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“Sorge um die Seele”. Incorporating Officers from Post-Migration Backgrounds in the German Police

  • Barbara Thériault

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  • Barbara Thériault
    Université de Montréal

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1 Introduction

At the end of the 1980s attempts were made in German police departments to recruit foreign police officers with the pragmatic aim of infiltrating certain criminal milieus and increasing the acceptance of police work in neighborhoods characterized by a high percentage of foreigners. Second generation German Turks and Poles, and later Yugoslavs were thus trained for the task. In 1993 an exception rule to the civil service law (Beamtengesetz) granted permission to hire foreigners living in Germany into the police force—provided there was an “urgent professional necessity.” Because the people hired eventually were sworn in and became civil servants, sometimes without a German passport, this dispensation turned out to be quite extraordinary: German citizenship was no longer considered a prerequisite for becoming a police officer.

Not unlike these initiatives, my aim is primarily a pragmatic one: to infiltrate the police and investigate the way diversity is dealt with in the civil service in Germany, a country often described as hostile to diversity. Not that one does not talk about diversity within the police. When asking about “diversity,” the researcher is inevitably directed towards police management. Diversity, in its current usage in the police in Germany, is an imported concept—incidentally used in English or in new German as Diversität, but not in its literal translation as Vielfalt—, generally associated with efforts on the management level to make greater use of personal competences. I wish to disentangle the management of diversity (qua efficiency or, alternatively, the accommodation of religious and cultural practices in public services) from the “spirit” of diversity to paraphrase Max Weber. I thus suggest using the concept in a broader sense and investigating those who contribute (through recruiting, counseling, and educating) to its promotion within the police organization. Because it will necessarily take many forms and meanings (overlapping at times with management efforts) over time and in individual cases, at times favoring more difference, at others more assimilation, the spirit of diversity, as frame and object of the research, cannot be neatly defined at the outset of the article.

In this special issue of Eurostudia which has been dedicated to religious regulation and its governance, I draw attention to diversity from a particular standpoint: that of the police officers who were—or are—in charge of initiatives to recruit and deal with the “foreign” officers, and who contributed through their work to bringing about change within the organization. It is at this particular level that European regulation, initiatives, and funding will, through the setting of an agenda, come into play. Because police matters fall under the legislative power of the individual states, I first started by looking into the initiatives to recruit, deal with, and train candidates from post-migration backgrounds in different German federal states. [1] I then accompanied the officers in charge of these initiatives in their daily activities. Their standpoint instructs us both on conceptions of diversity and on techniques drawn upon when dealing with diversity in Germany. In the context of the police organization, some of these techniques are drawn, I will be arguing, on a Christian model of dealing with the other. At the center of this paper is an ideal-type of this technique. While this type does not characterize in its “ideal” form all actions of the actors met, it nonetheless allows for delineating different ways to deal with diversity in the police and, perhaps, in the contemporary German context.

2 Recruiting candidates from post-migration backgrounds: the sociological problem

The initiatives to recruit officers from post-migration backgrounds have undoubtedly raised much interest amongst researchers: studies dealing with police officers from post-migration backgrounds have been published (Blom 2005; Franzke 1999); novels (Arjouni 1987; Zaimoglu 2003), crime movies, and even the standup comedy routine of a former police officer, [2] have also dealt with the experience from the insider’s perspective.

Besides this, there are two other ways to look at these initiatives and their outcomes. A first reading would focus on the recruitment goals and diversity understood as a norm. Seen in such a light, this experience is a dismal failure (Behr 2006: 124 and 179-181). Although police departments sometimes present themselves as model organizations, as a recent campaign indicates (see illustration below), [3] only about one percent of police officers are reported to be non nationals. [4] Police officials often complain about the difficulty in recruiting good candidates from post-migration backgrounds. Revisions of the German foreigners’ law (in 1991 and 1999) might have had an impact as they accelerated the granting of German citizenship. The Maastricht Treaty also gave European Union citizens access to civil service careers. However, changes in national and European regulations did not have a great impact on hiring. Even if one counts those who have one parent from a post-migration background (as one increasingly does in recruitment efforts), figures remain no doubt modest. [5] Recruiting initiatives have met with stiff resistance within police forces.

