Integrating the Vienna Police

A new initiative hopes to bring in more officers with an international background, who are at ease with the intercultural population of the city today

Thursday, 10th of April, 19:00. Several dozen 20-somethings were filing into the Landespolizei Direktion on Schottenring to learn about a possible career with the Vienna Police. “We’re hoping to attract some new blood,” said HR manager Claudia Holzgruber. “We see this as a chance to bring in a fresh perspective.” The core competencies, she says: “Empathy, reliability and professionalism.”

As the city has become more diverse – with 40% of Vienna residents reporting a so-called “migration background” – the police have made an effort to recruit people from minority cultures. “We have several colleagues of  Eastern and Southeastern European descent as well as a couple of Turkish and Afghani police officers,” Holzgruber said, without giving exact figures. “I am sure you can find every minority present which makes it easier to act according to our core competencies towards everyone.”

However several officers admitted that the numbers were still too low: “With society changing so fast, it has been hard to keep up,” one confessed. In part, this is due to negative attitudes towards the police in some communities, and in part, of course, the language barrier. As a result, there are few minority applicants: Only 20% have a migration background. So far, recruitment efforts have not focused on improving this number, but the police stress that they are open for everyone and that diversity has been rising in recent years.

KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON

Overall, the Vienna police have a reputation for calm, and large public gatherings, street fairs, sporting events or demonstrations rarely include incidents of unrest. “Knowledge of foreign languages is a great asset when we are out on the streets,” says Mladen Mijatovic, head of the police’s minority relations program. Born in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Mijatovic arrived in Vienna as a war refugee at the age of six. He joined the police in 2007, serving in a variety of capacities at home and abroad, takes minority concerns very seriously.

“Discrimination or racism should never affect the work of a police officer,” he said. “In the first place, we deal with humans. If there is a crisis, it is not so difficult to understand what needs to be done first.”

One of the requirements for becoming a police officer is having Austrian citizenship and that affects the composition of potential recruits. Many descendants of former Serbian or Turkish guest workers have become Austrians and thus are increasingly represented in the ranks of the police, while the English-speaking community isn’t, as most retain their original passports.

For us, it’s crucial that we are open to everybody, as long as the requirements are fulfilled,” underlines Mijatovic, who also serves in the Austrian Foreign Ministry (BMEIA) as EU Ambassador for Integration. In practice, that means working with those who have been living in the country for a long time and have become citizens.

… AND PRACTICE OUR ENGLISH

Still, the image of the international community is positive with the majority of the officers, who see expats as interesting and fun people with whom they can test their English skills. “Someone once tried to take their bike on the Bim (i.e. the Strassenbahn),” said officer Alexander Weghofer, who joined the police force 10 years ago, “Ignorance of the law is no excuse, but a warning can sometimes be enough.” And, he added with a grin, “English plus Google translator can get you pretty far.”

Fausia Abdoel
Fausia Abdoel lives in Vienna and is a marketing manager, writer and translator who holds several degrees and has worked for companies and organizations such as Fairfood International and the Egyptian Tourism Authority. She speaks and writes in six different languages and is currently working on a book.
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