German police criticized for apparent racial profiling of ‘African’ men on New Year’s Eve

German police officers check people arriving at the Central Station in Cologne, Germany, on Dec. 31, 2016, as part of a large effort to prevent a reoccurence of the mass sexual assaults on New Year's Eve 2015. Cologne police said they deployed 10 times as many police officers, used video surveillance and created a firework-free zone near the Cathedral this year. Photo by Henning Kaiser/European Pressphoto Agency

COLOGNE, Germany, Jan. 2 (UPI) — Police in Germany took great effort to prevent a repeat of the numerous sexual assaults and attacks carried out by groups of men on New Year’s Eve 2016, but are being criticized for what some see as racial profiling in order to do so.

More than 1,500 officers fanned out across Cologne on Saturday night as hundreds of men “seemingly of African descent” were detained, questioned and had their identities verified in an effort to prevent a rash of attacks like the hundreds that occurred across Germany as people celebrated the start of 2016 last January.

Last year, more than 1,200 women in Germany reported they were sexually assaulted on New Year’s Eve by about 2,000 men, according to a study by German authorities. Most of the suspects in those crimes were identified as non-Germans, many seeking political asylum, and the crimes were ascribed to men thought to be from North Africa.

While there were few attacks reported this year in Cologne, some people who visited the city to ring in 2017 reported it appeared police were using racial profiling to identify men to stop and question based on what happened last year. The chief of police flatly denied race was used to determine who to stop.

“I reject this negative criticism,” said Cologne Police Chief Juergen Mathies. “The clear aim was to prevent similar events to previous year.”

On New Year’s Eve 2016, large groups of men surrounded women in Cologne and other German cities, harassing and, in many cases, assaulting them.

Expecting about half a million people to celebrate in the city this year, authorities barricaded bridges and gathering places, with police flying helicopters and installing CCTV cameras around the city to help officers on the ground.

“We decided this year that whoever is not carrying appropriate documents is arrested and then taken to further questioning,” a spokesperson for the Cologne police department told Deutche Welle. “Every person who carries the adequate papers is free to go immediately.”

Police said they screened more than 650 mostly North African men at the main train station in Cologne, checking people as they streamed into the city. At least six people were arrested, including a few for violent acts, but police said the mass number of assaults seen last year appears to have been prevented.


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