Germany: Green Party head criticizes approach taken by police in Cologne on New Year's Eve
The chair of the German Green Party, Simone Peter, has criticized the approach taken by police in Cologne during New Year's Eve celebrations there, alleging that the officers were asking people to identify themselves based solely on their appearance and tweeted a term to describe persons from North Africa that could be perceived as insulting. Approximately 1 700 female and male police officers in Cologne oversaw the celebrations of the end of 2016, many more officers than were on duty at the end of 2015, when there were reports of women being assaulted and bothered en masse, predominantly by immigrants from North Africa.
This year law enforcement checked the identities of roughly 650 people, the vast majority of whom were from North Africa, as they arrived in the city. More than 100 of them were arrested on the spot.
Police in Cologne said they have received 10 criminal reports of sexual assault committed during the celebrations marking the end of 2016. The Green Party head also expressed the conviction on Monday that the large number of police officers in Cologne aided in significantly reducing the number of muggings and other violent crimes.
"Of course, when almost 1 000 people are asked to identify themselves just on the basis of their appearance and some are arrested, it raises questions of legality and proportionality," she told the Rheinische Post newspaper. Cologne Police President Jürgen Mathies rejected the allegation that police had chosen to ask people to identify themselves on the basis of their ethnic affiliation.
At the same time, however, he said that on the basis of previous experiences it was apparent who should be checked. "It wasn't going to be elderly white-haired men or young blonde women," Mathies said.
In a situation when thousands of people were arriving at Cologne's main train station at once, the Police President said police had to proceed as they did. Along with other politicians, however, Peter has also criticized the fact that police tweeted a message to the public about their maneuvers in which they referred to the North Africans as "Nafris", a shortening of the German word "Nordafrikaner" (North African).
Mathies said he agrees police should not have publicly used such a concept. Internally the police have long used the term to designate crimes committed by persons who come most frequently from Algeria, Morocco or Tunisia.
One year ago the New Year's Eve celebrations in Cologne and many other German cities were marked by sexual assaults, reportedly committed predominantly by immigrants. Police in Cologne received more than 1 200 criminal reports on 31 December 2015, of which more than 500 were about sexual misconduct, including rape.
According to information reported so far about 31 December 2016, the recent celebrations were significantly calmer throughout all of Germany. The exception was the city of Augsburg in Bavaria, where police reported that two knife attacks took place.
Police there also recorded reports of celebrants being hit by fireworks thrown for amusement, which caused several light injuries. Three people from Syria were allegedly responsible for those incidents.
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