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Interview with head of Bonn police : Hoever: “There's never enough staff, of course”

Interview with head of Bonn police : Hoever: “There's never enough staff, of course”

Frank Hoever has been the head of the Bonn police department for around 100 days. In this interview he speaks about crime in the corona age, the fight against sexual abuse and the situation on the Brassertufer.

Frank Hoever is head of the Bonn police department. He has been at the helm of 1750 employees for around 100 days so far. The 59-year-old talks to Ayla Jacob about the start he has made and the priorities that he wants to set.

Why did you leave your position as Director of the State Office of Criminal Investigation and come to Bonn?

Hoever: The tasks at the Bonn office are very diverse, ranging from criminal issues, deployment and emergency response, to traffic and presence at large gatherings. Besides, I am no longer a policeman and I can work until the age of 67. I could not have imagined retiring in two years - and my family even less so. Another positive thing is that I live only three kilometres from the police headquarters, and I can cycle to work. That gives me quality of life.

How is the work in Bonn different from at the State Office of Criminal Investigation?

Hoever: At the State Office of Criminal Investigation I was exclusively dealing with criminal issues, and the work was also much more supra-regional. In Bonn it is more locally, but also more politically focused. I didn't even deal with the topic of meetings before, that plays a big role here. I also deal with deployment work here. It is important to me that my colleagues have the absolute will to avert dangers and solve crimes, or better still, to prevent them. You have to get away from your desk for that.

Getting as many police officers on the street as possible is a noble goal. Is there enough staff to do this?

Hoever: There's never enough staff, of course. But the Ministry tries to distribute the staff according to the most objective criteria possible: according to the crime rate and the workload. So we have to make do with the staff we have.

How can you compensate for upcoming retirements?

Hoever: This is one of the major challenges for the police authorities. We must see to it that we sensibly train the many young colleagues that we will get in the coming years and ensure that knowledge is transferred. We have a strategic plan in the autumn which will also deal with demographic change and how we can cushion its effects.

What has been your experience of Bonn in the first few months?

Hoever: First of all, I am very sorry that the planned farewell of my predecessor, Ursula Brohl-Sowa, could not take place. My start has also been marked by Corona. I wish that I could have been able to approach my colleagues earlier. I will now make up for that.

Have you had any surprises?

Hoever: To be honest, nothing really surprised me. I felt at home here after a few days. I live here, Bonn has always been close to my heart. I have a vested interest in Bonn being not only beautiful but also safe (laughs).

With regards to crime, where are things going well in Bonn?

Hoever: Total crime has fallen - just like in the rest of NRW. The number of home burglaries has also fallen. The proportion of attempted burglaries is now over 50 per cent, which has to do with the fact that people are securing their properties better and paying closer attention to one another. But it is also due to the fact that the number of travelling, mobile offenders is decreasing. Most of them came from south-east Europe. In the meantime, crime is more likely to be committed by local perpetrators.

So-called ‘Grandchild fraud’ and the scam of ‘fake officials’ was a big problem in Bonn and the region. How do you currently assess the situation?

Hoever: Very good. Which is mainly because not even one percent of the perpetrators reach their target. It has something to do with good prevention work. It’s difficult to control the perpetrators. Often they are not in Germany, but in call centres abroad, such as in Turkey. It is good if we are informed by the victims when the fake police officers are still on the phone. And we have to talk to the banks. If an elderly customer suddenly withdraws a large sum of money, they should be suspicious. Sure, there's banking confidentiality and you don't want to alienate customers. But as a bank, I would rather accept a critical discussion with the customer in order to prevent a possible crime and the harm this brings.

So this area of crime is not a huge concern for you right now?

Hoever: Not, not at the moment.

What is then?

Hoever: Sexual abuse of children. The problem has been known for many years. The fact that there are immense amounts of data, which are growing exponentially, is nothing new either. But the issue has not had the necessary political weight in the past. This has now changed. You can see this from the fact that the Ministry has assigned so-called pedestal posts to the authorities for this area, which must be used urgently in the fight against sexual abuse of children. It must be said that a great deal has happened since the change in government.

How does this manifest itself on the ground?

Hoever: We get additional posts, which also means that the jurisdiction is extended. Of course, we can't drain this swamp completely. But perhaps it will be possible to do so more and more. If you don't poke into this nest, a lot will remain in the dark. One thing is clear: this issue runs through every social class. And behind every child pornography image is an act of abuse. Therefore, the data must be fully evaluated. It is not only a matter of finding the perpetrators. It is also about preventing danger.

Are the police superior to the perpetrators in terms of technology?

