Opinion: German crime rates and the culture of fear | Opinion | DW | 08.05.2018
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Opinion: German crime rates and the culture of fear

The statistics don't lie. Crime rates are down and Germany is becoming safer. Nevertheless, people still feel threatened. Don't expect that to change any time soon, says DW's Marcel Fürstenau.

German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer has just presented the country's 2017 crime statistics. Looking at the figures, they should help to dispel peoples' fears about safety. There are some notable improvements: 1.6 percent fewer murders and cases of manslaughter, 3.9 percent viewer cases of child sexual abuse, a drop of 22.7 percent for cases of pick-pocketing, a 23 percent reduction in burglaries, and 63.1 percent fewer breaches of Germany's alien law. So Seehofer is absolutely right in saying Germany has become safer.

Read more: German crime rate drops, but fear rises

But he is also right in insisting that this does not mean all is well. Because the total number of registered crimes for 2017 is still 5.76 million! An astounding figure, despite the many noticeable improvements. Granted, that's almost 10 percent fewer crimes than were recorded for 2016 (6.37 million). But it remains a huge figure nonetheless, and will not dissipate feelings of unease or downright fear.

Inundated by bad news

That's exactly the dilemma. Figures of such magnitude are hard to comprehend for most. Just like with the national debt, which in Germany currently amounts to almost €2 trillion, a truly gargantuan figure. But German's national debt is also gradually shrinking — as only few will be aware, because good news tends to be drowned out by a plethora of bad news.

Deutsche Welle Marcel Fürstenau (DW )

DW's Marcel Fürstenau

That isn't a new phenomenon. But in this era of digital media, with its short attention spans and sensationalist reporting, it is becoming ever more difficult to dispel peoples' fears. Criminologists have been studying this causal relationship for a long time. But so far, nobody has come up with a recipe for how to reduce peoples' perceived sense of insecurity. And life experience teaches us that no such recipe will likely ever be found.

Journalists and politicians need to take responsibility

Which does not absolve us from taking responsibility. Each and everyone active in politics, the media, the cultural sector and society can do something to foster a more sober and rational way of talking about crime. Journalists must spend more time checking facts and refrain from sensationalist reporting. And some politicians should refrain from knee-jerk reactions demanding stricter laws and increased surveillance.

Read more: Germans fear the rise of 'lawless' neighborhoods, poll shows

There's good news: more policemen and policewomen will be hired. Evidently, a stronger police force is seen as more effective than yet more surveillance. Interior Minister Seehofer has announced plans to expand Germany's national police force by 7,500 personnel. It would help a lot if they would also increase their street presence, as this could give people a greater sense of security. But even so, the fear of crime will always remain. This is inevitable because there can never be total security. So what counts is that everyone addresses crime in the most responsible and factual way possible.