Policing the Police: Germany's Lessons for the U.S.

The Jan. 6 riot in the U.S. Capitol exposed extreme elements in U.S. law enforcement -- a problem Germany has fought with.

Policing the Police: Germany's Lessons for the U.S.

One photograph, shot overhead in the portico, reveals a frenzied mob of extremists who support President Donald Trump -- sporting Make America Great Again gear or athletic paraphernalia like yellow Gadsden flags -- swarming a uniformed Capitol Hill police officer trying to guard the building. As some from the mob tried to drag him down steps of the porticoothers clubbed him with various objects, including a metal crutch.

Rather than minding the invaders, he presented together for a selfie.

The sharp contrast of an officer dangling with members of the same far-right mob that's assaulting his comrade stunned observers, raising questions about whether the rioters had allies in police uniforms. But Seth Jones wasn't surprised: The exact same problem he's seen in Germany's police departments has been exposed as a problem in American law enforcement.

"One of the most critical German problems has been the prevalence of those extremist views" among associates guaranteed to uphold the law and safeguard the general public, says Jones, a senior global security adviser for the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "What's not clear in the present time is to what degree there are similarities and how widespread" they're.

For decades, authorities in Berlin and other German cities have fought to distribute elements of the far right in law enforcement, including fans of various white-power movements. Last year , investigators staged raids on the homes of police officers throughout the nation, seizing dozens of weapons, confiscating illegal Nazi literature and foiling at least apparent assassination plot from a local politician.

However the movement to eliminate secret white supremacist movements within the law-enforcement rankings has come to be a high-stakes game of Whack-a-Mole for German authorities: Every cell upended or plot foiled is often quickly replaced by a different subterranean network of officers who, analysts say, hatred immigrants, minorities and the government they think coddles them at the expense of"true Germans."


However, the Jan. 6 riots at the Capitol, in which some of the off-duty officers reportedly flashed their badges, transported firearms and wore body armor, has brought the problem into sharp relief.

"I spent a great deal of time thinking that the reason there was so much racism and hatred in our nation was because we never confronted our racist history," says Vida Johnson, a Georgetown University law professor who studies extremism at U.S. law enforcement.

"In Germany, every child at every grade level, elementary school and higher school -- they talk about the Holocaust and about love, and there is markers to the Holocaust across the nation," says Johnson. "Nevertheless they have an important problem with racism now. But to me, is really frightening."

At the U.S., figures compiled after the riot tell part of the narrative.

The information indicates that 31 law enforcement officers from more than a dozen states -- including California sheriff's deputies, detectives from big-city departments like New York's and a police chief from small-town New England -- are under arrest, under investigation or implicated at the Capitol Hill riot.

But that number does not include the Capitol Police, where two officers have been suspended and many more are under investigation for their activities that day.

In her study, Johnson discovered that since 1990 there have been at least 100 racist incidents involving police in more than 40 different states. The crimes range from officers sending bigoted emails or text messages into making offensive comments on social networking.

And a report by the Brennan Center, a public policy think tank based at New York University, found that branches atoning for high-profile episodes of racist misconduct or brutality generally accept or ignore explicitly displaced activity among the rank and file, for example membership in the League of the South or even the KKK.

After turning a blind eye to the problem for decades, police in Germany have established a campaign against racist components from police departments at the local, state and national levels. However while America and Germany share the identical difficult issue, their approaches for this are sharply different.

Jones, the CSIS expert, says Germany has attempted to tackle the problem head on, raiding officers' houses and harshly disruptingnetworks.

By comparison, Jones states, there's been next to no official analysis of extremism from U.S. law enforcement, Nazi symbols have been considered freedom of expression and any attempt to prohibit extremist groups would probably end with a First Amendment litigation.

Still, even with legislation banning hate speech and Nazi regalia, Germany has fought to control the spread of extremism among authorities. Last year , police awakened many right-wing networks, including a group calling itself Northern Cross.

Self-styled commandos who met in a personal online chat group, Northern Cross members amassed an arsenal of weapons, tens of thousands of rounds of ammunition, body bags and enough food rations for short term survival off the grid. Directed through an active-duty police officer that was also a trained sniper, the group accumulated supplies through like-minded connections in the German army.

Besides the weapons and ammo, police found a sketch of the home of a local politician in their hit record; he had permitted two police officers to draw it when they informed him they were investigating death threats against him.

Both Jones and Johnson, the Georgetown professor, consider that the pro-Trump riot in Congress underscores the government should act with urgency to get rid of white supremacists out of a profession that's supposed to protect and serve the public, such as individuals of color.

To break up the networks, Jones sayslocal and national authorities such as the FBI should have a few courses from Germany: Ascertain the extent of the problem and the way it manifests itself in law enforcement operations.

"Among the biggest problems I've had in the U.S., even over the last year, is how little information that the U.S. government has supplied publicly about the condition of the hazard - the number of plots, the number of strikes," Jones says. "The FBI does not generally offer public advice or even amounts. And when the (Department of Homeland Security) provides it, it's generally slightly old"

Jones says it was no coincidence a lot of off-duty officers have been trapped in post-riot arrests; indeed, she says, it may explain why police use a heavy hand with Dark Lives Issue protesters but look beyond a danger in plain view.

They apparently couldn't imagine the threat of a pro-Trump rally of people"who had Blue Lives Matter flags, and look like people in their family," she states.

Jones and Johnson agree that job is to summon the political will to get an accurate, detailed assessment of far-right associations in law enforcement, beginning with the Capitol Police. Next up: Sweeping reforms, including overhauling legislation and labour contracts that maintain rogue officers on the job.

"It is rather tricky to fire officers in many jurisdictions because of the power that police unions have," Jones says. For decades, she states, municipalities have given in to union demands that establish high standards for termination; consequently,"you've got officers that murder people who end up on the force after years of appeals."

Until this changes, she says, nothing will.

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