4 say what matters is coming into contact with young people and encouraging positive attitudes about life such as in one of their four original songs: "I love life, I want to give it away and protect it, I have so much hope, maybe somebody could use some."

Going beyond hip hop

At a recent P.I.4 performance, there were mixed reviews for the police officers, but most young people seemed to appreciate the officers' attempt at developing a relationship with young people on young people's turf. Those skeptics who turn up for the concerts often come away surprised. "I personally don't find it so bad, I liked the lyrics and that they're performing here, I think it's actually a nice idea," said one spectator. And another young listener agreed, "I think you have to find a way to get closer to the public and I don't have a problem with it at all."

Still, some say hip hop just isn't the place for a policeman—particularly because of the often negative associations found in hip hop music when it comes to the police authorities. One concert go-er commented that "Hip Hop isn't the right choice of music for them, because they aren't going to find a lot of sympathizers among hip-hoppers, I just can't imagine that."

But band leader Michael Mannheim says hip hop is just the beginning. "We aren't fixed to hip-hop," he said. "We worked well with our rapper and if tomorrow I find another singer with current music—be it rock, pop or soul, then we'll do that too. The only requirements are that it's German music and that it has the right message."

Although some critics suggest that it isn't the role of upstanding police officers to get up on stage and perform hip hop tunes, the foursome insists their message is worth it: " I wish you a voice, when you're lying on the ground, when you are afraid and you can't get anymore air, yeah, yeah..." The Cologne Chief of Police and the state's interior minister agree the creative approach is a worthwhile one and have since shown their support for the brave band of hip coppers.