Besides pointing to organizational problems and their possible solving, there is an alternative way of reading these initiatives. Whatever conclusions and judgments one wishes to draw from these efforts, they point to an interesting phenomenon: what started as the granting of a permission, an exception rule to the civil service law to hire foreigners, has often turned into the promotion of candidates from post-migration backgrounds and efforts to change the police as an organization.

Poster of the “Nationaler Integrationsplan”, a federal campaign to promote dialogue and integration [6]

Poster of the “Nationaler Integrationsplan”, a federal campaign to promote dialogue and integration6

-> See the list of figures

When consulting police internal documents and carrying out interviews, various motives underlying efforts to recruit foreign candidates emerge such as the improvement of police efficiency in securing some neighborhoods or in dealing with organized crime, the democratization of the organization, or the incorporation of police officers from post-migration backgrounds in the police and, in turn, society. While the pragmatic concerns underlying the first initiatives have not disappeared (and may indeed come back with greater force, as the increasing surveillance of Muslim networks might suggest: see Schiffauer 2006), they have turned with the passing of time into efforts to recruit candidates and to change the police as an organization. This trend is reflected in the language used: one went to look for foreigners, from candidates from non German background to candidates from post-migration backgrounds, a much more encompassing category.

This way of reading the initiatives puts in the hot seat those who contribute to dealing with diversity on a daily basis. In some police departments, inspectors were put in charge of recruiting candidates from post-migration backgrounds, while in others, commissions were created to look into problems these recruits and officers may face; trade union representatives also took up the issue. One thing is sure: the absence of multiculturalist policies in Germany is not matched by the absence of workers committed to the promotion of diversity within state bureaucracies. The sociological question then becomes: how is one to deal with diversity in organizations often described as conservative and, as in the case of the police, characterized by strong socialization and homogenizing principles?

3 The “Carriers of Diversity”

Looking into the initiatives to recruit and to deal, through education, with candidates from post-migration backgrounds in different German federal states, I met several times, for interviews, with police officers who recruit, deal with and counsel colleagues from post-migration backgrounds. These observations—gathered at different times and places between 2004 and 2007—helped conceptualize the ideal-types outlined below.

Who are these officers who contributed to promoting “diversity” within the police force, what are their motives? By motive, I refer to the definition put forth by Max Weber, who grasped it as a “complex of subjective meaning which seems to the actor himself or to the observer an adequate ground for the conduct in question” (1964: 98-99). First of all, it is to be noted that the officers I met were quite extraordinary characters. In contrast to similar initiatives in countries such as, say, Canada or England, those I refer to as “carriers of diversity” are not members of ethnic minorities; they are all ethnic Germans. Against the commonly shared assumption that “certain issues are ‘owned’ by the groups that have a stake in them” (Joppke 2003: 5), people who are in charge of the incorporation of minorities and the promotion of diversity in Germany are—with the notable exception of women—often not members of these groups; rather, they are members of the majority group who act on behalf of minorities as their representatives. [7]

Second, the carriers of diversity are not managers, i.e. civil employees holding a degree in intercultural management or industrial relations, as might be expected in other countries. Instead, they are police inspectors. They were dilettantes who sometimes became self-made experts in intercultural matters. Drawing on a German expression, one could say that they literally “jumped over their own shadows.” They had volunteered or were commissioned, sometimes because they had been married to a foreign woman, to take care of the recruitment of non German candidates or their counseling. The inspectors in charge of the different initiatives had different motivations to go about doing their work (a sense of duty and professionalism, caring for fellow officers, educating or raising awareness, contributing to the democratizing of the police, or advancing their career). Not all officers originally sought to promote diversity within the police or change the organization. For this reason, the term “carriers,” which I borrow from Max Weber’s sociology and its contemporaries, does not only draw attention to the motives underlying their actions, but also to their consequences.

