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How plainclothes cops caused panic at Munich shooting

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How plainclothes cops caused panic at Munich shooting
Photo: DPA
13:17 CEST+02:00
On Friday night, plainclothes police officers were on patrol in the Munich shopping centre where a deadly shooting took place. They were able to spot and pursue the gunman, but their presence also added to the confusion of the night's events.

As several German media reported, one of the reasons police initially spoke about a search for three shooters was that witnesses saw two plainclothes police officers draw their weapons and run towards the shooter, and therefore reported seeing three armed men.

This misinformation may well have increased the panic in Munich as the city went into lockdown.

Public transport networks were shut down and restaurants and shops closed, leaving many people stranded as people feared that multiple gunmen were at large. Around 4,300 emergency calls were made to Munich police on Friday between 6pm, when shooting started, and midnight.

Police also took these calls seriously, warning the public via Twitter to stay away from all public areas. 

According to the Suddeutsche Zeitung (SZ), police were only able to inform federal officers at 11pm that the other two ‘gunmen' were in fact plainclothes officers. However, the paper quotes an unknown source and Munich police have not publicly confirmed these details of the investigation.

Plainclothes officers in Germany may carry weapons and draw them in situations of danger. They also usually wear armbands which say ‘Police', but don't necessarily do this.

“Particularly with terrorist situations or lone shooters when the officers are still looking for perpetrators, it may be an advantage that police are not immediately recognizable,” the chairman of the police union, Oliver Malchow, told SZ.

Malchow also said that police were capable of dealing with the situation without the additional help of the German army, following calls from Joachim Herrmann, Bavarian interior minister, for the armed forces to be deployed.

“We are not at war. We are not even under a state of emergency,” said Malchow, his words sharply contrasting with those from French officials following mass attacks in Paris.

The threat level in Germany has not been raised following the recent attacks - though security measures had already been ramped up after the attacks on Paris and Brussels.

In general, both the public and authorities seem confident that the police are doing a good job. Chancellor Angela Merkel praised the Munich police for their "highly professional" work on Friday, and police in several regions have reassured the public, saying they are well-prepared and receive regular training on dealing with lone attackers.

However, while Germany may not be under an official state of emergency, security at large events has become tighter over the past year, and as the Bavarian government convention kicked off on Tuesday, security measures were likely to be high on the agenda.

At large events and public areas considered to be possible targets, both uniformed and plainclothes officers are part of the security.

Festivals are also increasing their security measures; the heavy-metal festival Wacken announced a backpack ban, following in the footsteps of Munich's Oktoberfest which announced the measure after Friday's shooting.

Additionally, the police union has called for more officers to be stationed at so-called 'soft targets'. A spokesperson told Die Welt that a more visible police presence "strengthens the sense of security among the population".

Meanwhile, Germany's Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière called for more police presence, particularly at airports and train stations. He also suggested tightening security laws.

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