“I ask myself if sympathies for Pegida and the AfD [Alternative for Germany] are more widespread in the police than among normal citizens,” Martin Dulig, leader of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) in Saxony, told liberal weekly Die Zeit.
Pegida is an anti-Islam movement which organizes demonstrations in Saxon state capital Dresden every Monday to protest against “the Islamization of the West.”
At its high points it has managed to draw tens of thousands of people onto the streets, while its leader Lutz Bachmann – who has been photographed sporting a Hitler moustache – is being investigated for inciting racial hatred.
The leader of the AfD, Frauke Petry, recently made headlines for suggesting it was acceptable to shoot at migrants who cross the German border illegally.
Saxony has been the centre of some of the fiercest anti-immigrant sentiment in Germany, with a recent poll showing the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party (NPD) are backed by 5 percent of voters there.
The former east German state has also been plagued by arson attacks on refugees shelters. Most notoriously residents of Bautzen tried to block firemen as they attempted to put out a blaze at a building which had been redesigned to house asylum seekers.
'Quality and quantity lacking'
Saxony’s Minister-President Stanislaw Tillich has recently said that the state will hire more police officers in an effort to cope with the growing unrest.
But his deputy Dulig told Zeit that “we don’t just have a quantitative problem, we have a qualitative one too.”
The behaviour of police in Saxony has come under scrutiny in recent weeks after video emerged of officers dragging a terrified refugee from a bus in the town of Clausnitz while a mob of anti-refugees demonstrators blocked the vehicle.
Police made matters worse for themselves when they seemed to suggest that refugees who had reacted to the mob by making hand gestures were responsible for aggravating the situation.
SPD politician expressed his surprise at the fact police who had sought to blame refugees for the events of Clausnitz were not punished for their actions.
There is “a lot of catching-up to do in terms of intercultural sensitivity and in the leadership culture” in the state’s police, Dulig added.
But the Police Union (GdP) in Saxony flatly refuted the allegation.
“We feel that these comments were misplaced and the police in Saxony are shocked by a statement like this coming from one of our own politicians,” state union leader Hagen Husgen told The Local.
The police are stretched to breaking point in the state, he said due to “10 years of failure on the part of our politicians.”
It is this underfunding and lack of resources which has given the impression that the police are at fault for the events at Clausnitz, he went on.
On the question of whether police officers had affiliations to Pegida, Husgen said that this could not be ruled out.
“The police mirrors society – attitudes that exists in wider society also exist in the police – and officers have a right to their own private political opinions. But at work they have a duty of neutrality.”