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Security expert: Germany's police force prepared

Germany so far has been spared terrorist attacks like those in France. But are Germany's police prepared if something were to happen? Security expert Frank Fiedrich is cautiously optimistic.

DW: Professor Fiedrich, after terror attacks in Paris and warnings in Germany, people are asking how prepared the German police are for such scenarios? Rainer Wendt, head of the police union says: not very. What do you think?

Fiedrich: I think you have to differentiate. First there were the terror attacks in Paris, then the cancellation of a soccer match in Germany. One scenario had to do with protection against terror, the other with guaranteeing security at large scale events. In terms of numbers of police officers, one must carefully weigh how much security would actually be increased by adding personnel. My opinion is that it would make sense to add personnel in order to take over certain tasks, or relieve the police of having to deal with certain other standard tasks.

Can and should the police now exhibit a greater presence at every sporting event, every Christmas market, train station and public square?

Studies have shown that increased police presence certainly enhances feelings of security among citizens, at least in terms of subjective perceptions.

Only feelings?

No, such presence also has a preventative effect, because a greater number of security forces must be overcome by perpetrators. Beyond technical measures, such presence is the easiest way to enhance both subjective and objective security.

Are the security measures in place at soccer games, concerts and other events the right ones?

After the disaster at the 2010 Love Parade in Duisburg, demands on security concepts as well as cooperation among actors were greatly increased. I think that security is generally high at soccer games, because police and organizers work together closely. Nevertheless, in light of the threat of terror, such security plans will probably have to be looked at again closely and eventually adjusted. But, in general, I think Germany is in pretty good shape.

What about the balance of freedom and security? In Hanover, a soccer match was cancelled. The decision was greeted with understanding. But, if one so desired, a lot of chaos could be sown throughout Germany by scattering specific clues or indicators.

That is true. Security forces could become bogged down by investigating bomb threats and other reports. Of course the more often such things happen, the likelier it is that fear spreads throughout the populace. As a society, we must be cognizant of the fact that there is no such thing as 100 percent security. One must think about where acceptable limits are within society. For instance, how willing one is to accept surveillance measures, such as CCTV cameras in public spaces, with an eye to increasing security.

Where should limits be set?

If you follow public discussions over a longer period of time, and through phases where nothing much threatening happens, then you notice critical voices speaking out against things such as the collection and storage of personal data. But when something happens, the call for more surveillance becomes loud. In the USA, laws changed after September 11, 2001. Increased surveillance was undertaken, as it was socially acceptable at the time. Today, one questions just how acceptable the broad powers given to the intelligence services truly are, not only in Europe, but in America as well. So in that sense there is really no possible answer to the question of appropriate levels. It is always a matter of social context and must be undertaken with the consent and participation of the citizenry, so that common goals can be pursued.

Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, who is also a former interior minister, suggested that he could imagine the deployment of the German army in a situation like that in Paris. Is that possible?

The deployment of the army is very strictly regulated by the German constitution. However, deployment during a major natural disaster or certain terror scenarios is certainly conceivable. Still, such a deployment is defined by a relatively restrictive legal framework.

Professor Frank Fiedrich teaches at Bergische University in Wuppertal, Germany, and is an expert on security issues.

This interview was conducted by Christoph Hasselbach.

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