Berlin's local government has come under fire after reports of frequent, habitual and sometimes criminal misconduct by Berlin's police cadets. According to the reports, such misconduct, especially by those with a migrant background, is rampant in the Berlin-Spandau police academy.
The scandal was revealed when a private WhatsApp voicemail was leaked to the public. The author, a paramedic who had given classes in the academy, complained:
"Today I held a class at the police academy. I've never experienced anything like it. The classroom looked like a pigsty. Half of the class [are] Arabs and Turks, rude as hell. Dumb. Could not express themselves. I was about to expel two or three of them because they disturbed the class or were actually sleeping. German colleagues related that some of them had threatened to beat them. ... [Some students] speak virtually no German. I am shocked, and afraid of them. The teachers ... believe that when they expel them, they will destroy the cars on the street. ... These are not our colleagues, this is the enemy among us. I have never before felt such hatred expressed in the classrooms. ... They throw punches during class -- you cannot imagine that."
The paramedic sent the voicemail to several people, one of whom brought it to the attention of Berlin's Chief of Police, Klaus Kandt.
The first reaction came from police spokesman Thomas Neuendorf, who acknowledged that there were "frequently problems" at the police academy; he also admitted that some of the cadets committed crimes -- but "they are immediately expelled." Neuendorf then attacked the paramedic by saying that "the tone and the form" of his criticism had been "inappropriate". Moreover, Neuendorf said, the paramedic should have reported these things only to his superior.
At the same time, it emerged that Berlin's police commanders and the Senate had been aware of problems with cadets "of migrant background" long before this exposé.
The newspaper Die Welt quoted from the leaked minutes of a high-level police meeting, according to which the staff of the police academy complained about problems that "developed in the course of hiring officers with a migrant background (currently 30%)." Some of them could not swim, even though this was a requirement for employment. Many police candidates had a "lack of professional ethics". Some candidates showed "condescending behavior toward female employees, whom they treat like cleaning women."
"Feeling of fear" in the police academy
According to the newspaper's investigations, there is a "feeling of fear" inside Berlin's police academy. One police commander told Die Welt: "There were teachers who wanted to meet with representatives of the political parties to discuss the grievances. But pressure was put on him [to refrain from doing so]."
Marcel Luthe, a spokesman for the opposition Free Democrats Party (FDP) confirmed that "the police union had arranged a talk between us and the teaching staff. It was cancelled." Luthe said he was not aware of any instance in which the Berlin's Chief of Police had done "anything else than deny the problem".
Shortly after the publication of the voicemail and the internal report, all claims were corroborated by a senior official of Berlin's Landeskriminalamt (LKA, State Office of Criminal Investigation). He sent an open letter to the Chief of Police; local newspapers also received copies of the letter. Although the author chose to stay anonymous, sources from within the LKA confirmed the letter's authenticity, according to the weekly magazine Focus. The sources also confirmed that "at least one person involved in organized crime is currently undergoing the police training".
The whistleblower defended his decision not to reveal his identity:
"When instructors address the public anonymously, it is only because a dialogue with the senior leadership does not take place. Incidents are watered down, downplayed, belittled, or covered up with a cloak of silence."
He also spoke of conflicts between different ethnic groups within the police. "It is only a question of time until someone fires the first shot at a colleague," he said.
Finally, the LKA official warned about the danger of criminal clans infiltrating the police and administration: "This has already begun".
That admission triggered attacks by journalists and politicians, who said that the official's claim was not backed up by evidence. But at the same time, a case surfaced which lent credibility to the allegation: It was revealed that a 20-year-old Arab student of public administration, who had worked as an intern at a police precinct in Berlin-Schöneberg, had used her access to the police computers copy data from investigations into a Lebanese organized-crime clan. She sent the confidential data through WhatsApp to unidentified recipients.
On December 6th -- only a few weeks after the allegations were raised -- Berlin's Chief of Police presented an 83-page "special report" addressing the paramedic's criticism. Surprisingly, the report does not contain any first-hand testimony. Instead, it offers a "summary of descriptions and perceptions from the cadets' point of view". The statements are not even attributed to individuals but to groups of cadets:
- "Persons present in the class conceded that they found it difficult to focus because there were too few breaks and a lack of oxygen in the class room."
