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"Something happened there. Other things are easier to explain”

Herbert Reul suffered.

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"Something happened there. Other things are easier to explain”

Herbert Reul suffered. With a dark expression, without any introductory jokes, completely different than usual, the interior minister of North Rhine-Westphalia recently appeared in front of the press in the state parliament - and made known his greatest defeat to date as a crime fighter: he presented the results of the crime statistics for 2022. And with it a rocket-like one Increase in registered crimes in the country.

If these had only skyrocketed compared to the previous year, 2021, Christian Democrat Reul could easily have explained this as a return to normality. Finally, 2021 was an exceptional year with multiple lockdowns resulting in exceptionally low crime. But the numbers for 2022 are also higher than those of the last pre-Corona year 2019. This means that Reul has a serious problem for which he still has no solution. In all honesty, he admitted: "Something happened. Other things are easier to explain.” That is why these figures are primarily “a work order” for him.

Possibly not only for him, but far beyond NRW for all federal German states. Because NRW is the first of them to have published its crime statistics for 2022 (only the city state of Hamburg was faster). And she has the talent. The total number of all crimes in 2022, at 1.366 million, was clearly higher than in 2019 (1.22 million). But it got even worse: The current crime figures are even roughly the same as those of 2017 – the last year of the red-green state government, which the CDU always accused of not having a clue about fighting crime.

The number of crimes involving bodily harm, robbery and theft rose particularly sharply. The registered physical injuries climbed to 142,000 cases, while under red-green in 2017 there were still 125,412. Robberies (2022: 11,270, in 2019: 10,125) and thefts (2022: 479,657, 2019: 462,574) also shot up. The number of murder and manslaughter offenses (fortunately mostly only attempted) also increased in 2022 compared to 2017 (from 373 to 380). After all, they fell compared to 2019 (412).

Reul was alarmed by the increase in suspects under the age of 21. The country has been paying particular attention to child and juvenile crime for a good decade and across party lines - because young criminals have even greater chances of getting them off the wrong track. Also: Those who embark on a criminal career early on often stick with it and cause correspondingly more damage in the course of their criminal career.

This political commitment has been rewarded for years with falling numbers of cases. But now the trend has been broken. 102,570 of the 499,000 suspects in 2022 were under 21 years old. In the pre-Corona year 2019 there were only 98,678. What is remarkable is which age group among the under-21s is now causing the growth: not adolescents (18-21), but youth (14-18), and even more so children (under-14).

The number of suspected children rose from 16,673 in 2019 to 20,948 in 2022, and that of suspected juveniles from 41,877 to 44,871. In contrast, that of the suspected adolescents fell. The increase in robbery, theft and assault in particular can be explained in part by the increase in suspects under the age of 21. After all, they represent more than 60 percent of suspects in robbery offenses and more than 40 percent of suspects in dangerous bodily harm on streets, paths or squares. But that is not a valid explanation for the overall increase, as the increase in suspects under the age of 21 between 2019 and 2022 (by not even 4000 people) was too low.

The Minister of the Interior was clearly concerned with explaining the turn to more crime. In a contrite tone he suspected: “What was not done in the pandemic years was made up for in 2022. But then more excessive, wilder and even more of it.” It also probably plays a role “that there was little space for children to develop socially for two years due to the pandemic”. There was also a lack of “opportunities to learn how to solve conflicts non-violently” because school and leisure activities were temporarily canceled.

But the problems of young people in the Corona years cannot explain why crime increased massively primarily due to adults. Reul gave a brief hint with the statement that the problems "also had something to do with integration", i.e. with the successful arrival of immigrants. AfD domestic politician Markus Wagner immediately took up this suggestion. He accused Reul of having hardly found a "word about the disproportionate number of foreign suspects".

In fact, of the total of 481,848 suspects, 168,426 were foreign citizens (dual nationals are only recorded as Germans), i.e. 34.95 percent of all suspects - with a population share of around 14 percent. In 2019, only 135,658 suspects (31.6 percent) were foreigners. Here you can see an increase of over 32,000 suspects. Violations of immigration law have already been excluded from the statistics. How this increase is explained – Reul has not yet been able to give an answer.

However, two things must not be forgotten: 168,426 non-German suspects make up less than six percent of the more than 2.8 million foreigners in NRW of the foreign citizens registered here. And: A minority of foreign suspects who cannot yet be precisely determined does not reside in NRW. Rather, they enter to commit crimes. However, it is again unclear how many of them come from abroad and how many from other German federal states. The database would have to be improved here, the police unions are demanding.

No sooner had Reul published his figures than another well-known debate flared up: the dispute over a rapid increase in the number of police officers in the country. As a major step towards this goal, Reul had announced that the number of commissioner candidates hired, i.e. police trainees, would be increased to 3,000 per year. Otherwise, the minister has always warned, the police can sometimes only manage crimes, not prosecute them.

But NRW seems to miss this goal in 2022. At least that's what intermediate figures suggest. Apparently too few qualified applicants have applied so far. Which is why SPD domestic politician Christina Kampmann warned that Reul was in danger of "not achieving the goal he had set himself". Michael Mertens, state chairman of the police union (GdP), called for "better working conditions and better pay" in order to "immediately overcome the current problems in recruiting young people". Almost with relish, he took up Reul's earlier quote: "It is unacceptable that the police only manage many crimes, but not pursue them."

And another discussion of the past few years flared up again: GdP boss Mertens called for "a greater presence on the street" instead of a unilateral "strengthening of the commissariats". That also went against Reul, who had just pushed through a staffing of the commissariats. But some criticism can only be kept at bay as long as the crime figures, like Reul from 2020 to 2021, are reduced to a record level. Reul, the veteran, knew that of course when he presented his new main problem with a serious expression and without any jokes.

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