If not all inspectors were keen to develop initiatives, [8] the first officers in charge of recruitment enjoyed freedom in shaping their work, initiating practices, and shaping the rules of entry for foreign candidates and, as such, the rules of what we could call the “modes of inclusion” within the organization. As such, they mediated between the individual and the organization and had the potential to foster new practices. [9] Thanks to EU funding, projects were initiated at the European level, which were instrumental in creating the building of networks, expertise, and in setting a new agenda. [10] The dispense was used for recruiting more candidates, developing a point system and language courses for promising candidates; all of those initiatives amounting to a form of positive discrimination, albeit “through the back door.” In one federal state, a ten-week-training for German Turkish unemployed youth was introduced in preparation to the police entry test.

While some officers contributed to some diversity within the organization, they met with a great deal of resistance. This was even to be found among fellow recruiting officers, teachers, and trade union officials, whose ambition to recruit candidates from post-migration backgrounds seemed at best half-hearted. One must bear in mind the context of these initiatives. For one thing, the police represent the extreme case of an organization which stresses uniformity. What’s more, the work of the committed inspectors does not rest on strong institutional foundations: there is still merely a dispensation to the civil service law, and initiatives are widely dependent on the vagaries of politics. Without denying the importance of wider changes and interest at the federal (such as the “Nationaler Integrationsplan” previously mentioned) or European level (such as antidiscrimination policies), which undoubtedly set the larger context and discussion on diversity in Germany, there are no concrete policies underlying them.

4 Acting without formal structures

How do actors deal with a situation not defined by formal structures? Sociologist Rainer Lepsius identified two possible outcomes. First, they can absorb the tension between their work and the principles underlying the organization (1995). In the case of the police, this means that some actors live with discrimination. This option seems to characterize to a high degree the work of the inspectors—and their recruits even more—who were interviewed: most of them stressed the necessity to have “a hard skin” (“ein dickes Fell”). The inspectors come to terms—to various degrees depending on each case—with the tensions between the consequences of their work, that is greater diversity, and the principles of an organization characterized by strong socialization and great cohesion. The second strategy identified by Lepsius is to externalize problems and create new institutions. Such an option was contemplated by a group formed to bring together police inspectors and medical experts, which was commissioned to look into difficulties encountered by officers from post-migration backgrounds and, when judged necessary, take action.

Because there are no formal structures, the inspectors observed do not become professional diversity managers as would be expected in other countries. The fieldwork shows that they tend to transform into sympathetic Seelsorger, understood in its literal translation as “caretakers of the soul” of the recruits. In the following, I will describe one case, which exists in actual historical practice. I have encountered many other similar situations, but this one serves to specify one ideal-type of a “carrier of diversity.” This type, I argue, can in turn set the stage for developing other types to compare with in delineating ways to deal with diversity in Germany.

5 Sorge um die Seele: pastoral care of the soul

Let me start with a vignette from my fieldwork to illustrate one way to deal with diversity within the police.

In 2004 I participated in a gathering organized by the inspector in charge of hiring “candidates from non German backgrounds” as he called them. He had invited “his” recruits and officers. When we met, he had been organizing these gatherings once a year for ten years.

The participants, some wearing their uniform, others not, all sat in a circle around a table set with candles, tea, and snacks, after a day at the police academy or during a shift. The inspector in charge started by reading an email written by a German Turkish policewoman who regretted not making it. She described in a moving way how she had made her way through the police ranks and her family’s reaction to her job. The inspector then invited the participants, all of whom he knew, to share their experiences and problems; this was to be followed by an open discussion and finally comments on his part.

