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Major challenges ahead for German police

Matthias von Hein
November 19, 2016

At the autumn conference of Germany's Federal Criminal Police Office the main topic was Global migration and its consequences. Holger Münch talks to DW about jihadists, right-wing terror and new police digital equipment.

Deutschland Polizeikräfte nach dem Amoklauf in München
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/S. Babbar

An interview with Holger Münch, president of Germany's Federal Criminal Police.

DW: This year's autumn conference was titled "Crime in Germany under the influence of global crises and conflicts." It invites me to ask a provocative question. After the arrival of so many refugees, can we expect a wave of crime or even terrorism?

No! You cannot say that. Since autumn last year, we have put together a status report in which we record crimes that have been committed by immigrants. We have discovered that the crime levels are below what could be expected when you look at how many immigrants we have. We found that with people from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, crime levels are below average in relation to the number of immigrants. We have also noticed that there are very visible groups, small groups, for example from the Maghreb and we obviously have to focus on them in particular. We have to see whether there are structures behind them, or whether there are ties to gangs or organized crime. That is the police's job, so that in the end, we have the environment we need to manage the great number of immigrants.

Deutschland Herbsttagung Bundeskriminalamt 2015 Holger Münch
Holger Münch, president of Germany's Federal Criminal PoliceImage: picture-alliance/dpa/F.v. Erichsen

We also see, of course, that among the immigrants, there were people and possibly still are, who have been smuggled in by the IS. That is why we must make great efforts to identify them and arrest them on time. We have made such arrests recently. That shows that the network is also powerful.

We have also seen right-wing crimes on a large scale. That shows that we must take initiative in this area as well. We have to deal with it all at the same time.

You have been the president of the German Federal Police for two years now. These two years have been shaped by Islamic terror – first in neighboring countries and then in Germany. You yourself have spoken of a stress test. How have you dealt with it?

During the two years that I have been in charge, we asked ourselves early on how we could organize ourselves to be prepared for the challenges of the future. We had to initiate organizational changes. Before such big problems came along, we were able to cope with challenges with the organizational structures that we had. When I looked at it all, I realized that were are facing huge challenges in the coming years. We need to improve international cooperation in Europe. We have to put our information systems on a new footing. And the entire police network has to stay on top of things and work efficiently, in the digital field as well. We will need to take great pains in doing so. We have been given an incredible amount of resources that we must build up in the coming years and at the same time tackle these projects. All in all, it is an Herculean task. We will have to roll up our sleeves and get to work.

Deutschland Bombenanschlag in Ansbach
Bomb attack in the German town of Ansbach, 25.07.2016Image: picture-alliance/dpa/D. Karmann

You just mentioned the digital field. Is the unlimited digitalization of crime a consequence of globalization?

Crime in cyberspace in particular has no limits. Servers can be situated anywhere in the world. Illegal markets move server sites all around the world. That is where perpetrators from different countries meet. That means that whenever you are investigating crimes in this area, you are dealing with international crime and must rely on international cooperation. We have already tuned in to this development in the past years. We must intensify our work and continue to use and expand our platforms throughout the world, for example Europol or Interpol.

Speaking of cooperation, how is the cooperation between the police authorities from the German states and European policy authorities with regard to the exchange of data?

In Germany we have something called the INPOL system, which is the standard we use to clearly identify people. This system also allows us to process all our findings. The drawback is that the system is outdated. We do not have one system but rather, there are 19 participating systems (for example: state police agencies, the Federal Criminal Police Office, the Federal Police and customs authorities). Each state has its own system. And if we have to make changes as often as we do at the moment, then things take a long time. That is why we need a new architecture to keep up with the pace of change.

In Europe we have many systems that work side by side but are no longer compatible with one another. We have the Schengen information system. From a police perspective, it is the most important one. But biometric data cannot be retrieved; I cannot search for fingerprints there. And that is why we in Europe must also build up the systems from a new foundation. We are working on that now. One of the main initiatives will be making the Schengen information system biometric, meaning that fingerprints will be able to be automatically retrieved. But there will be other new initiatives which is why we have to adjust to the changes in Germany and use a more flexible, faster and easier system.

Deustchland BKA-Herbsttagung in Mainz
The autumn conference of Germany's Federal Criminal Police Department in MainzImage: picture-alliance/dpa/A. Dedert

Let us continue talking about the Schengen information system. How long will it take before it is biometric?

It won't take a long time. We are talking about a pilot project that Germany will also take part in. It will begin next year. After that, further changes will follow. The question is how we can start searches in several systems simultaneously. All this means is that Germany will have to adjust its systems so we can do also do automatic searches. One example of a change we have brought in is the "foreign-fighter" data - this is a database of jihadists who have left the country to join the IS - which is automatically transferred to the European system. We needed a little over a year and a half to make this change in Germany because so many systems had to be adjusted. But we cannot afford to take so long. That means we need a new architecture to keep up with the fast pace of change Europe.

Holger Münch is the president of Germany's Federal Criminal Police. DW's Matthias von Hein conducted the interview.