On New Year’s Eve in Berlin, the fire brigade reported 38 individual incidents, including 14 cases in which fire engines were allegedly “ambushed” and shot at with firecrackers and pelted with beer crates.
The extent of the aggression towards emergency services was completely unexpected, said the spokesman for the Berlin fire brigade, Thomas Kirstein, to the public broadcaster RBB. A total of 15 emergency services were injured in Berlin, one had to be treated in the hospital. Police said 18 of their officers were injured.
The Berlin fire brigade was “shocked and saddened” by the incidents, which left many wondering what was behind the apparent increase in violence against emergency services and why they were targeted.
The Berlin fire brigade shared video recordings of events on Twitter on Monday.
“Fatal attacks” on police and rescue workers “extremely rare”
Police sociologist Rafael Behr from the Hamburg Police Academy said the incidents had to be analyzed in detail before any conclusions could be drawn.
“We don’t really have a good grasp of the complexity of the circumstances of the violence. Instead, we have statements from various police or emergency services unions and other interest groups that say the violence is increasing. But we don’t know if that’s true, and we don’t know in what form this violence was intended,” he told DW.
“Obviously it’s very shocking to hear about cases like this because we think the emergency services are there to save lives, to do good, and we’re not used to them being attacked in the same way they are Police, with whom it often has to deal with conflict situations.”
The police in Berlin recorded dozens of incidents on New Year’s Eve.Image: Paul Zinken/Picture Alliance/dpa
In 2021, the Federal Criminal Police Office reported that the number of violent crimes against police officers had increased by 689 cases to 39,649 compared to the previous year. Since 2012, cases of violence against police officers have increased by a total of 22.5%.
However, according to Behr, society is much more sensitive to violence, especially towards the police and rescue workers. Verbal abuse is now also classified as violence, which was not the case before.
“We know that fatal attacks on emergency responders and the police are extremely rare. The number of serious acts of violence has not increased. Physical assaults have increased slightly, but not dramatically. Rather, we’re much more sensitive to that,” he said.
While the number of violent attacks on police officers is recorded in annual police crime statistics, violent incidents involving emergency services personnel are less well documented. The figures are often subsumed together with those of the police force; The exact definition of violence also differs from survey to survey.
Several vehicles were damaged during the celebrations and violenceImage: Jürgen Held/IMAGO
Violence combined with display of masculinity?
However, one constant seems to remain that most of the violence is perpetrated by men, says Alfred Gebert, professor of psychology and sociology at the Federal University of Applied Sciences in Münster.
“Respect for workers in uniform has fallen drastically, especially among young men between the ages of 20 and 29,” Gebert told DW. “They get drunk and want to show off to their friends, mostly through verbal abuse, and I think that’s a failure to teach young people respect at school – but also a lack of consequences for the perpetrators.”
For Rafael Behr, too, violence is part of demonstrating a certain form of masculinity.
“It definitely has to do with how some young men want to be seen in public, which is often a show of strength.”
But, Behr said, the fact that it’s a problem among young drunk men means it’s often dramatized by the media.
“There is no evidence of a continuous increase in violence. Rather, there are repeated outbreaks of violence in certain contexts. It happens in every country where major events take place: social norms and laws are broken, especially when alcohol is involved. New Year’s Eve is particularly extreme because there are also fireworks.”
Violence against German police officers increases
That year, authorities lifted the COVID-pandemic ban on pyrotechnics, allowing them to be fired on New Year’s Eve for the first time in two years – so it was perhaps inevitable that the number of violent incidents would increase after the lockdowns.
“I don’t think that the groups of men who use this violence have a great impact on society,” said Gebert. “In fact, I believe that the wider community finds these attacks totally unacceptable and would like to see harsher penalties for the perpetrators.”
In fact, the police union in Germany has already called for tougher penalties for perpetrators of violence against emergency services.
The fire brigade has also called for the use of more bodycams in order to actually be able to prove acts of violence.
“That would be my appeal to collect more data and analyze everything that happened in detail – and I think the reality would be a lot less dramatic than it might seem,” said Behr. “I warn against falling into the narrative that violence has a free rein in Germany.”
Edited by: Rina Goldenberg
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