Hoever: The perpetrators are up front, it has to be said. But our technical equipment is now really good. However, without data retention we will not get anywhere. Even more staff would be desirable, but that also applies to other fields such as Islamism.

Is Bonn still the stronghold of Islamists?

Hoever: I wouldn't say stronghold. It has become quieter with the closure of the King Fahd Academy. But there is an Islamist scene here, which we keep an eye on. We are observing some potential threats here, but also about 30 properties that can be found all over Bonn and the region. In any case, the State Security in Bonn is very well positioned.

How many threats are there in Bonn and the region?

Hoever: I'm not going to say anything about that. But I can say that at the moment, the women in the scene are a special focus.

What role do the women play?

Hoever: The women address young people, supporting those who pose a threat. They are present on the internet; they advertise there as well. They provide logistics, travel with them out and back in again. Nationwide, we have a high number of repatriates who are potentially dangerous and against whom criminal proceedings are being initiated.

What about other extremists from the right spectrum and members of the Reichsbürger movement?

Hoever: They play a rather subordinate role here. One case comes to mind that the local State Security has taken over: The incident in a supermarket in Troisdorf, where there was a massive attack on police officers. Everything suggests that it was someone from the Reichbürger scene. Incidentally, attacks on policemen are on the increase.

How does this manifest itself?

Hoever: Take the Brassertufer for example. During deployment the officers were punched. What's new is that the people standing around are getting involved. They don't intervene, but they stir up the mood. Or some time ago in Tannenbusch where colleagues were attacked during inspections. You have to show a clear position right from the start. There are certain things that you cannot allow. These are attacks against the rule of law, and that is inacceptable.

How do you plan to fight against this?

Hoever: For one thing, there are training courses for the staff. It is about how to deal with the attacks in which knives play an increasingly important role. But I am also signalling that I stand behind the officials, for example by submitting many criminal charges to the authorities. The judiciary reacts very well to this.

How do you assess the current situation at the Brassertufer?

Hoever: I understand that young people want somewhere to party when the clubs and discos are closed. But this should not be at the expense of others. In one weekend alone, we had 136 disturbances in the city. Not only partygoers meet at the Brassertufer, but also troublemakers and criminals. Alcohol is consumed on a massive scale, there are fights, vulgar behaviour, thefts and urinating. That's why we have to patrol there together with the city, and we will continue to do so. We have a similar situation on the banks of the Rhine in Beuel.

Are the police keeping an eye on any other areas in particular?

Hoever: These areas are still the Kaiserplatz and Hofgarten, and also Bertha-von-Suttner-Platz. Drugs often play a role there, like at the Brassertufer,

What is the situation like in Bad Godesberg und Tannenbusch?

Hoever: As far as Tannenbusch is concerned, we have had a 15 to 20 percent drop in numbers during the Corona period. However, crime and spectacular cases such as shooting at cars continue. This also applies to Bad Godesberg, the figures are going down in a similar way. But there are selective hotspots there too. In Friesdorf, for example, we have an increase in burglary, which goes against the trend. In addition, there is an increase in car break-ins. Otherwise, Bad Godesberg is uneventful.

Does the Corona crisis have a general impact on crime?

Hoever: Yes. We have declining figures overall. Something that makes us wonder is that there has been a decrease in domestic violence, but there is definitely a high number of unreported cases. We also have significantly less residential break-ins, but more basement and business burglaries. In addition, more cars have been broken into and cleared out.

There is often criticism that there is not enough police presence on the streets. What do you say to this?

Hoever: Presence is important. Our task is to provide not only an objective but also a subjective feeling of security.

What role does video surveillance play in this?

Hoever: It is a ticket to preventing danger. We are only allowed to carry out video surveillance under strict legal conditions. For example, more serious crimes must have been committed in those places, and there must be facts to show that this will continue. I personally think it is a good thing. That’s why we have acquired two mobile observation units, which are currently being tested.

Where and when could they be used?

Hoever: At the Hofgarten, certainly also at Bertha-von-Suttner-Platz and the Brassertufer. My aim is that we can start in the third quarter.

What strategic priorities do you want to set in the coming months?

Hoever: A cross-directorate search and inspection day is planned for the autumn. In general, an operational focus is very important to me, consistent intervention. The police must set priorities, naturally within the legal framework and always proportionately. But I believe it must be made clear that nobody can declare areas for themselves. I experienced this first-hand at the State Office of Criminal Investigation through the issue of clan crime. We will not have the same circumstances in Bonn as in the large cities in the Ruhr area, where there are different basic conditions. But once one area has been neglected, it is difficult to recapture it.

(Original text: Ayla Jacob, Translation: Caroline Kusch)