German police forces actively recruit officers from the country's immigrant communities. The aim is to change the demographics of the police so that they better reflect the cultural diversity of the country they serve.
Around 1,100 cadets joined the force in North Rhine-Westphalia in 2011
When police cadet Özlem Tekin drives through Cologne in the squad car, sometimes one of the officers on duty runs into a language barrier. Then there is a call on the police radio: "Is a Turkish-speaking colleague available to assist?" Then it's Tekin to the rescue, offering her assistance as a translator.
Tekin's Turkish background often comes in handy for other reasons. "The classic case is when a husband has hit his wife," Tekin, 24, said. In such cases it often helps to be able to speak to the victim in her mother tongue. "Then people talk, certain fears disappear," she said.
"Seeing things through different eyes"
This sort of situation is an everyday occurrence for police officers, because around nine percent of Germany's population are immigrants and 20 percent have some sort of migrant background. So for people like Heike Wächterowitz of the Cologne Police Force's recruitment department, it's only natural that this part of society should be represented in the police. This is also something that is changing the police
"These colleagues can help us understand foreign cultures and maybe even help us to see things through different eyes," the chief inspector said.
For Wächterowitz, recruiting minorities is only natural
However, recruiting police officers from the immigrant community is far from easy. According to police union estimates, the number of officers with a migrant background remains well under the seven percent that Germany's interior ministers set as a target several years ago.
The situation, though, is quite different from state to state. In Germany's most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia, more than 11 percent of the 1,100 recruits who entered the force this year have immigrant roots. In the past few years it has been seven percent annually. But according to the Interior Ministry in Mecklenburg-West Pomerania, the number of police officers with foreign backgrounds there is virtually too small to measure. In that eastern state, however, only about two percent of its sparse population is of foreign origin.
The city-state of Hamburg has adopted the particularly ambitious goal of 20 percent but, according to its interior ministry, it still has a long way to go with "far below 10 percent" of its current police force coming from the migrant community.
Recruiting officers in foreigners' clubs
One of the hurdles, which prevents many from applying to join the police force is the tough language test. In some of Germany's 16 states, applicants are also required to have a university-entrance diploma. Only 14 percent of people of Turkish origin – about half as many as their German counterparts – meet this requirement.
In an effort to increase the number of applicants, some of the criteria are being relaxed. In North Rhine-Westphalia, you can now become a civil servant (Beamter) even if you are not a citizen of a European Union country - if you are a Turk, for example, or a member of another major immigrant group.
At the same time, the police are actively trying to recruit members of minority groups.
"We are targeting clubs in which a high number of foreign residents are active," Miriam Mielke, a recruitment advisor to the Cologne Police Force said. "There, we try to develop contacts and generate interest among the membership to consider the police as a career option."
Police cadets Shahwar Dogar, Özlem Tekin and Ima Schulte (from left)
Not all that long ago, the police was an almost purely German institution, but the significant changes to the makeup of the force in recent years has been achieved with very little tension, according to the police union.
"In our experience the new officers are generally well received and quickly become members of their teams," said police union spokesman Rüdiger Holecek. He added that personality tests carried out during recruitment as well as clear regulations have resulted in the force all but eliminating racism.
The unpredictable "member of the public"
Cologne police cadets with migrant backgrounds confirm this assertion. Shawar Dogar, 22, said she was well received when she joined the police.
"But I also know that I can expect trouble, because every member of the public that the police comes in contact with is different," she said.
It is indeed a different world beyond the friendly confines of the police precinct, said police cadet Özlem Tekin. While in uniform she has already been told things like: "Go and get a job in your own country." But this sort of thing doesn't phase her one bit. "I just laugh," she said.
Author: Dennis Stute / pfd
Editor: Susan Houlton