Thomas Feltes: “The security-freedom-dilemma is a chimera”

Thomas FeltesThomas F. Feltes (1951) is University Professor in Criminology and Police Science at the Law Faculty, Ruhr-University Bochum, Germany. He teaches law and is responsible for the advanced Masters Program in Criminology, Criminalistics, and Police Science since 2005. From 1992 until 2002 he served as the Director of the University of Applied Police Science in Villingen-Schwenningen, Germany. Thomas Feltes earned his PhD in law and his M.A. in Social Sciences from the University of Bielefeld, Germany. From 1979 until 1992 he did criminological research and academic teaching at the law faculties in Bielefeld, Hamburg, Heidelberg, and Tuebingen. Feltes is a member of Scientific Board of the International Society of Criminology. He is the (co-)author and editor of over 200 books and articles on policing, juvenile law, sentencing, alternative sanctions, public prosecution and the editor of the “Polizei-Newsletter”, a monthly Email-newsletter, published in four languages (e.g. Spanish). From 2018 on he will be the German representative in the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT).

Dear Professor Feltes, in last times you have insisted on the need to integrate different actors in order to keep the levels of security within reasonable boundaries. This position that comes from somebody with a long trajectory of responsibilities in the Public Sector looks a bit surprising.

Which is the reason why we should transform the traditional state’s monopoly in the field of security in a co-production of security with actors that may not have public interests? Is it not a privatisation of policing?

In fact, the privatisation of policing already exists since many years, and we do not have such a monopoly in reality. Criminologists talk about “plural policing”, reflecting the fact, that not only private security companies work for individuals and corporations, but also corporations have their own security system and even their own system of prosecution, with internal punishment or retribution. Police increasingly works with other government agencies, the third sector, community organisations and the private sector, and they have to cooperate. For example: If we talk about community policing, many local and private actors are involved in this system of improving the relation between police and citizens and in improving the feelings of security in a local community. The main point is: the state has to control all these diverse efforts of policing, no matter who does it and where it is done.

You have worked long time in the field security around Bundesliga (and football in general) matches. Do you think that there we have a good example of public-private co-production of security? How do you assess your experience in this area? Do you think that we have found a way ahead? Which are the key factors to be taken into account?

Football matches are a good example for plural policing: As we could show in analysing the security structures of a regular match, up to 30 different direct or indirect providers of security are involved: from the DFB and DFL over the public transportation systems down to the local police and the local clubs. The latter ones usually have their own security, responsible inside of the arenas, and hired private security personnel, responsible e.g. for the entrance control. They must also cooperate intensively with the local police and the federal police. Usually a security talk takes place in advance, where the different responsibilities and the overall strategy to police the match are discussed.

Is co-production applicable to any public policy? Would you apply it to cope with the large wave of refugees that arrived recently in Germany? By the way, doesn’t it imply a high risk for internal security? Is sensible to admit such a large amount of refugees?

There is a co-production of security in our everyday business. Private security guards are working in shopping malls, in train stations, in subways and they are responsible for the protection of private and government buildings. Concerning refugees, the security of camps and apartment-buildings, where refugees live, are usually the task of private security companies. The police does not have the personnel to take over this task too and police is too expensive. The problem with private security guards is the selection and the control. After some scandals, the problem now seems to be solved. Applicants are better checked, better trained, and better controlled now. Refugees are not committing more crimes than the equivalent German population, if we take gender and age into account. And most of the crimes committed by refugees are either between themselves (due to the situation in camps), or relate to crimes in connection with border laws.

How do you assess the current wave of very hard legislation (in terms of human rights restrictions) in order to tackle terrorism? Is it moral? Is it necessary? Is it useful? Do you think that the alleged dilemma security-freedom is real or just an argument to get the rights’ restrictions accepted?

This is, in fact, pure symbolic policy. Politicians are under enormous pressure by the public and the media. These laws do not tackle terrorism at all, but politicians see no other options to give the citizens the feeling, that they are capable of acting. We do have good programs to prevent that young people join terroristic groups or radical islamic circles, but these programs have a medium or long-range effect only. The so-called security-freedom-dilemma is a chimera: we are living in societies and neighbourhoods, which are safer than ever (crime is on the decline since years), but our citizens feel more alienated than ever. The reasons are manifold: the idea of a real European Union is fading, the negative effects of globalisation are getting closer, people are getting older and feel more insecure due to fading health care systems and unclear pensions. And finally: politicians do not provide the citizens with the feeling that they are able to cope with all these problems. They look more like a bunch of chickens, running around with their heads cut off… People are losing trust in politics, and we can see the results everywhere with rightist parties getting more and more acceptance.



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