German police officers suspended after sharing far-right images

More than 200 police in western Germany swooped on colleagues accused of spreading "repulsive" far-right propaganda in online chatrooms, a state interior minister said on Wednesday.

German police officers suspended after sharing far-right images
Herbert Reul announced the discovery at a press conference. Photo: DPA

Herbert Reul, interior minister of Germany's most populous region, North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), said the raids targeted 34 police stations and private homes connected to 11 main suspects. 

The police officers are believed to have shared more than 100 neo-Nazi images in WhatsApp groups including swastikas, portraits of Adolf Hitler and a composed image of a refugee in the gas chamber of a concentration camp.

“This is the worst and most repulsive kind of hate-baiting,” Reul told reporters, adding that he expected the investigation to turn up further chats with offensive content.

READ ALSO: Hesse police face claims of links with far right scene

The suspects could face charges of incitement to racial hatred. A total of 29 police officers are facing disciplinary proceedings connected to the case and have been suspended pending their outcome.

A spokesman for the federal interior ministry called the reports “highly alarming” and demanded a quick and thorough investigation to determine the extent of any far-right infiltration of the police.

“It casts a negative light on police across Germany in our view and is a slap in the face for officers who demonstrate their great loyalty to the free democratic order every day under the most difficult circumstances,” the spokesman Steve Alter told reporters.

Reul said a probe against one police unit in the town of Mülheim an der Ruhr discovered the chats, which he called “a disgrace for the NRW police force” as a whole.

He said he was appointing an ombudsman to investigate the extent of extremism in the state's police ranks.

“Right-wing extremists and neo-Nazis have absolutely no place in the North Rhine-Westphalia police, our police,” he said, adding that it was up to authorities now to show a “crystal clear political profile” that rejected the far right.

Germany has been embroiled in a series of scandals over right-wing extremism within the ranks of the security services. 

READ ALSO: Germany warns coronavirus protests 'hijacked' by far-right

In July, prosecutors announced the arrest of a former police officer and his wife who they suspect of having sent threatening emails to politicians and other public figures across Germany.

The anonymous messages were all signed “NSU 2.0”, a reference to the German neo-Nazi cell National Socialist Underground that committed a string of racist murders in the 2000s.

The so-called “NSU 2.0” affair has already claimed the scalp of police chief Udo Münch of the state of Hesse, who resigned after it emerged that police computers were used to search for details about a far-left politician who subsequently received one of the threatening letters.

And in June Germany's defence minister ordered the partial dissolution of the elite KSK commando force over right-wing extremism.

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German police under fire for using tracing app to find witnesses

German police drew criticism Tuesday for using an app to trace contacts from bars and restaurants in the fight against the pandemic as part of an investigation.

A barcode used for the Luca check-in app to trace possible Covid contacts at a Stuttgart restaurant.
A barcode used for the Luca check-in app to trace possible Covid contacts at a Stuttgart restaurant. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Marijan Murat

The case stemming from November last year began after the fatal fall of a man while leaving a restaurant in the western city of Mainz.

Police seeking possible witnesses made use of data from an app known as Luca, which was designed for patrons to register time spent in restaurants and taverns to track the possible spread of coronavirus.

Luca records the length of time spent at an establishment along with the patron’s full name, address and telephone number – all subject to Germany’s strict data protection laws.

However the police and local prosecutors in the case in Mainz successfully appealed to the municipal health authorities to gain access to information about 21 people who visited the restaurant at the same time as the man who died.

After an outcry, prosecutors apologised to the people involved and the local data protection authority has opened an inquiry into the affair.

“We condemn the abuse of Luca data collected to protect against infections,” said the company that developed the Luca app, culture4life, in a statement.

It added that it had received frequent requests for its data from the authorities which it routinely rejected.

Konstantin von Notz, a senior politician from the Greens, junior partners in the federal coalition, warned that abuse of the app could undermine public trust.

“We must not allow faith in digital apps, which are an important tool in the fight against Covid-19, to disappear,” he told Tuesday’s edition of Handelsblatt business daily.