The inspector’s obvious care combined with the unique atmosphere (the setting reminded me of a moment of reflection typical of the Advent in Germany), [11] were admittedly more reminiscent of a pastoral meeting than the ones typically described in the police managerial literature on diversity. The meeting might have called to mind the work of a police chaplain, not the work of a uniformed police officer. And although there was no explicit religious motivation underlying the meeting, the religious atmosphere must have struck the officer in charge himself for he felt the need to state, in an assertive manner, as though getting a manful grip on himself, “we’re not doing pastoral care!” [12]

It seems instructive that the inspector—and the sociologist—was reminded of pastoral care of the soul (Seelsorge). Indeed, two important aspects of the situation, which calls the Seelsorge to mind, can be underscored: the scrutiny of one’s conscience and the guidance of the conscience of others.

When the inspector asks: “What’s your problem?” participants are incited to share their experiences and reflect upon them. They confide in the inspector. Let’s be clear: it proves extremely difficult for recruits and police officers (and even for the carriers of diversity themselves) to talk about some issues. Problems such as racism or discrimination are taboo in the police (see Liebl 2004; Behr 2006: 80), a taboo that seems to be reinforced through the donning of the uniform, the esprit de corps, and the idea that all officers who make it through the stiff entry test and training are all the same.

But let’s get back to what is at the center of our interest, the inspector’s role as a guide; and the second aspect of the Seelsorge: the direction or guidance. During the whole meeting, the inspector in charge listens carefully while exerting a certain authority on his officers. In contrast to group therapy, the discussion is protected and is not dependent upon the help of a professional stranger for, it seems important, the “counselor” is an officer; he is also a member of the group, yet not the immediate supervisor—as one would expect in the police. In contrast also to similar initiatives abroad as in again Canada or England, the recruits from post-migration backgrounds are not encouraged to congregate in particular groups or gather together as trade unions or associations; this is unthinkable for the inspector. [13] The officers are part of the group, but they need extra protection. [14] The inspector becomes their unofficial representative, acting on their behalf (Blom 2005: 40). He cares for them, taking extra time, mediating with superiors so officers can be freed to participate in the exchange and intervening in cases of harassment. He sees his role in the guidance of officers from post-migration backgrounds and in encouraging their full citizenship in the organization.

If I’m right in stating that one can talk of the pastoral care of the soul within the police, it neither takes place within the frame of church activities nor is it religiously motivated. [15] Indeed, the practice does not necessarily reflect the religiosity of the inspector. Rather, it could be referred to as a cultural Protestant cure of the soul. With the concept of Culture-Protestantism, I am alluding to a modern, liberal cultural synthesis as it was called at the beginning of the 20th century, which sought to mediate between Protestant reform and the modern world (Graf 1984: 217).

6 Ideal-types of carriers of diversity

The observation that there is a convergence between a lack of strong institutional foundations and a Christian model for dealing with the other that is characteristic of this particular context, the German police, was confirmed by similar experiences during my fieldwork. That being said, the meeting and techniques described above would have no doubt irritated officers in charge of similar initiatives in other police departments—as well as some sociological observers. Because it does not bode well with the image of a police inspector and modern secularity, this observation is surprising and points to other actors and channels.

Following a Weberian tendency, we can ask: “who can” deal with diversity? Indeed, the availability of a group is of sociological relevance as it implies an array of distinct action-orientations (Kalberg 1994: 61). The “carriers of diversity” can be found in different guises. There are of course the obvious candidates at the level of management: the representatives of all sorts dealing with gender mainstreaming, equal treatment, and trade union issues; however, they have yet failed to reach their stated goal and to establish a “spirit” of diversity. One could also be inclined to think police chaplains, as specialists of ethical issues, would be in charge of issues related to diversity. This did not prove to be the case, though there are exceptions, and pastors and priests alike—not necessarily police chaplains—are often welcomed speakers when it comes to issues such as religious difference, tolerance, or human rights. Besides certain recruitment initiatives, another channel turned out to be political education (politische Bildung) at police academies, a subject where a lot of energy is devoted to addressing issues of basic and human rights and where people devoted to the democratization of the police can be found. [16]

