The unarmed patrols organized by a far-right group known as Résistance Helvétique (Helvetian Resistance) were carried out in the central neighbourhoods of Cornavin, Les Pâquis, Plainpalais and Saint-Jean on Sunday.
On their website, the group, which says it wants to defend ancestral Helvetian values, stated their aim with the patrols was not to set up a civilian militia; rather it was to provide a “link” in the public security chain.
But local shopkeepers in the Plainpalais neighbourhood appeared both puzzled and shocked by the presence of the group. “I don't feel insecure at all. I think if people don't feel safe, it's up to the police to their job,” one shopkeeper told the news site 20 minutes.
“It's not their job to take action. What happens if they get involved in a brawl and injure someone,” a grocer told the news site.
'Sad and unnecessary'
Justin, an Australian expat living in the area told the Local he did not personally feel unsafe in the Plainplais neighbourhood – also the home to a lively art and café scene – but did note there were “a lot of people standing around in the shadows and selling drugs”.
He “would not be surprised”, he said, if there were people who were nervous about walking at night across the Plainpalais diamond – as the huge open space in the neighbourhood is known locally.
“It's sad that these people feel they need to do this [carry out citizen patrols]. It's unnecessary too. But the group are probably getting some kind of response from some people,” Justin said.
“When you look at where the groups were going, it seems to be less affluent neighbourhoods, like the sex district of Les Pâquis, and maybe they are playing into people's fears and xenophobia,” he added.
Not breaking the law
Meanwhile, Résistance Helvétique spokesperson David Rouiller has defended the group's actions, telling 20 minutes that people had complained to them about urban decay in the city centre.
He also defended the decision of group members to wear the Swiss Cross armbands in the face of accusations it might scare people, saying he did not know of any street gang that used the symbol. The group aimed to “reassure people” not scare them.
People should instead fear the “dealers who stink of drugs from miles away,” Rouiller said, adding the police were not doing enough to deal with crime.
Geneva police responded to news of the Sunday security patrols by saying that while Swiss law does not allow for the formation of militias, as long as the group limited itself to calling the emergency 117 number it was acting within the law.