For German police, sexual attacks in Cologne point to a new reality

Working from outdated expectations, the police made a series of miscalculations that, officials acknowledge, allowed the situation to deteriorate. At the same time, both the police and victims say, it was not a situation any of them had encountered before. This was new terrain for all, and just one taste of the challenges facing Germany and its leader, Chancellor Angela Merkel, to assimilate a huge new population in an atmosphere of dwindling tolerance and volatile politics…

Visitors to evening Mass in Cologne Cathedral, just across the square from the train station, told reporters in subsequent days that by 7 p.m. the noise from fireworks outside was so loud that they could not hear the priest, who was using a microphone.

By 9 p.m., as many as 500 youths, some of them very drunk, were growing ever more reckless in hurling fireworks at people and buildings, threatening panic. But the commanding officer at the scene declined an offer of more than 80 reinforcements, who could have been in Cologne in an hour, according to Bernd Heinen, a senior police official, who criticized the commander for failing throughout the night to look ahead and anticipate a worsening situation.

By 10:20, 10 additional officers were sent to the square. About an hour later, as the crowd swelled to nearly 1,500 and the police assessed that “the mood grew increasingly aggressive,” the police commander decided to clear the square and block entrances to the station, but still did not request the extra unit of officers.