The Cologne sex attackers could feel emboldened to carry out new attacks because they have little to fear from the police or the justice system, police union DpolG warned on Wednesday.
“It is highly uncertain whether in the case of the Cologne attacks even one conviction will be made,” union chief Rainer Wendt told the Passauer Neue Presse.
If the offenders are not caught “they will feel absolutely emboldened to commit such acts again in the shadow of anonymity,” he cautioned.
Anger has raged across Germany over the past 36 hours as details emerged of mass sexual harrassment of women in central Cologne on New Year's Eve by a large group of men police and witnesses say were of Arab or north African appearance.
Police in Cologne have received around 90 reports so far, with more from other cities including Hamburg and Stuttgart under similar circumstances taking the total up to 118.
Wendt also said that police lacked the personnel to make effective enquiries, adding that CCTV footage didn’t always provide proof of a crime.
'Can't blame police'
The union chief also defended Cologne police from accusations from Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière that they had failed in their duty to protect.
"You can't criticize the police," he said. "They simply were able to continually clear the area with the number of officers they had available."
On Wednesday morning de Maizière told public broadcaster ARD that "the square [outside the cathedral] was cleared – and then later these events happen and they wait for emergency calls. The police can't work this way."
With no arrests or even leads so far, authorities are struggling to make themselves heard when they insist there is no known link to recently arrived refugees.
"No-one should use the attacks to discredit refugees wholesale," said Justice Minister Heiko Maas.
"If there were asylum seekers among the perpetrators, that is far from a reason to place all refugees under general suspicion."
But for many conservatives and people on the far-right, news of the events in Cologne has confirmed rumours coursing online in recent months of increasing numbers of sexual crimes by Muslims in Germany.
Battle lines drawn over media coverage
Almost as great a scandal as the attacks themselves has been thefailure of national newspapers and public broadcasters to report on themuntil days after the event.
Little was heard of the New Year's Eve attacks beyond local media in Cologne until three days later on Monday.
It was "a scandal that it took days for the public media to take up the reports," former Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said, accusing journalists of operating a "cartel of silence and lockdown of news".
"A report on suspicion that's not covered by solid research isn't only incompatible with the principles of responsible journalism, but inflammatory in terms of security policy," German Journalists' Union president Frank Überall responded.
And Tagesspiegel online editor Markus Hesselmann tweeted that "the lesson from Cologne is not to report faster, but to report more exactly, more sensibly, more reliably. All that usually means slower."