Even before the Bochum criminologist Tobias Singelnstein published the first number of his study on illegal police violence, was from the ranks of the police trade unions criticism.
The NRW state chairman of the German Police Union (DPolG) Erich Rettinghaus said he did not believe in useful results, after all, the survey was anonymous. DPolG Bundeschef Rainer Wendt spoke of a "so-called study". The union of the police (GdP) Bavaria spreads wrong allegations: It would be 1000 people questioned, a check whether they fill out the on-line questionnaire several times, did not take place.
Singelnstein's study is indeed worthy of discussion. It is not representative - so it is not easy to generalize. It also deals with a phenomenon that is difficult to distinguish: at what point is police violence unlawful? Actions that are brutal for those affected can be legal in the eyes of a prosecutor. All this is important to remember when discussing the results.
But the criticism of some trade unionists aimed to discredit the project from the outset. The study was denied any credibility. This is wrong because it prevents a serious argument.
And the criticism is not credible.
Six years ago, a study on violence against police officers from North Rhine-Westphalia was published. The scientists worked with similar methods to Singelnstein: they interviewed police officers anonymously with an online questionnaire. One result: A good 18 percent of respondents said they had not filed a complaint - for example, because they assumed that the procedure would have been discontinued anyway.
"Here, significantly more burdens are recorded than in the nationwide situation," commented the then NRW Interior Minister Ralf Jäger. "The day-to-day work of police officers is even more dangerous and stressful than the bare numbers suggest."
The unions applauded. Singelnstein critic Rettinghaus of the DPolG called the results at that time alarming, the then GdP chairman Arnold Plickert said that there should be no "keep it up". Nobody made method criticism. The officials were believed to have really experienced violence.
This is different in the case of the Singelnstein study. You do not believe the people first.
This is part of the problem when it comes to police violence: even the dispute with it is denied by parts of the police. One wonders, "from which motivation the compilation of such a study takes place", wrote the GdP Bavaria. Justice and police would be put in a completely wrong light. As if the study itself was an insult.
The investigation is important. It describes police violence from the point of view of those affected in Germany in detail for the first time. There are already studies on the violence experienced by police officers - the other way round it should not exist? Anyone who argues like that measures with double standards.
The significance of the investigation is mainly due to a finding: Only nine percent of respondents who believed that they were victims of illegal police violence filed a complaint. The rest did not do it. Especially because the participants assumed that this had no consequences for the police anyway.
Much of the alleged victims thus decided against legal action. The findings document how great the mistrust of our constitutional state is in this matter.
Why is that? Do we need external investigators, as they have long been in other European countries? What about the labeling requirement? That officials are not always clearly identifiable, according to the study prevents advertisements, because the alleged victims can not recognize the officials. And even if they take legal action, public prosecutor's offices stop such proceedings because the suspect can not be determined beyond doubt.
Old questions like these are up-to-date after the study has been published. It's about weaknesses in the system and how to fix them - not a general suspicion.