Julia H.* has served in the Berlin police for more than 15 years and now works the beat around Görlitzer Bahnhof. In an exclusive off-the-record interview, the senior officer explains why the cops turn a blind eye to drug users and small-time dealers.
If no one pushed us, I don’t think any patrol officer would ever bother the small-time dealers. We know they’re just poor devils. They’re not a big deal – as long as they’re not hurting anyone. But then some press article comes out about Africans selling drugs at Görlitzer Park and people living in the area start saying, “The police don’t do anything!” Then our boss will say, “Do something.” So we have to show a presence in the park. But the dealers will only have a few grams each on them. They have larger amounts stashed away somewhere, but we would need to observe them for hours to find those.
We drove around the block a few times until she was done shooting up… then we took away the needle and reported, ‘Unfortunately, we arrived too late.’
The thing is, police officers have a duty to report crimes – if I catch someone with drugs, I have to write a complaint. But if I search someone and find two grams of weed, I don’t want to write five pages when I know that the prosecutor has to drop any case involving less than 10 grams. In a case like that, we would rather just throw it away, but we usually can’t because too many people are watching. We face a choice between useless paperwork and doing something illegal.
I remember getting calls about this one woman who was shooting up in banks around Kotti. We had to respond, but we were familiar with the woman, we knew she’d been to clinics a number of times and she just couldn’t get herself clean. Now: as long as there’s something in the syringe, that’s possession and we have to write a report. But once she’s done, there’s no more evidence of possession (it’s in her body) and therefore the charges have to be dropped.
So we have a choice. We can take away her drugs, but we know she’ll do anything to get more. Or we can drive around the block a few times until she’s done shooting up. Then we take away the (empty) needle and report, “Unfortunately, we arrived too late: there were no more drugs.”
Of course, there’s also the Bereitschaftspolizei (riot police), the ones who work at demonstrations and football matches… if there’s nothing else to do that day, they might organise a big raid at Görlitzer Park. But there’s no strategy there. That’s just a competition between the different units of the Bereitschaftspolizei to see how many criminal and misdemeanour charges you can get. “Oh, you got five charges today? Well I got seven!” But that isn’t real police work in my book.
Berlin’s drugs are moved by many different organised crime groups. The Hell’s Angels are active in neighbourhoods like Reinickendorf and Wedding. Neukölln is home to Arabic criminal families. They move the stuff you can buy on the street, marijuana and cocaine.
The motorcycle gangs also control the doors at a few clubs; they even did the doors at Berghain five or six years ago. But people don’t buy a lot of drugs at clubs – they bring them themselves. Bouncers usually know who is dealing and might get a kickback, but there’s not a lot of money involved. The Hell’s Angels withdrew from this kind of work because it wasn’t a good business for them.
There are sometimes raids at clubs, but those are just an alibi thing. In a club, it’s very difficult to prove anything. As soon as a police raid starts, the lights go on, word goes around and everyone throws their drugs on the floor – you find a lot of drugs, but nothing you can connect to any one person. No one gets charged with anything.
In Berlin, marijuana is already de facto legalised. Anyone who wants to smoke weed can smoke weed. Nothing will happen unless you act like a moron and light up a joint right next to a patrol officer – and even then, he’s only going to react because he’s worried he might get in trouble for not reacting.
All we can really do is try to frighten young people so they don’t start taking the drugs. But once they start, repression doesn’t help – no one has ever gone into therapy just because they were busted by police.
It is possible to push drugs out of one place, like Moritzplatz in Kreuzberg, but then you just push them into another: now the dealers are at Mierendorffplatz in Charlottenburg, where you’ll find used syringes at the playground. But it is good to keep up pressure on the distributors – without that, there would be more hard drugs and they would be extremely cheap.
Do we ever ‘confiscate’ drugs for ourselves? Not that I know of. I don’t think any police officer would want to take the shit they sell in the parks.
Originally published in Issue #116, May 2013.