Press release

New Evidence Reveals Police in Europe Target Minorities Excessively

Date
May 26, 2009
Contact
Brooke Havlik
media@opensocietyfoundations.org
+1-646-402-9513

BRUSSELSPervasive use of ethnic and religious stereotypes by law enforcement across Europe is harming efforts to combat crime and terrorism, according to a report released today by the Open Society Justice Initiative.

Ethnic profiling occurs most often in police decisions about who to stop, question, search, and, at times, arrest. Yet there is no evidence that ethnic profiling actually prevents terrorism or lowers crime rates.

“Too many government officials equate security with harsh policing of minority communities,” said James A. Goldston, executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative. “With EU elections around the corner, European politicians should speak out against ethnic profiling and call for greater collaboration between minorities and police.”

Throughout Europe, minorities and immigrant communities have reported discriminatory treatment by the police. From massive data mining operations to intimidating identity checks, ethnic profiling is often more of a public relations stunt than a real response to crime. The report, Ethnic Profiling in the European Union: Pervasive, Ineffective, and Discriminatory, details widespread profiling in France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, and other EU member states.

“By relying on physical appearance as code for criminal propensity, ethnic profiling turns the presumption of innocence on its head,” said Goldston. “Current tactics not only alienate the very communities whose cooperation is most essential, they also undermine counterterrorism efforts across Europe. Fortunately, better alternatives exist.”

In 2006-2007, the Open Society Justice Initiative collaborated with municipal police in Fuenlabrada, a town on the outskirts of Madrid, Spain, in a pilot project that achieved dramatic results by moving away from ethnic profiling. In a six-month period the Fuenlabrada police stopped half the number of people, including far fewer minorities, and increased from 6 to 28 percent the number of stops that uncovered a crime or other infraction.

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The Open Society Justice Initiative, an operational program of the Open Society Institute, pursues law reform activities grounded in the protection of human rights, and contributes to the development of legal capacity for open societies worldwide. The Justice Initiative combines litigation, legal advocacy, technical assistance, and the dissemination of knowledge to secure advances in the following priority areas: anticorruption, equality and citizenship, freedom of information and expression, international justice, and national criminal justice. Its offices are in Abuja, Budapest, London, New York, and Washington, D.C.

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