Wanted: Ethnic Minority Cops for Germany | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 02.03.2006
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Wanted: Ethnic Minority Cops for Germany

The Berlin police force wants recruits from the city's considerable ethnic minorities, but similar efforts have met with scant success in the past. Why are Germany's immigrants so reluctant to become cops?


Not even a sexy bike, it seems, can get Germany's ethnic minorities excited

It may be a magnet for foreigners and home to people from over 180 countries as its tourism officials love to point out. But walk into a public administrative building in Berlin and chances are you'll be hard pressed to find any sign of its ethnic diversity among the employees.

Less than 2 percent of its ethnic minorities are estimated to work in the public service sector despite making up 13 percent of Berlin's 3-million-strong population. Studies show the pattern is reflected across all of Germany.


Turkish police officer aspirants try out some police gear in Berlin

Now, one institution has decided to turn the tide. The Berlin police force wants to try to fill in some 10 percent of the 200 new recruits they accept this year with ethnic minorities, particularly those who speak fluent Turkish, Arabic, Polish, Serbo-Croatian and Russian.

"Berlin is a multicultural city and the police force certainly doesn't reflect that," said Rainer Gerlach, head of the personnel department of the Berlin police. "Officers from ethnic minorities aren't just valuable when it comes to overcoming language barriers; they bring in a whole new dimension of sensitivity towards other cultures."

Uphill task

But recruiting ethnic minority police officers may be easier said than done.

Ever since the early 1990s, following a tweaking of the law to pave the way for non-Germans in the police force, successive German states including Berlin have tried poster campaigns, information seminars, informal chats and television ads among other things to lure immigrants into their police forces -- without success.

Ethnic minorities still make up only around 1 percent of the entire German police force, according to Rafael Behr, a former police officer in the state of Hesse and sociologist and author.

"In some eastern states like Saxony and Thuringia, they're almost non-existent," he said.

Educatio n the biggest stumbli n g block

Polizisten am Frankfurter Bahnhof

Germany's police force has a tough time finding ethnic minority officers

So why does Germany have such few ethnic minorities in the police force at a time when their presence there would largely be seen as asserting multicultural credentials and being more representative of the country's racial mix?

The most frequently cited reason is that immigrants simply don't pass the grueling police entrance tests which require high fitness levels as well as a good high school degree.

"The entry bar is very high in Germany," Behr said. "That's where most immigrants who are neither fluent in German nor in their own mother tongue stumble. And those who are well educated don't go to the police but go on to study law, medicine or engineering."

In addition, it's not always easy for an immigrant to choose to be a cop -- a profession that's often treated with high levels of mistrust by families and friends who have bad memories of the police from the countries they come from.

"It's amazing for instance what some officers of Turkish origin have to go through when they are on patrol," said Klaus Eisenreich, head of the police union in Berlin. "They're often labeled as 'traitors' by their own communities."

"Psychological barriers"

Omid Nouripour, an Iranian-German Green party parliamentarian said there are deeper reasons.

Türkische Fußball Fans in Kreuzberg

Turkish soccer fans in Kreuzberg, Berlin

"The psychological barriers between the locals and the new-locals are simply too high in this country," said Nouripour, adding he didn't believe the police had done enough to make the profession more attractive to ethnic minorities.

"It's not easy for immigrants to gain access to resources," he said. "Even in the public service, you have to have a German passport to become a civil servant."

Other cou n tries ahead, but with ow n problems

Even as Germany wrings its hands over the issue, a look beyond its borders shows that other countries seem to be miles ahead.

Britain's Metropolitan Police has doubled the proportion of ethnic minority officers since 1998 -- they currently make up some 11 percent of the force -- and even Holland has considerably hiked the number in its police force.

But experts caution that both have managed to do so by following an indirect policy of "positive discrimination" or affirmative action -- something that's taboo in Germany.

"In Holland, for instance, new recruits don't have to be fluent in Dutch; they're encouraged to learn the language during training," Behr said, adding that such concessions often led to negative fallouts.

"Officers within the force end up being treated as second-class citizens," he said, adding that Holland had a discrimination problem within its ranks and even Britain had an entire labor union for black officers.

On the other hand, Germany's rigidly standardized entry requirements for the police force has ended up keeping ethnic minorities away while ensuring it's not plagued by discrimination and foul play.

"The few ethnic minorities we have in the force are thus 99 percent identical to their German counterparts," Behr said. "The only difference is that an officer might have a Turkish surname."

Melti n g of borders

Though there may be no relief in the short time, in the long run reservations about modifying entry rules for immigrants might just become superfluous.

Übung niederländische und deutsche Polizisten

Dutch and German police during a mock riot-control operation last year

"The functions of the police are already gradually transcending national borders," said Behr, pointing to last year's bilateral cooperation between Germany and Holland when German police accompanied some known soccer hooligans to Holland.

"Without this fixation on 'nation,' it will be easier for ethnic minorities to play a naturally positive role in the police."

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