Germany's New Policing Model
Those who have branded Europe, and Germany in particular, too weak and politically correct to stop a purported wave of crime brought on by the arrival of more than a million asylum seekers, should pay attention to the news. German police haven't taken long to get their act together, and immigrant crime is down sharply. Their methods, which include a sort of racial-- or at least behavioral --profiling may be controversial, but they are proving effective.
On New Year's Eve 2016, more than 500 women were sexually assaulted, and 22 raped, in the vicinity of the central station in Cologne by crowds of young men, many of them of North African extraction. Police were outnumbered and humiliated. A few days later, the city's police chief was fired. Mayor Henriette Reker was ridiculed for advising women to stick to a "code of conduct" that included keeping at "arm's length" from strangers. It made Germany look enfeebled and confused, and the many critics of Chancellor Angela Merkel's decision to open the country's borders to asylum seekers had a field day.
On Dec. 31, 2016, the central station neighborhood in Cologne was flooded by 1,700 police. They were checking documents and pushing young men, more than a hundred at the last count, into vans. While this was going on, a tweet appeared on the Cologne police force's account: "At Central Station, several hundred Nafris are being checked." Nafris is shorthand for North Africans, and it set off waves of predictable criticism from left-wing politicians who called the term "dehumanizing" and accused Cologne police of racial profiling. The police chief, Juergen Mathies, apologized for "Nafris" -- it was only a "working term" police used, he said -- but not for his officers' actions. After all, only a handful of assaults, and no rapes, were reported.
"From the experience of last New Year's Eve and from experience gained in raids in general, a clear impression has emerged here about which persons to check," he said. "There were no gray-haired older men or blonde, young women there."
Though the German Interior Ministry also winced at the "Nafris" tweet, Mathies will not be fired. His pre-emptive action has been lauded by federal and local officials including Mayor Reker, that softie from a year ago. Lip service has been paid to politically correct language, but everyone knows what the police chief had to deal with.
German police didn't catch the perpetrator of the pre-Christmas terror attack in Berlin -- an Italian patrolman ended up shooting him -- but the investigation that led to a Europe-wide manhunt for Anis Amri was quick and precise. Just before New Year's, police arrested a Syrian who had apparently planned another terror attack. Germany's security apparatus is clearly on high alert, and it's been increasingly well-funded. In 2016, the Ministry of the Interior received a 1.5 billion euro ($1.56 billion) budget increase compared with the previous year, and the federal police were allowed to hire 3,000 additional officers. In 2017, the ministry's budget is set to rise by another 500 million euros to 8.3 billion euros.
High immigration -- in the 11 months through November, 723,027 asylum applications were filed in Germany, compared with 476,649 in all of 2015 -- is driving the budget increases. That's based on some hard facts. In 2015, 6.5 percent of all crimes in Germany were committed by immigrants, compared with 3.6 percent in 2014. In 2016, the proportion is likely to be higher -- in the first nine months, immigrants committed 214,600 crimes, more than the 206,201 registered in all of 2015, and the general crime rate in Germany has been steady in recent years. Immigrants from North Africa are the least law-abiding group: They make up 2 percent of Germany's immigrant population, but in the nine months of 2016, they accounted for 22 percent of immigrant crime.
In the third quarter of 2016, however, crime by immigrants dropped 23 percent compared with the first three months of the year. One reason could be that police are taking account of the numbers and the trends they reflect, and they are not being too sentimental or too careful of being branded racist.
The huge inflow of immigrants, many of them not entitled to asylum -- North Africans aren't, but many of them, including the terrorist Amri, came with the crowds of Syrian refugees -- has put Germany and all its life support systems under some stress. Yet on a practical level there hasn't been much hand-wringing and despair. Chancellor Angela Merkel doesn't like to repeat her 2015 slogan, "Wir schaffen das" or "We'll work it out," but that's exactly what's been going on. Perhaps because of that, crimes against asylum seekers' hostels have been going down after reaching their peak at the end of 2015.
No one said it would be easy to deal with the human waves that Middle Eastern bloodshed sent crashing over Europe. It's not impossible, however, and it requires some hard-nosed realism. Germany may yet end up proving to the world that the easy solution of keeping asylum seekers out wouldn't have been merely less honorable, but also overly alarmist.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
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