Berlin (CNSNews.com) – Police in Cologne have announced significant security preparations for New Year’s Eve, in response to incidents of sexual assaults, many blamed on migrants and refugees, in Cologne and other German cities last December 31.
Cologne city police chief Jürgen Mathies said at a press conference Monday that 1,500 officers will be deployed, over ten times more than the 140 officers on duty last year.
They would include 300 federal police officers, 600 city security officials and an unnamed number of “trained specialists” who will be ready to help women and girls in cases of harassment, intimidation, assault or rape.
The German newspaper Express, citing leaked information, said police would also deploy mounted officers, locate some personnel in elevated observation positions and use helicopters.
Similar to Munich’s Oktoberfest response to increased fear of terror attacks, Cologne will also cordon off the immediate area around the cathedral, one of the main areas where New Year’s Eve celebrations take place.
Other features include bag checks, more brightly lit areas, and video surveillance cameras in front of the main train station, a site of many of last year’s assaults.
Over a thousand offenses were reported in Cologne, Düsseldorf, Hamburg, Frankfurt and Stuttgart last New Year’s Eve. They included sex assaults and incidents of men groping women while trying to steal their phones, purses or bags, according to the German Federal Criminal Police Office.
The assaults, particularly those in Cologne, made international headlines and caused an outcry at home. Almost 1,200 criminal complaints were submitted nationwide, with about 500 of those specifically related to sexual assault.
The incidents were described by police as unprecedented in Germany, and many of the assaults were blamed on refugees or migrants from North Africa.
With 890,000 asylum seekers entering the country in 2015 from war torn regions such as Syria, the events triggered social anxiety over Chancellor Angela Merkel’s “open door” refugee policy.
Although some German citizens were implicated, a report in Der Spiegel last April stated that the majority of identified suspects were foreign nationals from North African countries such as Morocco and Algeria, and around half of identified suspects were asylum seekers.
The first arrest arising from sexual offense allegations was that of a 26-year old Algerian who was living in a refugee camp.
Due to the political sensitivity of the refugee issue, authorities were slow to release information to the public, taking six months to reveal the full scale of what happened.
That only served to incite even more speculation and accusations, largely via social media.
The discontent also helped to fuel the meteoric rise of the right-wing anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which has now become Germany’s third largest party.
Cologne police came under heavy criticism for its response to the assaults, accused of being too slow to respond to emergency calls and cries for help. The city’s police chief stepped down just days after the incidents.
Of the some 1,200 complaints lodged, only 267 criminal investigations arose, and 124 of those were suspended due to a lack of evidence or inability to find the suspects.
The prosecutor's office has reported that only 35 people have been charged as a result of the investigations, and that of those, 24 were convicted, according to German news agency dpa.
The German parliament passed a major overhaul of the country’s rape laws in July, broadening the definition of sex crimes to include acts such as groping. The rules on consent were also tightened: No longer is evidence of physical resistance required; verbal refusal of sexual advances is sufficient.
Notably, the new law also made it easier to deport foreign nationals who are convicted of committing sex crimes.
Cologne Mayor Henriette Reker gave assurances that the new security plan would prevent a recurrence of last year’s events.
“After last New Year's Eve's shocking assaults, the city has taken appropriate measures,” she told reporters. “We want people to experience the true Cologne: peaceful, joyful, a city with a sense of community.”