Camera in Grafenwöhr bar district spots crime – but not this time
Stars and Stripes July 3, 2012
GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — When local police mounted a surveillance camera over a stretch of bars and restaurants outside the Army post here, they hoped to deter the regular fistfights involving soldiers and be able to identify those involved.
It did them little good early Sunday morning. Shortly before a brawl that sent two U.S. soldiers to the hospital with broken noses, the camera turned off in accordance with strict privacy regulations.
So it goes along Alte Amberger Strasse in Grafenwöhr, a small town with little to offer soldiers. Fistfights are common outside the bars, especially on Friday and Saturday nights.
Police installed the surveillance camera in early June. However, data privacy regulations restrict when the camera can be on — only during hours when the area is considered a crime hotspot. So, while it is on when the bars are open, it is turned off some time after they close, according Werner Stopfer, deputy chief of the Eschenbach police.
“Unfortunately, the video camera did not film what happened,” Stopfer said. The video camera switched off automatically minutes before the fight moved into range shortly before 6 a.m.
“Especially Friday and Saturday nights, conflicts in this area are relatively normal,” Stopfer said, but added, “normally, after 5 (a.m.) at the latest, we do not have conflicts of this kind anymore on the streets.”
The two soldiers fought with five to seven unidentified men, according to the Eschenbach police. One was kicked and beaten repeatedly while down, and both suffered broken noses, police said.
Two of the men were apprehended, and police continue to look for the others.
The soldiers are with the 172nd Separate Infantry Brigade, brigade commander Col. Edward T. Bohnemann confirmed. He called the fight “stupid” and said both men are recovering.
With the recent return of the post’s largest combat unit from a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan, U.S. military and German police are trying to throw a wider net over the area.
”We are putting more of an emphasis on patrolling the entertainment district,” said Lt. Col. Scott Harbison, director of Emergency Services on post.
Harbison said he met with local police chiefs to discuss the influx of soldiers, and said both sides continue to share information on the bars, clubs and restaurants frequented by soldiers.
His office passed much of that information along to the brigade before its return, Harbison said.
“We were able to tell the 172nd rear detachment … ‘These are the places we have traffic accidents; these are the clubs; these are the places your soldiers are going to get in trouble, just like they did three years ago when they got back from Iraq,’ ” he said.
The 172nd sends “courtesy patrols” pairs of senior NCOs or officers who try to deter violence and report it to MPs when they see it — which have increased with the unit’s return, he said. Military police, too, have stepped up patrols, he said.
Harbison said that despite the limitations on when the camera is operational, it is functional during the most important times of the night and he believes it will be helpful.
Signs on all four corners advise in German and English that the street is under surveillance. Stopfer believes cameras can have a deterrent effect, though he acknowledged that some may not be deterred, noting a recent incident when two drunken young men urinated on a police car. They were swiftly identified by the officer monitoring the live video feed.
John Goudriaan, owner of Classic Rock Café, one of the street’s quieter bars, said fights have been occurring as long as he’s been on Alte Amberger, nearly 38 years. The 1970s and ’80s were even worse, he said, as many of the units visiting Grafenwöhr for training were allowed off post. Now all are kept in the camps, he said.
The past year has been a quiet one due to the 172nd’s deployment, he noted.
Goudriaan, 65, thinks the camera could help, although he says it’s too early to know. Regardless, he said, fights will always be a part of life here.
“Major fights are rare,” he said. “Most of the time, it’s two guys hitting on the same chick. It’s always going to be that way. It’s human nature.”
Those with information on the Sunday fight are asked to call 09645-92040.