Bonn · Pickpockets are among those being targeted in random police stop-and-search that began on Monday. Some political camps have criticised the checks that can be carried out without reasonable grounds for suspicion.
The start of stop-and-search in the Bonn police catchment area was on Monday at the Telekom Dome. Riot police officers waved cars out from the road onto the car park at Basketsring to check the identity of the drivers and to take a look inside the vehicles, including the boots. This so-called “strategische Fahndung” (stop-and-search) means police check and search people and vehicles without any concrete grounds for suspicion. The order was issued by Bonn's police chief Frank Hoever based on the NRW Police Act which has been in force since 2018. It will initially be in effect for 28 days starting last Friday, and it is quite controversial (see "From the Police Act").
Rising numbers of break-ins and pickpocketing
Hoever says the main reason for the procedure is the rising number of burglaries and pickpocketing in recent months. These affect not only Bonn, but also towns and municipalities in the Rhine-Sieg district on the left bank of the Rhine, Bad Honnef and Königswinter. Police registered 259 more pickpocketing offences in the first ten months of this year than last year.
They also registered an increase of 20 per cent in the number of so-called residential burglaries. As of 15 November, 764 such offences had been committed, 124 more than in the same period last year. "There’s a shift in the level of security and we’re responding to it with the resources of the rule of law," said Hoever. He added: "The public certainly doesn't expect us to sit back and do nothing."
And so, in the course of Monday afternoon, Bonn police officers briefly pulled vans, high-powered shiny sports cars or even a variety of dented cars that were past their prime out of traffic in order to carry out checks on the passengers and contents. In the first hour of the checks, at least, there were no concrete indications of possible criminals.
Two detainees show tolerance
At least two people who were stopped seemed to be okay about it. "I have nothing to hide and I think it’s fine if it helps with prevention or awareness-raising," said a 26-year-old man from Brüser Berg, who was on his way to buy groceries for his grandmother when the officers stopped him. A 40-year-old woman from Bonn shares this view in essence but points out that the measure must also be proportionate. "This is the first time it has happened to me, and the police officers were very friendly. It would be different if I were stopped and searched every month. I would find that strange." Neither wanted to be mentioned by name in the newspaper.
Younger men in particular were stopped. Hoever explained why to the GA: The police have a lot of experience in investigating burglaries and pickpocketing and matching perpetrator profiles, sometimes carried out in small groups, sometimes in gangs. The traces to criminal gangs often lead to Eastern Europe. The "Antanz" scam, in which pickpockets like to dance around their victims in crowded streets (also at Christmas markets) and at the same time relieve them of their wallets and mobile phones, is often carried out by men from the North African region. The police should not ignore such insights in their work.
Criticism from the Greens and the Left
The procedure has met with mixed reactions in the political arena. While Bonn's mayor, Katja Dörner, and the CDU member of the Bonn state parliament, Christos Katzidis, think that stop-and-search is a good way of fighting crime, the Green member of the state parliament, Julia Höller, is sceptical. Jürgen Repschläger, a Left Party city councillor, comments: "It is now becoming clear how important it would have been to stop this law. The constitutional assumption of innocence is turned upside down, all citizens are now suspects, and you have to ask whether it makes people feel safer if they have to be afraid of being stopped and searched at any given time."
The police had announced last Friday that the focus checks, which also took place in Mehlem and at the Rheinaue on Monday, would be carried out in the coming weeks in the city centres of Bonn and Bad Godesberg, where Christmas markets attract pickpockets. In Duisdorf, Endenich and Königswinter, the Bonn police hope that the checks will stop burglaries, deter offenders and uncover criminal structures. Hoever stressed to the GA that the police will not designate more precise control zones. He also said that the order, which is to be limited in time and place, covers the entire area of responsibility of the Bonn police headquarters.
The police also want to target the district of Tannenbusch with stop-and-search. In the past weeks and months, they have noticed a lively trade in narcotics there, which has most likely triggered distribution fights between two rival gangs. This conflict, police suspect, culminated on 30 October in several shots being fired at a car in the open street.
Original text: Philipp Königs
Translation: Jean Lennox