Germany Stays on High Alert Also : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Police Under Extreme Pressure as Germany Stays on High Alert

By Hans Riebsamen

FRANKFURT. Waiting. Four hours, eight hours, sometimes even 12 hours. Waiting outside a synagogue in Munich, or the U.S. Embassy in Berlin. Waiting for a suspicious-looking car parking nearby, or a passerby behaving strangely or, for that matter, anything else unusual.

Half of the German police force appears to be standing guard outside threatened buildings at the moment. They are civil servants who have been to school for 13 years, then studied for another two-and-a-half years at an institute of higher education, but they spend night after tedious night outside consulates, Jewish places of worship or U.S. cultural centers -- buildings regarded as high-risk terrorist targets.

The chairman of one of Germany's two main police unions says his members accept the situation, but that it is having a "demoralizing" effect.

It is exasperating for the public, as well. Waits for patrol cars are longer, it now takes more time to file reports at police stations, and specialist units often take ages to show up for examination of "ordinary" crime scenes.

The public's patience is requested, with the explanation that since the terrorist attacks in the United States, police in Germany are "under extreme pressure," as a German Interior Ministry spokesman put it.

The guarding of buildings is not the only more pressing demand. Numerous officials are working on special investigative teams following up leads to suspected terrorists, while others are pursuing copycats exploiting the anthrax scare in the United States. That leaves fewer officers to cope with routine criminal acts such as theft, vandalism and assaults, which have in no way diminished since Sept. 11.

"The police are not in a position to process all reports at the moment," Mr. Vogler says, adding that in some cases offenses are only being registered.

Konrad Freiberg, his counterpart from the other police officers' union, the GDP, acknowledges that "there are shortfalls" and "security deficits," although spokesmen for the police forces in Berlin and Frankfurt, two cities with a large number of potential targets, dispute that there are problems. While acknowledging that priorities must be set, they deny that there is little follow-up investigation of certain offenses.

Whatever the precise situation, it is likely to get worse as early as this week, but probably next month, when thousands of police and German Border Guard officers will be needed to provide security for a shipment of nuclear waste, due to be transported from the French reprocessing plant at La Hague back to the interim storage site in Gorleben, Lower Saxony.

In the past, nuclear energy opponents have proved determined to do almost anything it takes, short of violence, to stop the shipments. In March, security for a shipment saw 18,000 officers placed on duty in the Dannenberg region alone and 30,000 throughout the entire country -- the latter number is three times the size of Denmark's entire force. A Lower Saxony Interior Ministry spokesman said in Hannover that the state would again request the help of 10,000 officers from other states, adding that they could be required for an extended period.

"This job cannot be finished in one day," he said.

During the nuclear waste shipment earlier this year, some smaller police stations in Lower Saxony were actually closed, while larger stations had to manage with far fewer officers. Mr. Vogler complains that the increased threat of terrorist attacks means policemen and women "are barely able to take their boots off" already, and that the deployment of officers to guard the next nuclear waste shipment will mean an intolerable extra burden.

Both police unions hope that their members will not be stretched too thin, and have appealed to the nuclear power industry to delay the Castor waste transport. If it does go ahead, the police are calling on protestors, including the citizens' action groups in Lower Saxony's Wendland region, to forego for now their right to demonstrate; it would be their contribution to the heightened security alert in Germany.

Another huge demand on police officers' time -- but one that it is unlikely to be postponed -- is the introduction of euro notes and coins on Jan. 1.

While almost half of the coins have already been distributed to banks, billions of euros worth of banknotes are sitting in the vaults of the state central banks and Germany's central Bundesbank. Distributing them promises to be a huge logistical task, vulnerable to spectacular robberies if security is in any way slipshod, yet most of the effort will need to be completed by January or February, with most of the work occurring in the weeks before Christmas.

This will mean "masses of work and an increased need for security precautions," a Bundesbank spokesman says.

The German Interior Ministry says the security concept prepared by the police for distributing the new currency allows for sufficient "flexibility," and need not be altered in spite of the perceived higher risk of terrorist attacks. Mr. Vogler, however, considers that with police forces under such pressure, the plans are no longer realistic.

It is not only the police unions that say there are too few police officers in Germany; in the last seven weeks, their claims have come to be echoed by many of the politicians responsible for deciding how many resources to devote to law and order.

Police have certainly not been exempt from the spending cuts across the public sector in recent years. In 1994, there were still 293,000 police officers in Germany; today, there are 270,000. But in the new world that the attacks on Washington and New York appear to have heralded, the German states have been dipping into their last financial reserves, and even increasing their debt levels, to hire new officers.

At this point, however, it is more than a question of money; as Mr. Vogler explains, "There are no unemployed police officers." A bid to lure them away from other states by Hamburg's new interior minister, Ronald Schill, met an angry reaction, and there is a growing acknowledgement that the shortage of police and border guard officers will only be fully overcome when new recruits have been trained -- which will take up to three or four years.

Does this mean years of extensive overtime, additional weekend shifts, and bans on regular leave? The unions say that would be intolerable, and counterproductive, and argue that a big improvement could be achieved through the hiring of assistants to ease pressure on regular officers. Mr. Vogler says a short training course for security guards on providing better round-the-clock protection for sensitive buildings would be a big help. Mr. Freiberg is calling for more civilian administrative and technical support, to free up officers to undertake actual police work.

That just leaves the mountain of overtime that has piled up and looks likely to grow even larger. No one seriously thinks any longer that offering time off in lieu is the answer, since that would leave entire jobs unoccupied for extended periods. But Mr. Freiberg says many officers reject the idea of payment in cash, considering overtime rates too low.

The chairman of the association of German Border Guard officers, Knut Paul, says new ideas are desperately needed in this new, more security-conscious era believes the country needs new ideas. One option, he suggests, is to apply the overtime now being compiled in massive amounts to allow earlier retirement by officers.

The idea may even be considered. It will not, however, reduce the long, dull hours of waiting that German police officers look likely to be putting in for the foreseeable future outside the U.S. Embassy and other sensitive installations.

And winter is just around the corner.{B1311FCC-FBFB-11D2-B228-00105A9CAF88}&doc={6A4EADB1-AE46-450D-988C-964355A5A734}

-- Martin Thompson (, October 29, 2001

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