Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Germany's dubious use of "extended police powers area" (Gefahrengebiet)

Many German police forces have an interesting tool at their disposal that extends their already considerable powers even further. They can declare an area a "Gefahrengebiet", literally a danger area, an area at high risk of unrest ur widespread serious crime. In US or English police parlance, "stop and frisk" appears to be an appropriate description. The German measure includes assembly of groups, both large and small.

The K-Landnews decided to use the term "extended police powers area", probably not the best choice and showing our ignorance as to how law enforcement in other countries would call such a measure. 

In effect, any such area is a delimited geographical region where the normally required prerequisites for police action, "probable cause" or "reasonable suspicion", are temporarily suspended. Declaration of an area as a "Gefahrengebiet" requires "concrete intelligence" of a high risk of serious crimes.

In the northern city state of Hamburg, the measure was introduced in the 2005 revision of the law enforcement code.
As an administrative measure, police sets up an "extended police powers area" without requiring approval by a judge. Excessive use of the measure in 2014 caused widespread criticism, and the state's highest administrative law court declared the 2014 measures a violation of basic rights and therefore unconstitutional.

Currently, the city of Berlin, Germany's capital, is using a "Gefahrengebiet" in the former East Berlin borough of Friedrichshain, with the focus on several buildings on Rigaer Strasse occupied by squatters and various leftist and autonomous groups. 

In the press and on social media, the area is generally referred to as Rigaer 94, or R 94 for short, the address of the most important building.

Tensions between police and the motley groups of anti establishment leftists and anarchists have flared up recently, with each side accusing the other of acts of provocation and violence.
Earlier this month, there were reports of an attack on a police officer and the attackers fleeing into the Rigaer Strasse 94 complex.

As reported by VICE Germany, police reacted by sending in a SWAT team plus an additional 500 officers. Beatings, insults and threats by officers were reported, and the lawyer of the house was not let inside for an hour.
Police called the action an "inspection" (Begehung, or walk through) aimed mostly at finding objects that could be used as weapons.

At the latest since Hamburg in 2014, German police have become as creative as their Anglo counterparts when it comes to defining a "potential weapon", going as far as declaring a plastic toilet brush to be such a device in Hamburg - thus ensuring instant public ridicule.

In Berlin, police allegedly had some 10 tons of coals for winter heating (aka. possibly dangerous objects) removed, leaving the old building without a good source of heat.  

To their credit, police did not try to justify this as a quirky implementation of the latest Paris climate change agreements on reducing the use of fossil fuels.

In the latest disruption by police, a vegan cake bazar was raided on Sunday, and in retaliation a trash bag was hurled at police (it missed).

On January 18, the local Berliner Zeitung reported an attack on the office of a conservative  politician. The attack consisted of a colored chalk scribble saying "R 94 lebt" (R 94 lives) on the stone facade of the building housing the office.

Local Berlin politicians love to talk about "No go" areas in Germany's cities as a big problem for law and order. Consequently, the chalk attack on the office was promptly followed by resolute calls for more police action in the R 94 area.

Rigaer Strasse will not be declared a No go area, said another conservative (CDU) politician.

What he failed to mention is that Berlin police go there quite happily, as shown in this video taken by residents of the complex.

If you liked this post, here is an earlier one about German police crowd control: the "Flexi-Kettle". at a major demonstration in Frankfurt in 2015.

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