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German Law Enforcement
Coping With Change

Changes brought on by the removal of the Berlin Wall 10 years ago have greatly affected the philosophy and practice of policing in Germany, according to Hans-Jorg Albrecht, director of the Max Planck Institute for Foreign and International Criminal Law in Freiburg.

Albrecht was a guest at the George J. Beto Criminal Justice Center this week and delivered a presentation Nov. 15 on current policing practices and trends in the Federal Republic of Germany.

There are 280,000 police in all of Germany, Albrecht said, which translates to one police officer per 300 inhabitants.

"However, on the streets," he explained, "in reality, there is one police officer for every 10,000 people at any given time of the day."

He also said that research indicates that in order to put one police officer on the street, an additional 15 police officers must be hired.

"This means the government must invest $600,000 (U.S. dollars) to put one additional police officer on the street," he said.

Albrecht said that the police are organized into four areas. The largest number, 70 percent, are uniform or border police. A second group is responsible for the investigation of crimes. The third group is known as the "stand-by" police. The officers in this force are concentrated in camps for education and training purposes. They are to be available for protection in case of social unrest or terrorist problems. The fourth group is comprised of river police who are responsible for patroling rivers and lakes.

Germany also has federal police, but they are not very important in terms of numbers, said Albrect. There is a Federal Bureau of Criminal Investigation, with the primary focus on collecting intelligence and working with international law enforcement groups such as INTERPOL. The Federal Border Police have approximately 24,000 officer responsible for patroling borders.

One of the structural changes that has affected the philosophy of practice of policing in Germany this decade is the adoption of the Schengen Agreement. The Schengen Agreement of 1985 and the convention on its application in June 1990 provided for the gradual abolition of checks at the common borders of the European Union. The agreement also provided for common policing among the countries in immigration, gun control, and drug laws.

Another structural change affecting police and policing is the German reunification. CNN reported last week on the 10th anniversary of the tumbling of the Berlin Wall, that most Germans feel there is a gap between former East and West Germans in terms of culture.

"However, in my opinion, " Albrecht said, "the biggest problems that came out of reunification are not directly linked to these cultural differences, but are related to money and resources. Cultural differences can be overcome."

The money problem made a large impact on police and policing because West Germany took over the law enforcement and justice administration responsibilities for the reunified nation, and this included transferring funds to the East amounting to an annual budget of $55 billion (U.S. dollars).

"The money was transferred from the west to the east to speed up the process of developing a common law enforcement force, but it resulted in the reduction of services because of the reduction in budgets in the west," said Albrecht.

Albrecht said that crime and the perception of crime have also brought about policing changes in the 1990s.

Germany experienced an increase in police-reported crime between 1990 and 1995 with the removal of the Berlin Wall and the opening of the Iron Curtain. The crime rate increased from 6,000 crimes per 100,000 individuals to 8,000 crimes per 100,000 individuals in 1998.

In East Germany, there was a dramatic increase in the fear of crime, even though the crime rate was still below crime rates in West Germany.

"East Germans experienced double the fear of West Germans in response to rapid changes going on in the economic and political system and feelings of insecurity," said Albrecht.

During this time, Germany experienced a sharp increase in the number of foreign nationals suspected of committing crime. Over 400,000 individuals crossed the border seeking asylum in the 1990s.

"Today, every third suspect is a foreign national," said Albrecht. "In metropolitan areas, two-thirds of young offenders under the age of 20 are foreign nationals."

The labor market has also been a contributing factor. New immigrants experience difficulty in finding jobs, Albrecht told the audience, particularly skilled jobs.

"The labor market is decisive in the integration of immigrants into society," he said. When jobs are not available, narcotics and prostitution activities in the Black Market become attractive, he added.

Migration “visits for two or three days“from the East European countries to the metropolitan areas of West European countries has also been responsible for the increase of crime.

"In Berlin during 1990-91, shoplifting increased from 30,000 reported incidents to 60,000," Albrecht said. "Economic conditions are still very poor in Eastern Europe and the opportunities in the West pull these people toward the West."

Organized crime and organized cross-border crime have developed rapidly during the '90s, Albrecht reported to the audience.

"The crimes committed in the 1950s were low profile," Albrecht said. "Today's crimes are more sophisticated."

Problems between ethnicities resulting in hate-violence crimes have rapidly increased in the 1990s in Germany.

"These types of crimes are sensitive and contain conflictual information," Albrecht said. "Police feel they are being drawn more and more into social conflicts. They say, 'Politicians do nothing to solve these conflicts, and they put us into these very difficult situations.' There is a high level of frustration among the police in dealing with these types of conflicts."

Another product of the '90s is the focus of police on disorder problems, similar to what the public sees on the streets of North America.

"The public is not so concerned with big crime such as terrorism and fraud," said Albrecht. "But they do worry about street crime."

Germany has seen a dramatic increase in juvenile crime this decade, particularly relating to robbery, assault, and problems with gangs. Albrecht said that the number of offenses is not increasing, but the number of suspects is.

He said that a philosophical change in policing is shifting from crime control to information dissemination and service delivery.

"In the media, law enforcement plays a crucial role," Albrecht said. "But in reality police arrest one offender every six weeks. Most of their professional activities include collecting information, giving information to the public, and performing services such as handling traffic accidents."

A new concern for police officers involves evaluation and cost benefit. This came up rapidly in the 90s with the cutting of budgets and the loss of resources.

"Police officers are the first to say they want to be evaluated," said Albrecht. "They have become more self conscious and knowledgeable of their importance in the field of criminal justice."

Albrecht said that some German police are now advocating the "Zero Tolerance" approach in handling disorder problems.

"But in general I think the vast majority in the criminal justice system as well as the police force do not want to adopt Zero Tolerance," he said. "I think they would rather have a 'soft' approach which is essential to traditional policing in maintaining peace and order in society."

Albrecht concluded by saying that police have to try to avoid the escalation of social conflict. "They have to stick to a traditional approach."

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SHSU Media Contact:Julia May
November 19, 1999
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