Police Chief Jürgen Mathies is now facing harsh criticism for praising the success of the practice of racial profiling, but law enforcers defended the use of using racial features to root out criminals during New Year’s Eve celebrations on Sunday.
Mathies said: “We had groups of people who were comparably aggressive,” to the men who had carried out the attacks last year. According to the police chief, after checking the identification of 650 people, 190 were ordered to leave the area, 92 were taken into custody and 27 were placed under arrest.
“At the central station we have checked hundreds of Nafris,” the Cologne branch of North Rhine-Westphalia state police had tweeted. But the term “Nafris” has caused yet another uproar.
Mathies has admitted that officers had specifically targeted “Nafris”, men who appeared to be of North African extraction, for police inspection, because “for the vast majority, there was a clear threat of criminal activity present.”
He added: “We had a clear idea of who we should be checking. It wasn’t gray-haired old men or blond young women.”
The authorities have now also come under fire for the use of the shorthand “Nafris” used openly and on social media. Mathies has meanwhile apologised for the use the term on social media, but stood by calling North African men “Nafris” as part of police jargon. He added that he does not believe that all North Africans are criminals.
But in a leaked confidential police document, “Nafris are described as aggressive, armed, young.”
Cologne police spokesman Wolfgang Baldes told Die Welt on Monday that for years the city has had problems with reports of crimes by men from North Africa.
“The high number of clearly aggressive young men, mainly from North Africa, who once again descended on Cologne, as well as Essen and Dortmund is scary,” the Westfalen Blatt wrote.
Green party co-chair Simone Peter questioned the “legality” of police tactics. “It raises the question of proportionality and legality when around 1 000 people were checked and partially detained based on their appearance alone,” Peter told a local German newspaper, the Rheinischen Post.
Peter’s party colleague Volker Beck pointed out to the Rheinische Post that arresting people based on ethnicity and not on concrete suspicion of a crime would constitute a breach of the UN’s anti-racism convention.
Last year thousands of North African and Middle Eastern men descended on the square separating the Cologne’s famous Gothic cathedral from its main train station and assaulted hundreds of women. The mass sexual attacks were then shamelessly covered up by politicians colluding with German media.
This year the city deployed some 3 000 police officers, 300 of them in the cathedral square alone in anticipation of yet more attacks. A police presence ten times that of 2016 was put in place to ensure stability.
Fireworks, an old tradition in German New Year’s celebrations, were banned in the area around the square.
Controversial mayor Henriette Reker said the increased police presence was “necessary”. Last year Reker blamed the sexual assault victims for the mass attacks in her city and not the migrant perpetrators.
Speaking to German news agency DPA, Christopher Lauer, a former politician with the protest Pirate party and the Social Democrats (SPD), called the move “sweeping prejudice against an entire group of people based on their appearance.”