What Germany’s new crime report tells us – and what it doesn’t

Police partol the streets of Leipzig during a pandemic demonstration in November.
Police partol the streets of Leipzig during a pandemic demonstration in November. Photo: dpa-Zentralbild | Sebastian Willnow
A study released by the German government this month says that crime has dropped significantly over the past 15 years. Here's what you should know.

Overall crime has dropped by 15 percent between 2005 and 2019, the government’s Periodic Security Report concluded.

It was the first time that the report has been published since 2006 and the findings provide reassurance that Germany is becoming an ever safer place to live. 

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“Germany is one of the safest countries in the world,” Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said. “But security is an ongoing task for which we have to work hard every day.”

What is behind the decline?

The biggest drop in recorded crime came in the category of property crime, which refers to theft and robbery. Over the period in question, recorded crime of this nature dropped by a third, while the value of the stolen property also dropped from €8.5 billion in 2005 to €6.6 billion in 2019.

Property damage also saw a decline of 22 percent in the same period, violent crime dropped by 15.4 percent and fraud was cut by 12.9 percent.

Drop in prison sentences

The report didn’t just look at reported crime but also sentencing in court.

Developments at this stage of the justice system were also positive. Only half the number of minors were found guilty of a crime in 2019 compared to 2005.

Meanwhile, of all of the convictions in 2019, only 15 percent were serious enough to lead to a prison term.

Is it good news across the board?

Not completely. Some crimes have increased in prevalence over the period in question.

The report noted that far-right crime, such as the distribution of neo-Nazi or racist propaganda, anti-Semitic hate speech and online hate speech has increased during the past few years.

The report also notes an increase in cyberbullying and online stalking, although it cautions that comparison in this regard is difficult due to the increased centrality of the Internet to our lives.

Suspects and victims

The most common profile of a criminal is an adult male of German nationality. But young Germans are much less likely to be suspects of a crime now than in 2009, with the overall number of teenage suspects dropping 28 percent and those aged 18-21 dropping by 24 percent.

The profile of a victim is highly dependent on the type of crime. Men are twice as likely to be the victim of a robbery as women, whereas women are over ten times as likely to be the victim of a sexual offence as men.

What has the reaction been?

Arndt Sinn, a professor of criminal justice at Osnabrück University, was damning in his evaluation of the report, saying it “does not in any way reflect the actual security situation in Germany”.

Speaking to Deutschlandfunk radio, Sinn said that the report, at 180 pages, was too short and barely contained any information on pressing issues such as organized crime.

He added that some of the reduction in criminality was down to the fact that it had moved into other places. At the same time though, he gave the police credit for developing successful strategies to reduce burglary which had risen precipitously up until 2015.

Markus Reuter, a journalist who writes on surveillance, said that the report showed the wide gulf between perception and reality.

“There is hardly a social field in which reality and perception diverge as widely as in the case of crime,” Reuter wrote, pointing to a recent survey by the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung that found that two thirds of Germany believe that crime has been on the rise in recent years.

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