In contrast to those acting out of empathy for fellow officers as depicted in the first case, a second type of carrier could be characterized by commitment to a principle such as police professionalism, basic or human rights, or the democratization of the police. Alternatively, opportunism and career advancement can also play a role. If I often encountered during my fieldwork a combination of the motivations underlying the types, I notice that the inspector either became committed to the police recruits and their incorporation, or drew, in a much more disinterested fashion, on other traditions, such as an old form of liberalism, stressing an idea, the basic rights, not the welfare of individuals. [17] Beyond their diverging motives, all the inspectors interviewed sought the development of a German, yet heterogeneous culture. [18] Interestingly, this conception is also largely shared by police researchers in Germany (see my review of Raphael Behr’s book Polizeikultur. Routine - Rituale - Reflexionen. Bausteine zu einer Theorie der Praxis der Polizei, in this issue), which attests to the “spirit” of diversity.

If the development of a German yet heterogeneous culture corresponds to the “spirit” of diversity in the German police, its carriers envision the concrete “management” of diversity in different ways and would not always approve of their colleagues’ visions. The type committed to individuals tends to favor more difference within the organization and is more open to new institutions. The type characterized by its commitment to a principle (the disinterested one) tends towards more assimilation. Instead of creating special structures for police with post-migration backgrounds, he typically stresses the need to be vigilant to avoid possible discrimination. Because there are no formal structures underlying their efforts, the carriers of diversity have no easy job. The endeavors of those promoting difference or fighting discrimination may, in particular, remain a personal struggle.

7 Conclusion: dilemmas pertaining to the initiatives

Diversity, understood beyond its management as the development of a German, yet heterogeneous culture, corresponds, in the sociological idiom, to the intended and unintended consequences of the action of police officers. For the inspectors observed and interviewed (as opposed to the ideal-types), the consequences of their actions confront them with real problems and dilemmas. As Max Weber pointed out, the relationship between the intentions and their consequences always takes us back to the existential dimension of the individual in typological sociology. [19]

The inspectors are often criticized within their own ranks. Colleagues fear that their behavior might change and that they would show too much sympathy for the recruits and officers from post-migration backgrounds; in other words, one was afraid they would “go ethnic.” The inspectors interviewed reported being often perceived as a “strange species” or as one of “them.” Through his work with people from post-migration backgrounds, one officer reported having gone through a change in the eyes of his colleagues, as though he had converted from “Saul to Paul.” [20] But commenting himself on a fellow police officer in charge of recruitment of candidates from post-migration backgrounds the same inspector said: “With his beard he does not look like a real police officer anymore.” [21] This situation is not unlike the one confronting recruits and officers from post-migration backgrounds (Blom 2005: 201): the inherent tension between the work of the carriers and the police “we-ideal” (Elias 1996) forces those here referred to as carriers of diversity to constantly reassert their identity as police officers, such as in the donning of the uniform, even when this is not required.

Criticism also comes from self-declared progressive academics who bemoan that the officers paternalize recruits from post-migration backgrounds. In mediating between the officers from post-migration backgrounds and the police, the case of the officers under study points to the dilemmas and ambivalences of the bridging function (Certeau 1998: 128) the inspectors assume: they both unite and separate; they incorporate young officers from post-migration backgrounds while threatening their autonomy. As such, the inspectors are important figures to look at in order to understand how diversity is being dealt with in Germany. Indeed, the work of the carriers of diversity points to issues of agency and advocacy and has various normative implications. The initiatives to recruit candidates from post-migration backgrounds raise moral issues for the inspectors, but also for the social scientists investigating an organization that occupies “a marginal position in any society that has pretensions to liberal democracy” (Waddington 2005 [1999]: 380).

Parties annexes