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Police chief disputes need for federal force

Jörg Schild, Basel City police director, accepts the government and cantons should have prepared better for the G-8 summit.

(Keystone)

One of Switzerland's top police bosses says the country does not need a federal police force to guarantee safety at the G-8 summit, which is due to take place on Lake Geneva.

Jörg Schild, Basel City police director, told swissinfo that banning masked demonstrators from taking part in anti-globalisation protests was also unnecessary.

The G-8 summit is due to take place from June 1-3 in the French town of Evian, just across the border with Switzerland.

Massive protests are planned during the meeting, with up to 100,000 demonstrators expected to take part in a march in Geneva on June 1.

Switzerland's decision to draft in 1,000 German police to keep order during the protests has sparked controversy, especially as the country backtracked on an earlier statement that it would not be asking for German reinforcements.

Critics say the difficulty in mobilizing cantonal police forces on a nationwide scale has highlighted weaknesses in the country's policing system.

Schild, who is also the president of the coordinating body for Switzerland's cantonal police forces, does not believe this is the case, but he accepts that the government and cantons should have prepared better.

swissinfo: The cantons do not seem to have enough security forces to cover such a huge event, plus it seems that the preparations undertaken by the cantons concerned - Geneva, Vaud and Valais - have not gone smoothly. What's your view on this?

Jörg Schild: The G-8 summit has shown us that Switzerland does not have enough capacities when it comes to mustering police forces for large events. I think we have a shortfall of around 1,000 people. A project on reassessing internal security in Switzerland has reached the same conclusion.

The cantons have suggested supporting existing forces by building up a type of riot police. They would all get the same training and the federal authorities could "hire" them from the cantons for a fee.

The preparations for the G-8 summit did not always go smoothly. Both the federal authorities and the cantons were surprised when first 500 and then 1,500 extra men were demanded within a day.

swissinfo: What is the solution?

J.S.: We do not need any new institutions or instruments. We only have to make better use of the existing ones. The canton of Graubünden coped well with the World Economic Forum (WEF), but they have experience [of policing such an event] and an international city like Geneva should have the same level of experience.

swissinfo: How do you react to public calls for a federal police force for dealing with events such as the G-8 summit?

J.S.: Due to my background I can understand that people want a federal bureau for criminal investigation in order to work on a more federal level. But I don't think a federal police force is the best solution for internal security and I doubt that it would have a chance politically.

swissinfo: How many police officers would you need in total for something like the G-8 meeting?

J.S.: I don't think we should measure everything by the G-8 summit. Events like this only happen once every ten years.

Constitutionally and legally I cannot dispute the need for German police officers. We have individual agreements with neighbouring countries because we are not part of other international organisations. However, I am still not sure whether it is a good idea for foreign police forces to be deployed in Switzerland.

And why should a country stage an event like the G-8 summit. It will only paralyse the whole region and other areas will have to do without the necessary security forces just to protect a few politicians.

swissinfo: Do you think the ban on demonstrators wearing masks could stir things up further?

J.S.: We also have a mask ban in Basel and I must say that it's probably one of the most useless things you can do. In reality, you can't really put it into practice because the masked people are often in the middle of a demonstration.

swissinfo: What’s your wish for the demonstration weekend?

J.S.: I would like to see the day go by without violence. I cannot understand why people can’t demonstrate peacefully and after all everyone has a right to demonstrate.

swissinfo, Rita Emch (translation: Isobel Johnson)

In brief

Jörg Schild, Basel City police director, disputes claims that difficulties in preparing for the G-8 summit showed weaknesses in the system.

Schild does accept, however, that the government and cantons should have been better prepared.

He estimates the Swiss police forces are around 1,000 people short overall.

Schild denies a federal police force is the best solution for dealing better with large-scale events.

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