Nearly 30 police officers in Germany have been suspended after members of a force shared pictures of Adolf Hitler, black people being shot and depictions of refugees in gas chambers, prompting alarm at the extent of far-right infiltration within law enforcement networks.
Some among the 29 North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) officers are also accused of using far-right chatrooms where extremist content was shared that breaches Germany’s constitution, such as Swastikas and other Nazi symbolism, Reuters reported.
Eleven of the suspects could be charged with disseminating Nazi propaganda and hate speech and 14 will likely be dismissed from the police. Eighteen are accused of failing to report their colleagues.
“This is a disgrace for the NRW police,” said NRW interior minister Herbert Reul.
Mr Reul described the 126 images shared to at least five online WhatsApp groups used entirely or largely by police officers as the “ugliest, most despicable, neo-Nazi, racist refugee baiting”.
One of those groups apparently was set up in 2012, and the one that contained the most images, in 2015. The most recent message was sent on 27 August.
While politicians and officials have so far been reticent to acknowledge far-right infiltration within law enforcement as organised networks, insisting those uncovered previously were individual cases, Mr Reul was reported as saying: “Today, I can no longer speak of individual cases.”
The minister pledged to set up a special inquiry in Essen, where most of the suspects worked, and voiced plans to appoint a special envoy for “far-right extremist tendencies” to devise ways of detecting extremism early within the state’s police force.
“We have to ask unpleasant questions of ourselves,” he added. “Who knew about this? Why was this tolerated for years? By whom?”
“I’m appalled and ashamed,” said Frank Richter, chief of Essen’s police force. “It is hard to find words.”
The WhatsApp groups were discovered when a 32-year-old NRW police officer’s personal mobile phone was confiscated during a separate probe into whether he had passed confidential information about an organised crime group to a journalist, local media reported.
Some 200 investigators raided the homes and workplaces of 14 of the 29 suspended officers in at least five towns and cities on Wednesday morning, seizing phones and “extensive” evidence on memory devices.
Mr Reul said he expected more cases were likely as the seized evidence was investigated.
Most of the officers allegedly involved worked at some point at the same police precinct in Muelheim an der Ruhr, Mr Reul said. All 29 were suspended with immediate effect on Wednesday, and disciplinary proceedings opened.
It comes amid growing concern that far-right nationalists may be gaining a foothold in Germany’s uniformed services.