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German officials call for tougher measures against far-right

September 17, 2020

Officials call for efforts to increase transparency among the police and to win back the public's trust after far-right extremists are discovered in NRW. Culture of keeping quiet about colleague's crimes takes the blame.

Police in North Rhine-Westphalia
Image: picture-alliance / Geisler-Fotopress/C. Hardt

The interior minister for the German state of North-Rhine Westphalia, Herbert Reul, in an interview with the radio broadcaster WDR2 on Thursday, called on German police officers to remember their oath to uphold German laws and to report colleagues who show extreme right-wing tendencies.

His words came after 29 officers were suspended in the state after an investigation discovered online chat groups where they had been sharing far-right propaganda.

"Yes, you must stick together, you must be able to rely on each other in emergencies," Reul said, acknowledging that there was a tradition of police officers not blowing the whistle on their colleagues, but went on to state that when it came to officers who were breaking the law, "you must report it, that is just as much your duty."

He called on those officers who remain silent in the face of these crimes being committed by their co-workers, to leave the force. Several far-right motifs tied to the Nazi era remain outlawed in Germany to this day; sharing or displaying them breaches the law.

Read more: How the German media failed the victims of far-right NSU terror

How to win back trust

Criminologist Tobias Singelnstein proposed an anonymous system for reporting grievances in order to help other cases come to light. 

"It's impossible to imagine that nobody noticed this kind of network inside the police force," he told the news agency dpa, "but when someone does detect something, as a rule their only recourse is through official channels."

Holger Münch, president of the BKA, Germany's investigative police force akin to the FBI in the US, expressed his fears that this case may erode the population's trust in the police.

Read more: Police in Germany under the pall of right-wing extremists

He told the Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland newspaper group that everything must be done in order to retain and win back people's trust. He said he wanted to make it clear that extreme right-wing ideas and activities had no place in the German police force.

Right-wing sympathisers within German police - is there a bigger problem?

Not just 'individual' bad apples

The Green Party in parliament demanded that all states carry out independent scientific studies into the existence of anti-constitutional attitudes among all security agencies.

The spokeswoman on domestic policy for the Green Party, Irene Mihalic, told newspaper Tagesspiegel that hardly anybody now believed that German police were "simply dealing with individual cases."

Interior Minister Horst Seehofer had previously rejected launching a study into far-right tendencies among the police.

Deputy Chair of the police union Jörg Radek spoke of an "acute need to take action," but also rejected the idea of investigating the police as a whole in order to uncover right-wing extremists.

He argued that "there must be consequences, removal from service, I think", but also aruged: "It's also important that investigators immediately recognized the seriousness of this chance discovery and then continued to investigate accordingly. That in fact shows that there are not structural far-right problems throughout Germany's police in the way that some assert." 

Read more: Thousands turn out in Berlin to protest coronavirus measures

ab/msh (dpa, epd)