The police registered more crimes in Germany last year than at any time since 2016. The proportion of foreign suspects is high. All of this also raises political questions. According to the police crime statistics (PKS) for 2023, violent crime, among other things, has increased. Federal Interior Minister Nancy Faeser (SPD) nevertheless emphasizes: “Germany remains one of the safest countries in the world.”

Long-term consequences of the pandemic, inflation and immigration

According to the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), three factors could have played a role in 2023: the aftereffects of the corona pandemic, high inflation and strong immigration within a short period of time, which can lead to difficult living conditions for individuals and poorer chances of integration.

In 2023, around 5.94 million crimes were statistically recorded nationwide. That is 5.5 percent more than in the previous year. Even if violations of immigration law are not taken into account, the increase is still 4.4 percent. There were no significant tightening of laws last year that could explain the higher number of registered crimes.

In 2022, the increase in crime was even higher: At that time, the police registered around 5.63 million crimes, which corresponded to an increase of 11.5 percent.

Pandemic consequences as a brake and then as an amplifier

However, the Corona effect still played a strong role here. Because of the government measures to contain the pandemic in 2020 and 2021, there were fewer opportunities for crimes in previous years – for example for pickpockets, because fewer people met in public spaces.

According to statistics, violent crime increased by 8.6 percent to almost 214,100 cases in 2023. It reached its highest level since 2007. The increase in foreign suspects was 14.5 percent, higher than that of German suspects, which rose by 2.2 percent. However, studies show that people are more likely to report a crime if they suspect that the alleged perpetrator is a foreigner.

According to the BKA, the consequences of the corona pandemic are still having an impact today. Firstly, the experts suspect catch-up effects – i.e. that crimes were committed later due to a lack of opportunity. Secondly, they point to studies that show that the psychological stress from the time when schools and universities were closed continued to affect young people even after the state measures had ended.

More than 13 percent of the suspects are minors

This may also partly explain another worrying finding: the number of underage criminals is increasing. While 13.4 percent of all suspects nationwide in 2022 belonged to the group of children and young people, last year their proportion rose to 13.8 percent. According to the information, the increase was particularly high among foreign minors. However, the proportion of non-German children and young people in the population also increased, primarily due to immigration. In addition, children of immigrants sometimes found it more difficult to successfully continue their education during the pandemic. Overall, they can rely less on help from their parents who did not attend school in Germany.

More robberies and home break-ins

The number of residential burglaries rose by around 18 percent in 2023 compared to 2022. However, the BKA emphasizes that the level of the pre-Corona year 2019 has not been reached. When it comes to violent crimes, the increase was greatest in robbery crimes at 17.4 percent. Cases of rape, sexual assault and particularly serious sexual assaults increased by 2.4 percent, and assault offenses increased by around seven percent.

Researchers suspect a connection with inflation

According to crime researchers, inflation and its consequences could also have led to more crimes. At least the number of cases and suspects was higher in economically weaker regions, in cities and rural areas. “The increase in violent crime with more young suspects, an increased proportion of non-German suspects and significantly more residential burglaries makes it clear that the fight for prosperity has begun and the law of the strongest is becoming more popular,” says the chairman of the police union (GdP), Jochen Kopelke.

More foreigners than suspects and victims

The proportion of foreign suspects has increased by 2.5 percentage points and was 34.4 percent in 2023, if violations of immigration law are not taken into account. However, as in the previous year, the proportion of foreigners in the population has also increased. The BKA points out that the number of non-German suspects cannot simply be compared to the number of foreigners living in Germany. Crime statistics also include people without a residence permit, tourists, transients, visitors, cross-border commuters and stationed forces who are not part of the population as suspects.

The number of non-German victims of crime also rose sharply last year. Their number increased last year by 15.2 percent to almost 270,000 victims – and thus more than twice as much as the number of German victims, for which statistics show an increase of 6.4 percent to around 883,000 victims.

The BKA points to the difficult living situation in initial reception centers for asylum seekers and comes to the conclusion that the increase in crime is “not primarily linked to the whereabouts of migrants, but to the conditions of an acutely very extensive migration process.” Asylum seekers and refugees are more likely to experience risk factors such as economic insecurity and experiences of violence, says BKA President Holger Münch. Federal Interior Minister Faeser emphasizes that it is clear to her: “Anyone who doesn’t follow the rules has to leave.”

Gang war around Stuttgart

Experts are watching the brutal gang war in the Stuttgart area with concern. In recent months, young members of two rival groups have shot at each other there. One threw a grenade at a crowd of mourners. According to the BKA, local structures are usually more important than ethnic or family ties in such phenomena.

The German police absolutely want to avoid conditions like those in Sweden. The Scandinavian country is struggling with criminal gangs that finance themselves primarily through drug trafficking and fraud. Because of the gang conflicts, fatal shootings and explosive attacks occur again and again. It is not uncommon for bystanders to be shot.

Clearance rate slightly higher

At least there is some good news in the crime statistics for 2023: The proportion of crimes solved was 58.4 percent, 1.1 percentage points above the previous year’s value. That’s “little consolation,” says Faeser. Faeser finds the increase in crimes related to the drugs cocaine and crack by almost 30 percent worrying. The aim here is to prevent a negative development like in Belgium and the Netherlands. The BKA president emphasized that cocaine is no longer a drug of the elite in Germany.

The police’s initial statistics say nothing about the number of convictions

The annual statistics, for which the BKA collects data from the federal states, do not show how many of the suspects identified were ultimately convicted. And the reporting behavior of the population also influences the number of registered crimes. The statistics do provide some indication of the state of security in Germany. The PKS is “an instrument that you have to handle very carefully,” says Hartmut Aden, professor of public law from Berlin.

The chairman of the Conference of Interior Ministers, Brandenburg’s Interior Minister Michael Stübgen (CDU), demands that there must be clear signals from politicians that a future in Germany depends on whether someone is prepared to adhere to law and order. “We must not draw the wrong conclusions and rabidly call for the laws to be tightened,” warns the Green Party chairman in the Interior Committee, Marcel Emmerich. “It is also true that there is often a lack of staff, especially at train stations and airports, and we can do more in terms of prevention.”