Discrepancies in security policies

This is what happens to unattended luggage in Bonn

Die Polizei hat den Bereich um die schwarze Tasche auf der Bank abgesperrt.

Die Polizei hat den Bereich um die schwarze Tasche auf der Bank abgesperrt.

Bonn. How should unattended luggage be handled and when should the police be informed? The police, Deutsche Bahn and Stadtwerke Bonn have differing strategies.

How dangerous are a blanket, an empty bottle and some hygiene products? They were the cause of a large police operation at the Bonn bus station in April. The reason: the items were in a closed rucksack that had been left on a bench in a bus stop. No one knew what was concealed on the inside and only a robot from the State Office of Criminal Investigation could resolve the situation. And then last Thursday, two unattended bags near the Federal Audit Office on Adenauerallee resulted in a similar large-scale operation.

Bonners have been aware that unattended luggage can be used in terrorist attacks since the attempted explosive attack at the Bonn main train station in December 2012. The Islamist, Marco G., deposited a pipe bomb in a travel bag on platform 1. However, the bomb did not explode. Today, in 2017, fear of terrorist attack is the greatest fear among Germans according to a recent survey by the insurance company R+V. Unaccompanied luggage should continue to cause uncertainty. How are such situations handled in Bonn? Is it always necessary to call the police or is this a hysterical reaction?

Federal police advise raising the alarm as quickly as possible

“We have the impression that citizens have a healthy sense of when to make an emergency call and when not,” says police spokesman, Robert Scholten. “Namely, when uncertainty remains, they usually call – and that’s exactly right.” In the current security situation, it is always appropriate to contact the police. Once at the scene, officers would then try to locate the bag’s owner. “Depending on where we are, we then perhaps make a short announcement or ask witnesses, who can tell us something about the owner.”

“Let’s take the city centre as an example: when there are no witnesses and the luggage is in an area with lots of people, colleagues would call bomb disposal after a few minutes,” says Scholten. It is irrelevant if it is a small bag or a large suitcase. The State Office does not want to say how often bomb disposal technicians from the State Office of Criminal Investigation have been active in Bonn to date, to protect its employees.

Deutsche Bahn advises observation first

At Bonn main train station, Deutsche Bahn advises personnel to first observe unattended luggage for a while. “If there is evidence – such as observations from witnesses – that the piece of luggage really was forgotten, it is treated as a lost item and taken to the nearest lost property station,” said a rail spokesman. “It can then be collected from there by the owner.” In all other cases, the police are informed.

However, the police advise they be informed immediately. “Travellers or rail employees should definitely call the police or Federal police,” says Martina Dressler from the Federal Police Inspectorate in Cologne. When the owner cannot be found after an announcement, the station would be either wholly or partially closed to both passengers and trains.

SWB takes more relaxed approach

While the Federal and Bonn police advise an emergency call in all cases of unattended luggage, the Stadtwerke Bonn (SWB) advises its passengers to take a different approach. “It would lead to a knee jerk and panic reaction,” says spokesman Michael Henseler, “if one advised that passengers should absolutely talk to our drivers about a lost item.” Those who are very uncertain could approach the driver at the next stop, “but that is the highest measure one should take.”

Most items left in the SWB’s buses and trains are taken by drivers to lost property. Each day, dozens of items are found. This year, SWB employees contacted the control centre 18 times because they were unsure about luggage items found. In two cases, witness statements allowed the items to be dealt with by the employees themselves. In 15 cases, the police took over. A bus had to be evacuated in only one case, to look at a luggage item without putting passengers in danger.

SWB drivers are regularly trained on current topics, including early detection of dangers, said Henseler.

(Original text: Alexander Grantl / Translated by Kate Carey)