Fiery exchanges at public meeting on capital security
Residents of Luxembourg’s Gare district hit out at officials during a heated meeting on Wednesday evening to express their anger over a lack of security in the area – just one month after the council said it would not renew a contract for private security agents to patrol the streets.
Almost a hundred people attended the exchange at the sports hall on rue de Strasbourg and around a dozen locals took to the microphone, sharing testimonies of crime in the area.
The meeting came almost exactly a month after Luxembourg’s city council announced it would not renew the contract with G4S, which expired in mid-November. The council said it would consult residents before deciding on the next steps.
The hiring of private security agents in the capital last year caused a political split between the city authority and central government.
Participants applauded as locals spoke over the microphone on Wednesday evening. The first speaker directly addressed Public Prosecutor, Georges Oswald, asking him to "get down from his cloud". A handful of residents stepped up to share their experience of seeing crime in the neighbourhood, asking for more help from police enforcement as well as more resources to help those suffering from drug addictions or engaging in sex work, rather than displacing them to another area or arresting them.
But all complained of a lack of law enforcement in the area.
City and national authorities have long clashed over who should maintain public order on the streets of the capital, with the government arguing only the police should have that authority despite Luxembourg City Mayor, Lydie Polfer, hiring a private security firm last year to patrol the streets.
The council employed security teams after protesters in the Gare had taken to the streets, complaining they were not being taken seriously amid what they said were increases in crime and drug dealing in the neighbourhood.
However, Internal Security Minister Henri Kox slammed the decision, saying that "nothing justifies the privatisation" of security services to maintain public order.
Although Polfer signed a new contract with a private security firm in May, the arrangement came in for fresh scrutiny in September, when a guard dog belonging to one of the agents bit a member of the public. Luxembourg’s public prosecutor is continuing to investigate that incident.
Residents booed, made noise by beating saucepans and stood up in anger as Jean-Paul Reiter of the Foreign Affairs Ministry said that tackling crime in the area was a priority while pointing to recent measures which had been put in place such as increased police visibility, video-surveillance, and recruiting more police officers.
In October, Kox announced the hiring of an additional 1,000 police officers over the next five years. That promise, along with a government proposal on how to handle drug-related crime, had led to the council's decision not to extend the controversial contract, CSV alderman Serge Wilmes said in November.
The police made 195 arrests in 2020 and 2021 with an average of nine arrests per month, Patrick Even, the director for the capital region's police, told the audience on Wednesday evening. But some hit back, saying police officers had told them "they couldn't do anything" after locals had witnessed theft.
The public meeting on Wednesday also fell on the same day that a court hearing was scheduled in an ongoing legal challenge relating to the contracts.
The cases, jointly lodged by Ana Correia Da Veiga and Guy Foetz, two councillors for the left party (déi Lenk) on Luxembourg City Council, were taken against both the council and the Interior Ministry earlier this year.
The challenge against the council questions the legality of the contract and whether the city authority was acting within its rights in hiring private security agents, while the second case argues that Interior Minister Taina Bofferding should have used her powers to intervene to override the city council’s decision.
Despite the cancellation of the G4S contract, the councillors are continuing with their cases in an attempt to set a benchmark for future decisions on private security arrangements, Correia Da Veiga told The Luxembourg Times last month.
(Additional reporting by John Monaghan)