Why did you choose to join the European Forum for Urban Security?
Henriette Reker: Cologne’s accession to Efus and the German Forum DEFUS is very much in line with the development of our security policy. Urban security and safety in public spaces have been an important topic for us long before the incidents that occurred in the heart of our city, last New Year’s Eve*. It is our aim to further develop and professionalise Cologne’s security strategy and thus improve citizen security in a visible and sustainable manner.
Cologne has successfully initiated conceptual changes to urban security strategies in the past, working together with different institutions, authorities, and other local stakeholders. Among these changes are the signing of a cooperation agreement with the police, the establishment of Cologne’s House of Juvenile Justice, the founding of the security conference and the Council on Crime Prevention, reforms to Cologne’s municipal law, and the modernisation of our security services. Now, the city of Cologne wishes to join European networks of local authorities and institutions such as Efus to strengthen cooperation and the exchange of experiences and transfer of knowledge.
What is the added value of working with other local authorities?
Local authorities can learn from each other through the transfer of knowledge and exchange of experiences. The city of Cologne will seek to benefit from and contribute to the expertise gathered by Efus and DEFUS. We will seize this opportunity to develop more effective and sustainable security policies, and improve our strategies by making them more precise and comprehensive.
By joining Efus and DEFUS, we hope to benefit from the exchange of innovative solutions and best practices. This will strengthen our city’s capacities to find adapted responses to the new and often globalised phenomena of crime that pose real challenges to our communities.
Efus and DEFUS offer an intense exchange particularly in the field of local crime prevention, but also on combatting crime and offences. Moreover, our membership facilitates access to cooperation and partnerships in the field of crime prevention as well as to collaborative projects led by Efus and funded by the EU. I very much look forward to contributing to such common activities!
What are your priorities regarding security?
Currently our foremost priority is to improve the citizens’ perception of security. This is the issue on which we are working most intensely at the moment, in cooperation with the police. Moreover, one of our priorities is to strengthen cooperation with other cities and the police.
Does your city have a municipal crime prevention strategy?
Cologne’s crime prevention strategy is based on the principle of cooperation. It is through partnerships, networks and working groups on topics such as speeders and illegal races on our streets, the reception and integration of refugees, drug prevention, violence in schools or graffiti in public spaces that we aim to make sure we become aware and address challenges and problems before they cause major conflicts.
Since the early 1990s, Cologne, as many other German cities, has established local Crime Prevention Councils that bring together different local stakeholders to discuss complex issues in their respective localities, exchange information, and plan common activities. District representatives, the local municipal office, members of other local administrative departments, the police and – if necessary – other institutions attend the Councils’ meetings. The Crime Prevention Councils have regular meetings, and they convene when there are special events in the districts. The priorities and requirements of each district differ greatly.
Apart from the police, other local partners cooperate with the Crime Prevention Councils: the public prosecutor’s office, the federal police, the district court, the chamber of industry and commerce, local energy suppliers, the waste management industry, transport companies, churches and private organisations and associations.
In the wake of the New Year’s Eve’s events, the city of Cologne tightened its security scheme, in particular around public spaces and for large, spontaneous gatherings such as the New Year’s Eve celebrations. Today, the city of Cologne, in cooperation with the police and other officials, is in charge of preventing crime, responding in cases of emergencies and upholding safety during such events, and thus takes responsibility for the safety of its citizens and communities.
Moreover, various measures were taken to improve the situation around the Cathedral: offers of social support have been extended, illumination and cleanliness improved, offences are being more rigorously policed, more personnel has been appointed to strengthen our security services, the police are surveying the area more closely, and municipal law has been amended accordingly.
Also as a direct response to the NYE events, I invited the cities of Aachen, Bonn, Düsseldorf, Essen, Leverkusen and Oberhausen to an intercommunal meeting on urban security, in January 2016, and we adopted the Cologne Declaration. This ten point-document requested more support from the regional and federal governments to meet the expectations and needs of the public concerning urban security. The regional and federal levels are important partners as well, as they set the framework for local practices and strategies.
Is there a crime prevention initiative in your city that you are particularly proud of?
There are so many activities in Cologne in the different areas of crime prevention! But I do want to draw attention on our advisory council “New prostitution-free zones in Cologne South”. Since the summer of 2011, the advisory council cooperates with the police, local politicians, the administration, and elected officials from the Hürth and Brühl districts in order to oversee the establishment of restricted areas in the south of Cologne. The advisory council is tasked with supporting and advising on the establishment of restricted areas, monitoring the effects of such a measure on local groups and communities, and suggesting amendments and improvements. The aim of the new restricted areas is to push prostitution out of residential districts, in particular to protect our children and youths. The work of the advisory council and the cooperating partners has proved to be very successful. While originally conceived as a temporary solution, the restricted areas are now permanent.
What are the main issues in your city that you would wish to present to European authorities via Efus?
Important topics for the exchange of experiences and best practices with the members of Efus and DEFUS, and beyond with European institutions, are: urban public security; the integration of our security services, e.g. the police, into a comprehensive security architecture, and the challenges posed by demographics and the increasing urbanisation of our cities, such as waste, noise, and social conflicts.
* Editor’s note: During unofficial New Year’s Eve celebrations on Cologne’s main square, hundreds of cases of sexual harassment as well as five rapes, bodily harm and theft were committed against young women. According to the federal police, the perpetrators were mostly young migrant men from North-Africa and the Middle East. More than 1,000 cases were reported to the police, not only in Cologne but also in several other German cities. This event was widely reported in the international press as well as in German media, and it shaped the national debate on immigration and asylum.