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Society

Police union head: 'Officers fear speaking out'

Tania Kambouri, a German police officer with Greek roots, wrote against a lack of respect shown to her and colleagues by members of Germany's immigrant community. Police union chair Rainer Wendt on why he supports her.

DW: Mr. Wendt, what was your first thought when you heard Tania Kambouri's statements?

Rainer Wendt: Finally, someone has said it openly. We, the police union, have tried to point out this problem again and again, but we have had to treat it with reserve. It's easier for a colleague with a foreign background to bring it up.

What would have happened if it had been a German colleague without foreign roots instead?

That colleague would have quickly come under suspicion of harboring radical, right-wing views or being against foreigners. Due to Germany's history, it is difficult to strike the right tone.

What do you know about the officer who has spoken out?

She's an experienced colleague, who has expressed what she and her fellow officers come across on a daily basis. It's about a lack of respect for the state and its authorities - even by very young people with immigrant backgrounds. As such, it's not only the police who are affected by this. Teachers, state attorneys and members of other institutions are also affected.

Rainer Wendt (photo: Karlheinz Schindler)

Rainer Wendt entered the police force in 1973

To what extent are police officers being bullied?

It's quite an alarming situation. Even very young people from immigrant families plant themselves in front of the police, spit at them and call them Nazis when the officers try to intervene. That's something that's common in many parts of the Muslim community. They build up their own jurisdictions. Some who have settled here develop contempt towards the state. Due to this disrespect of the state and its institutions, they build their own parallel structures.

The female officer has claimed the police are growing more and more helpless.

The police are not helpless, but there is of course a great deal of resignation among many colleagues who feel they cannot even publicly speak out about these conditions without being accused of being xenophobic.

Often, police feel abandoned by the justice system. If they are in court and have to defend their actions during police operations, the judges often tell them: "Suck it up, that's part of your job." We would like to see a significant increase in support from the judiciary and a clear commitment to the police forces. Those who insult, spit at, attack or hurt police officers need to see punishment. It's not part of our profession to endure that.

Kambouri has described being rejected by men in the immigrant community who wanted to deal with a male police officer instead. Is a lack of respect only a problem for female officers?

No, many male colleagues are also affected and say they have come across exactly the same phenomena. But women experience an additional problem, because some don't respect them on account of their gender. That means they are attacked even worse - insults are often sexually charged.

Is the German government partly to blame for this situation?

In recent years, the judiciary and politicians have significantly downplayed the situation by saying we have to tolerate this as part of the process when other cultures come to us. They have trivialized some violations of law as cultural differences. This was a mistake, and it needs to be corrected now.

It has to be made clear: Whoever wants to live here has to accept our rules and laws. We want to have a diverse culture and highly appreciate it. It enriches us. But if our laws are violated and the state disdained, then we have to pull the emergency brake. And it's high time to act.

Will this complaint pave the way for a broader discussion? Is it likely that other, similar statements are bound to follow?

I'm afraid that not many fellow officers will follow suit and let off steam in that way. With this kind of issue, it's easy to get wrongly cast as an extremist. And no officers want that.

Police Chief Inspector Rainer Wendt joined the police force in 1973. The father of five has been the chairman of the German Police Union (DPolG) since 2007.

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