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Police mood darkens over soccer fan duties

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Police mood darkens over soccer fan duties
Police presence may thin or even vanish around all but the most volatile games. Photo: DPA
16:59 CEST+02:00
Resentful at having to spend huge sums and thousands of man hours controlling rowdy soccer fans, police authorities are pushing plans to entirely withdraw officers from some duties.

"For years we have warned people and shared proposals to deal with this," Horst Pawlik, the deputy head of Germany's DpolG federal police union said in statement released on Friday. "The physical and psychological burden for police units is enormous and must finally be relieved."

In monetary terms alone, the constant drain on resources was prohibitive, Pawlik said.

In the 2012-2013 season, the cost of policing just train travel by 3.3 million fans who attended games was €38 million. More than 110,000 officers were assigned to these duties.

Meanwhile, fan numbers grew by 11 percent, with a 14 percent rise in the number who turned violent or committed other acts of public disorder.

Apart from anything else, officers were "fed up" with losing weekends to the task, often five times in a row, according to the union's chairman, Ernst Walter.  

"Our male and female colleagues do not want to find out only on Friday evening if they will get to spend the weekend at home with their families or in boots again."

Walter applauded the decision earlier this month by the interior ministry of North Rhine Westphalia to significantly reduce police escorts for fans to matches under a pilot project, unless a particular match presents a clear danger of disturbances.

The games themselves are still policed, although visibility of units is also being reduced.

But not all police are behind the proposals of the union and individual police chiefs to withdraw fan escorts and keep remaining forces out of sight.

"The idea makes my stomach ache," said the head of North Rhine Westphalia's GdP police union, Arnold Plickert. "Thousands of fans will regard a hidden deployment of police as an invitation to rampage through town centres," he told Spiegel Online.

This could result in escalation to the point where riot police had to be used to quell the crowd, he warned. "That will be dangerous for everyone."

Authorities in Bremen  in July also stirred controversy by ordering that the German Football League (DFL) help foot the bill for the policing operations.

The president of the DFL, lawyer Reinhard Rauball, stressed that the move was unconstitutional.

"Regardless of revenues [of clubs], ensuring public safety is the task of the State, particularly since football clubs and associations are in no way the cause or perpetrator of violence," he said.

The DFL would appeal the decision in court, Rauball pledged.

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