- "The cadets concerned cannot understand how the author of the voice message could think that the classroom was dirty. After the class, the pupils put all tables and chairs back to their original places. They were not alerted to possible defects."
- "Persons present in the class feel that they are being ostracized and treated in a xenophobic manner, especially as the author of the voice message mentions certain persons with a migrant background."
The cadets, according to the report, denied that there were any cases of serious misconduct and went on the offensive. They attacked instructors for their alleged lack of interest and their refusal to take questions. The report does not quote a single instructor or other member of staff. It then addresses "isolated cases" of misconduct:
- A police cadet who had dealt with stolen cameras had been expelled. Since he filed an objection, the verdict is pending and reviewed by the administration court.
- Two police cadets had sold drugs in the police academy. After the incident had been investigated by the LKA, it was decided that their behavior constituted "no crime".
- A police cadet had acted in a pornographic movie. "Considering the circumstances (a single appearance with no obvious reference to the Berlin police department), and the positive achievements and ability to reason shown by the candidate, the head of the authority agreed to appoint him to the status of a probationary official."
- A police cadet is on trial for serious financial fraud. A search of his house and office has corroborated the charges. "It is intended to start the process to expel him."
The report identifies "the police's tradition as an extremely hierarchical system" as one of the core problems. "It is detrimental to a constructive culture of criticism." The authors then go on to praise the police command for large problem-solving bureaucracy, featuring, among others:
- The Conflict Committee ("Its goal is to find sustainable solutions for existing conflicts")
- The Diversity Office ("Its goal is to create an atmosphere of openness and bring to bear diversity")
- Social Contact Persons (for "work-related conflicts, mobbing, sexual conflicts and problems arising from a same-gender lifestyle")
- Contact Persons for Intercultural Questions (offering "counsel in intercultural questions and act as contact to the Conflict Commission")
Did Berlin's police aid and abet jihadi terrorist Anis Amri?
Even before the new scandals emerged, Berlin's police department had endured a rough year. It was criticized for failing to arrest the Tunisian ISIS jihadist Anis Amri prior to his truck attack on the Berlin Christmas market on December 19, 2016. Twelve people were murdered and 55 injured in the massacre. Berlin's police had allowed Amri to move around freely, even though they had numerous chances to detain him on charges of terrorism or a range of other serious crimes. Other government agencies requested that the Berlin police put Amri under permanent surveillance and inform them of his whereabouts, but were left unanswered.
In February 2016 -- ten months before Amri attacked -- investigators in Berlin had even warned Amri that he was under surveillance. A few months later, the surveillance was stopped, for undisclosed reasons. New investigations revealed that "at least" two LKA officers forged documents in the wake of the terror attack to cover up what had been known about Amri's criminal activities. Berlin police had known that Amri was a "commercial-scale drug dealer". This information was part of a file dating from November 1, 2016. In January 2017, however, that file was changed: the document suddenly stated that Amri "might deal with drugs on a miniscule scale". The officers in question are now charged with obstruction of justice.
The big picture is troubling. "Wherever you look," said FDP spokesman Luthe, "whether it is terrorism, the 15% increase in crime since 2011, the lowest percentage of cases solved, areas with open drug dealing, or now the police academy -- the Police Chief fails miserably."
(Photo by Carsten Koall/Getty Images)
In light of the Anis Amri scandal, no one should be surprised if the disclosures of malfeasance in Berlin's police academy and criminal moles copying secret police data are just the tip of an iceberg. In Berlin's state parliament, the FDP and the anti-immigration party Alternative for Germany have called for a committee of inquiry, but have failed to reach the threshold of 25% of MPs needed to establish it. The Christian Democrats (CDU) are hesitating, while Berlin's ruling coalition of Social Democrats (SPD), former Communists (Linke) and Green party are against any further investigations. Torsten Akmann (SPD), Berlin's Secretary of the Interior, says: "That would be like shooting sparrows with a cannon."
One year after the Berlin Christmas market massacre, Germans need to be concerned about the state of their police forces, as well as the politicians who are supposed to be overseeing law enforcement.
Stefan Frank is a journalist and author based in Germany.