Social Issues: Power & Profiling

Social Issues: Power & Profiling

How aware are you of the powers Dutch police have regarding proactive policing and racial profiling?

The belief system that proactive policing is built upon suggests that if minor crimes are left unnoticed, they will eventually escalate in to bigger, more serious crimes. Essentially, an ideology that it is best to prevent crimes before they happen.

The usual example is that it seems reasonable that one would wish to fix the broken windows in a run-down area before vandalism runs amuck, for instance. However, when might processes of proactive policing be problematic?

The problems of proactive profiling

Critical Collective, a group of concerned citizens and students, organised a talk Institutionalised Racism and Security in the Netherlands: What's the Real Story? at the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) in December.

An interesting discussion followed, where many substantial points were debated. Expert speakers including Gerbrig Klos, Senior Policy Officer from Amnesty International Netherlands, and media critic Abulhassan Al-Jaberi discussed the issues of power and profiling.

In particular, the main focus of discussion was Amnesty International’s recently published report, which concluded that ethnic profiling by police in the Netherlands "transcends the level of isolated incidents."

This October 2013 report "Proactive policing poses risks for human rights. Identifying and addressing ethnic profiling" (in Dutch) is an elaborate analysis of discretionary police powers and the occurrence of ethnic profiling in the Netherlands.

From their research, Amnesty believes that unregulated proactive policing, in particular, can lead to ethnic profiling. The report focuses particularly on ethnic profiling in proactive police checks in which citizens are controlled or stopped without probable cause.

Heightened racism in the Netherlands

Also brought to the discussion were comments by the national ombudsman, Alex Brenninkmeijer, who stated that "the political tide in the Netherlands is racist," and that politicians are not open to criticism.

These direct and harsh words were a response to the 2013 European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) report that was heavily critical of the Netherlands record on integration, especially its cutting of subsidies for anti-discrimination organisations.

Such reports can lead to the question, if people are not properly trained in diversity or there are only limited organisations to redress racism issues, how can abuses such as those of ethnic profiling be legitimately prevented?

The ECRI report pointed out that the Netherlands had made progress in addressing discrimination in some areas, i.e. segregation in schools, but was failing by not having a national action plan to address issues of racism.

Many believe this report’s findings confirm the existence of (institutionalised) Dutch racism. The report also brings a critical eye to the Dutch treatment of asylum seekers and migrant workers.

Social effect of ethnic profiling

As an international, you may ask, how does this relate to me? The bottom line is that racism affects everyone sooner or later.

You do not have to be an asylum seeker or a migrant worker to suffer the effects of racism, though these groups often bear the brunt of the abuse. Anyone deemed foreign, especially people of colour, experience these aggressions, sometimes daily.

Students, residents and indeed even a Rotterdam Police Chief, Sidney Mutueel, have experienced the disturbing phenomena of racial profiling. Watch the Open Society Foundation and Amnesty International Youtube video "De impact van etnisch profileren" (The impact of ethnic profiling) to listen to the real-life stories of people who have experienced racial profiling in the Netherlands (in Dutch with English subtitles). If a police chief in plain clothes can be profiled, who won’t be?

Knowing that even a police chief can be stopped, you may wish to read the accompanying report "Equality under pressure: The impact of ethnic profiling." This Amnesty and Open Society Justice Initiative report published in November 2013 includes a brief description of discretionary police powers.

"Dutch police have a number of powers under which they can stop people to check their IDs and conduct searches on persons. These powers do not require individual reasonable suspicion and the police only record these stop-searches when they result in a summons, fine or an arrest.

"The last decade has seen an expansion of ID checks and preventive search powers, but this has not been matched with sufficient accountability structures to regulate these powers. This has left the police with broad discretionary powers that are not subject to appropriate oversight. There is no monitoring of who is stopped or how often. There is no way of correcting the alleged disproportionate or ineffective use of these powers."

How to help reduce ethnic profiling

This can lead one to ask, what can I do? Overall, be aware of policies and laws. Learn about your rights and stay informed. Amnesty wanted to point out that it is possible to file a complaint against the police (for all complaints against the police, not just concerning discrimination by the police) at any police department.

In fact, many people within the police wish to address this issue and create change. Everyone wants to have a well-functioning police department that insures the safety of all citizens. Encouraging proactive policing that allows for check and balances would be a wonderful first step.

Next to research projects like those of Amnesty International, documentation is an important step in addressing such problem areas. If you experience it, report it. In the Netherlands, there are also other avenues of filing complaints regarding discrimination in the Netherlands.

Please feel free to add relevant links to the comments section of the article that may help readers. Sharing resources is the best way that internationals can help support each other.

Many thanks to Gerbrig Klos, Senior Policy Officer from Amnesty International Netherlands, and her colleague Marc Stolwijk for providing their time and expertise to help with this article, as well as the Critical Collective for opening their doors and, thus, their resources to the wider public.

Christine  Fischer


Christine Fischer

Christine Fischer holds an M.A. & a M.Ed. in multicultural counseling psychology from TC, Columbia University, NYC. She created FischersFiresidechats discussions, workshops, and seminars to foster warm, informal, yet informed...

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