Right-wing politicians and the media work with questionable statistics on knives as a means of committing crimes. The Federal Criminal Police Office will not publish valid figures until this year.
For more than two years, the right-wing extremist AfD party in the federal and state governments has been trying to prove with parliamentary questions that offences involving “knives” are on the increase and are mainly committed by “non-Germans”. A spokesperson for the right-wing German Police Union (DPolG) claims this as a fact, as does the psychologist Ahmad Mansour, who is often quoted as a “knife expert”. He sees in the carrying of knives a “youth culture” that is favoured by “patriarchal upbringing methods” in the countries of origin of many migrants.
A story in “Bild am Sonntag” seems to confirm this. At the weekend, the newspaper reported, citing the Federal Police, that the number of stabbing attacks in trains and railway stations had doubled to 236 in 2022 compared to the previous year. Overall, the proportion of “non-German” suspects in serious violent offences was 55.5 per cent, according to the Federal Police, the newspaper said.
The Federal Police have been recording whether people use knives in violent crimes since 2018. The figures now published are the so-called incoming statistics, which record every suspected crime. The Federal Criminal Police Office (Bundeskriminalamt, BKA), for example, takes a different approach, in whose annual police crime statistics (Polizeilicher Kriminalitätsstatistik, PKS) only crimes that are considered to have been fully investigated are counted.
That is why the report in “Bild am Sonntag” should be treated with caution, warns police scientist Thomas Feltes. In about 20 percent of the cases, the incoming reports turned out to be incomplete or even wrong, Feltes told “nd”. This has been proven by various studies.
It is therefore questionable how the assaults with knives were classified. For example, attacks could have been considered attempted manslaughter by the officers, although it was actually a case of attempted bodily harm or the knife was merely carried during an act of violence. Moreover, in the case of joint knife attacks, the unarmed suspects could also have been counted.
The German section of Amnesty International also urges caution. “On the one hand, it is not clear whether this is a final evaluation by the Federal Police. On the other hand, absolute figures are given here that must be seen in relation to the passenger numbers that have risen again in the course of the Corona pandemic,” a spokeswoman tells “nd”.
The New Year’s Eve in Berlin recently showed how such counts vary even among the police. Some newspapers, citing the police, were quick to report an unequal number of crimes committed by people with a migration background; later, the figures had to be corrected significantly. By then, however, some media had long since constructed the image of a “New Year’s Eve disgrace” (“BILD”). The daily newspaper “Welt”, which claims to have counted “almost 20,000 knife attacks” for the year 2020, but collected this data from the state police from non-comparable tables, did similarly dubious research.
Feltes also refers to the “statistical effect”, according to which the police – driven by the agitation corridor of politicians and the media – take a closer look at certain groups of people or crimes and therefore “like to record a little more than usual”. The Federal Ministry of the Interior is also aware of such distortions, which can mean “changes in the reporting behaviour of the population or in the intensity of prosecution”.
Further distortions can arise when the police carry out so-called focus investigations. In various federal states, for example, the carrying of knives and other dangerous objects on trains is completely or temporarily prohibited. Because the police are therefore specifically looking for such tools, they are also found more often. “In terms of general crime, an uneven urban/rural distribution also plays a significant role, as a higher proportion of non-Germans can be found in the big cities,” Amnesty International adds.
From 2023, the BKA also wants to have standardised the nationwide data quality in such a way that “valid” conclusions about the number of knife attacks are possible. As before, the nationality of the suspects will also be recorded by the Federal Police. “Whether they are immigrants”, however, is not to be checked, writes the Ministry of the Interior in its answer to a question from the AfD.
Published in German in „nd“.