Convenient means of transportation in the Oberberg region: Stefan Willmes is often out and about on his e-bike.
Our village sheriff is all right!
Close to the citizens, contact persons day and night - this is what characterizes the work of the district service. Portrait of police officer Stefan Willmes, who is also popular with schoolchildren.
Streife editorial team

The path is not far. It's barely 50 meters from the police office in Bergneustadt town hall to the currywurst stand at the weekly market. Chief Superintendent Stefan Willmes takes quite a long time to walk the short distance to his favorite lunchtime snack. He is approached again and again. From a passer-by, for example, who wants to know how long his old gray driver's license is still valid. Or from an elderly lady who tells him what it was like to be the only woman at a police station in Cologne in the early 1960s. They are friendly conversations. Willmes often smiles. "We know each other," he says, which says a lot about his work, which is characterized by closeness to the citizens.

The 53-year-old has been working as a district officer since 2017 and is one of two in the city of 20,000 inhabitants. He joined the police force in 1988 and has been working in the Oberberg district since 1994. He is at home here, lives just five kilometers from where he works and usually arrives by bike in the morning.

NRW has 2,000 district officers: in purely mathematical terms, there is one for every 10,000 inhabitants. A working group is to present a concept for strengthening the district service by the end of the year. These officers are "the Swiss army knife of the police service", says the head of the working group, Ulrich Heuke. All-rounders in the best sense of the word. On foot patrol every day. Like Willmes in Bergneustadt.

"When I step out of the front door at just before 7 a.m., I'm in my area of responsibility," he says, "everyone in the village knows me."

He practically never turns off his work cell phone, he can be reached day and night. When pupils say about him: "That's our village sheriff, he's all right", it's particularly nice praise for Willmes. Pictures of kindergarten children hang on a wall in his office. "Thank you police" is written in spidery lettering on one of them.

Waning respect for the police, which is being lamented more and more frequently, has also been felt by Willmes recently: property damage and bullying. But controls and talks with parents have had a lasting effect, he emphasizes. Things have become noticeably quieter since the summer vacations. A fragile peace?

Most of the issues that the chief inspector deals with are "interpersonal issues in the neighborhood": the music is too loud, the hedge is too high, the car drives too fast through the 30 km/h zone. There is a lot of overlap with the responsibilities of the public order office. "Most of the time, it works with mediated discussions," says Willmes. The chaos caused by helicopter parents outside the town's six schools in the morning is one of his daily topics.

Bergneustadt, around 50 kilometers east of Cologne, presents itself as a tranquil place. Nevertheless, there are problematic neighborhoods and streets. Unemployment is an issue. Crime is also a concern for the district officers. For example, a series of garbage cans or used clothing containers were set on fire. Sometimes investigative work is required.

Willmes feels almost "personally offended" by crimes "in my city". When burglars broke into supermarkets and lottery shops to steal cigarettes some time ago, he drove through the city and lay in wait for nights on end. The perpetrators were later caught in the Düsseldorf area.


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