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43% of Criminals in Hamburg...; or Why Germans Are So Ignorant About Crime in Their Country

Much debate in Germany revolves around the question of whether foreigners commit more crimes than Germans. Whenever this subject comes in mainstream German television talk shows, the responses fall into four predictable categories:

  • Those on the center-left (and everyone to the left of them) get up on their hind legs and immediately start lobbing rhetorical smoke-bombs about "over-generalizations" and "stoking prejudice" and "doing a disservice to the millions of hard-working...", etc.
  • Those on the far right consider all immigrants potential criminals, but hardly care, since they would oppose even the most law-abiding immigrants because they want to keep Germany Deutsch. However, their views don't really matter, since people this far right are never given a chance to air their views on mass media.
  • Those on the center-right do occasionally mention statistics, but are too afraid of being labeled xenophobic to say anything specific. They quickly revert to waffle about "criminal structures", "inadequate integration", "challenging and supporting", etc.
  • Those on the right (including the AfD, which contrary to common belief does not (g, pdf) oppose all immigration) say what the numbers show: that foreigners are over-represented in crime statistics. Representatives of this political tendency were almost never invited onto German talk shows until the rise of the AfD made this inevitable. Aside from the AfD, the only other talk-show guests who mention this are are representatives of the Hungarian or Polish or Czech governments who are invited to be the ceremonial punching bag of everyone else on the show, including the moderator.

These programmed responses and euphemisms make informed debate on this issue nearly impossible. One by-product is that most Germans have no idea that foreigners are vastly over-represented in German crime statistics. Dozens of times, I pointed this fact out in class, only to be challenged by students who didn't believe the numbers, some accusing me of "peddling right-wing propaganda". Needless to say, all of the students were keenly aware that blacks are over-represented in American prisons relative to their numbers in the population. Yet they had no idea the same thing was happening in their own country.

So now, in the service of just plain information, a story that appeared in the Hamburger Abendblatt newspaper a few weeks ago, then quickly fell down the memory hole. The report was based on a confidential police report leaked to the newspaper. The story appears to be pay-walled, but a confidential source furnished me with the paper originals at a 4 AM meeting in an abandoned parking garage, in return for guarantees of confidentiality and a substantial cash payment. I can now reveal the following statistics:

  • In the first half of 2106, Hamburg police investigated 38,000 criminal suspects.
  • Of these, 16,600, or 43%, did not have German nationality.
  • 3882 suspects, or 9.5% of the total, were "refugees" (that is, recent migrants)
  • These numbers do not reflect offenses merely against immigration laws, those were removed from the calculation to avoid distortion.
  • In all of 2015, Hamburg authorities investigated 68,868 criminal suspects, of which 28,400 (41 percent) were foreigners.
  • The crimes most often committed by refugees were assault (1014 cases). Refugees were also responsible for 30.6% of all thefts and 27.5% of all drug smuggling and distribution offenses.
  • Refugees also committed 18.2% of all cases of "sexual insult" and 18.9% of all more serious sexual offenses. A majority of these cases resulted from New Years' Eve in Hamburg.

There are currently about 25,000 refugees in Hamburg, out of a population of 1,814,597 (g) million. So refugees are 1.37% of the population. But it sure looks like they are committing crimes way out of proportion to the raw numbers.

We can't say exactly how over-represented refugees are among criminals in Hamburg, since it's entirely possible a single refugee enriched the crime stats with 7 pickpocketings, 3 simple assaults, and one sexual assault. This is known to police and criminologists as the 80/20 rule of thumb: 80 percent of all crimes are committed by 20% of the people; 80% of all police calls are to the most unruly 20% of the city, etc.

Without a detailed breakdown of the identity of the offenders, we can't know for certain just how disproportionate the rate of crime among refugees is. And of course cops and politicians will use this gap in the knowledge -- which they themselves created -- to constantly muddle the issue: "This doesn't necessarily mean refugees are more criminal, because it just might be a small number of refugees committing most of these crimes." Kind of like the boy who killed his parents and threw himself on the mercy of the court as an orphan. This also raises the question of why Germany imported these one-man crime waves and allows them to stay, but those are questions for another post.

It should also be remembered that there is some unknown number of people who have German citizenship, and are thus accounted for as German nationals, but were not born in Germany. German authorities intentionally fail to keep records on these numbers, but they're probably at least another 15-20% of criminals.

So, to sum up, here are a few : Most immigrants aren't criminals, but most criminals are immigrants, or were not born in Germany. Most immigrants are law-abiding, but immigrants as a whole commit crimes at a much higher rate than Germans.

See, now you know the truth. Let it set you free!

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