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German police officers deserve respect

September 18, 2020

Calls to investigate whether German police officers are more likely to hold racist views are understandable given recent revelations. But this could alienate the force from ordinary citizens, says Christoph Hasselbach.

Police in NRW stand before a crowd
Image: picture-alliance / Geisler-Fotopress/C. Hardt

The slew of recent revelations about far-right elements in the German police is worrying. These individuals have sworn allegiance to Germany's democratic constitution. What do we do if can no longer rely on those purposefully sworn to protect the state?

A recent survey found that German citizens still trust the police. But after fresh revelations about right-wing radicals among the force — this time in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia — some people might be changing their minds.

People have been left wondering whether police officers might be more inclined than others to hold a far-right worldview. Or do officers' day-to-day experiences on the job increase their likeliness of adopting such radical beliefs? Do we need to rethink the way officers are recruited and trained, and put greater emphasis on inculcating intercultural awareness?

Read moreOpinion: Germany speaks volumes with silence on racist cops

AfD would benefit

Germany's center-left Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens want to commission a study to answer these and related questions. But Interior Minister Horst Seehofer of the Christian Social Union (CSU), Bavarian sister party to Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats, has reservations — and rightly so. There are fears such a study could stoke broad mistrust towards police officers. Every police officer should from the outset be considered loyal to the constitution. Even with the many recent negative examples involving police, that shouldn't change.

Christoph Hasselbach
DW's Christoph Hasselbach

It is also likely the SPD is hoping to score political points against Seehofer by calling for a study into the matter. At the height of the Black Lives Matter protests this summer, SPD leader Saskia Esken broadly accused Germany's police of being "latently racist." A government coalition party is thus alienating many civil servants. Esken also raised the suspicion that the study is merely intended to confirm what many already long believed.

Has anyone ever wondered why the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) counts so many police officers among its ranks? Indeed, the party is also keen to secure the police vote. So if police officers feel traditional parties like the SPD mistrust them, they will only feel even more inclined to cast their ballot for the AfD.

Read moreGerman synagogue attack trial reveals police failures

Culture of disrespect

On top of this, we must consider that a study, if it were to find evidence of widely held racist beliefs in the police, might encourage some citizens to be disrespectful towards all police officers. Already today, officers are struggling as many members of the public treat them disrespectfully.

Incidentally, Germany's domestic intelligence agency, the BfV, is presently looking into whether and if so to which extent the country's police and armed forces have been infiltrated by the far-right. It is the right agency to conduct such a study.

Any partisan research, meanwhile, risks driving a wedge between Germany's police force and the populace that would further stoke mutual distrust.

Read moreGerman government 'in the dark' about guns and neo-Nazis