How the new federal police law is intended to prevent racial profiling

WIf you search the internet for the keywords “racial profiling” and “federal police”, you come across the following case: A man, dark skin color, German citizen, takes the train from Berlin to Munich with his family shortly before Christmas. Between Nuremberg and Bamberg, federal police officers enter the full compartment. They specifically approach the family and ask them in English to identify themselves. When the man asks why, he gets no answer. Instead, he should empty his pockets and open his luggage. According to the federal anti-discrimination agency, which published the case, he and his family are “the only black people in the train compartment.”

If you ask the migrant community, many can report similar cases. A couple is shopping on Frankfurt’s Zeil, the woman is dark-skinned, the man is not. The woman is checked by the police for no reason. Or a young person whose mother is Italian is taken for granted in a police operation for the perpetrator. It later turns out that he had nothing to do with the crime at all. He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Cops have to trust their gut feeling

In view of such cases, it is understandable that the new federal police law, which the traffic light coalition in Berlin has now presented, has been expanded to include the topic of racial profiling. In the future, people who feel they are being unjustly controlled will be able to request written evidence stating the reason for the control.

However, this is not necessarily progress. Because checks based on “external characteristics” are already prohibited. As frightening as each individual case of discrimination is, one must not forget that even now this is by no means free of sanctions. The cases are being followed up internally, not least because of the high level of public pressure.

It will therefore have to be seen how the new law proves itself in everyday life. Those who have loudly called for the documentation of “discriminatory controls” to be included in the law must now also be measured by what it can mean in case of doubt if police officers go about their work less aggressively in the future. When they no longer follow their gut feeling and prefer to control less so as not to get into trouble. The federal police are already saying that the new law is fueling uncertainty.

How are you supposed to decide in a fraction of a second whether or not to check the deliberately slow-moving man with a dark beard and a large bag? One cannot get away from the fact that in times of high smuggling crime and terrorist threats from Islamist violent criminals and also from imported drug crime, federal police officers sometimes have to rely on their experience, for example in the vicinity of train stations. If you were to write them off, it would be tantamount to a loss of trust.

Every officer can confirm that this is what constitutes good police work: recognizing dangers before a crime is visible. Every police officer learns during their training that they should not be judged solely on the basis of external characteristics such as the color of their skin. That’s where politics should start. Raising awareness when dealing with a pluralistic society would be far more sustainable than a ticket system that would ultimately be difficult to manage bureaucratically.

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