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Police openly admit to racial profiling in Amnesty report
Racial profiling is alive and well in Belgium, according to a new report released by Amnesty International this week, the conclusion of a months-long study into the opinions and practices of police across the country.
The local chapter of the organisation released the report “On ne sait jamais, avec des gens comme vous” (We Never Know With You People) following personal interviews with nearly 50 officers at various levels of law enforcement. They also interviewed representatives of the justice department, equal opportunities organisation Unia, police training institutions and police monitor Comité P.
Racial profiling refers to detaining someone on the street for no other reason than because of their ethnic background. The officers were quite candid in their comments, fully admitting that they and fellow officers do carry out stops and searches based on race.
Stops not registered
Amnesty noticed a lack of understanding among the officers as to what constitutes racial profiling and the fact that it is illegal. One police inspector who admitted to engaging in the practice said simply: “I don’t know how else to do my job.”
“Police officers need better guidelines regarding how to carry out stops and questioning without engaging in ethnic profiling,” said Wies De Graeve of Amnesty Flanders. “Stopping racial profiling not only stops discriminatory behaviour, it increases the effectiveness of police work.”
Amnesty also notes that Belgium has no standard registration system for stopping people for questioning. There are no statistics on how many stops are carried out or the identity of the people involved.
De Graeve points to other regions that have integrated a registration system for stops and searches. “After one police zone in Spain implemented such a system, the number of stops was cut in half – but the number of arrests following stops tripled.”
Federal justice minister Jan Jambon (N-VA) said that he saw no need for further action from his department. “We work on a basis of trust,” he said. “If there are mistakes, then we depend on internal investigations to correct those and, if necessary, to alert us.”
But much of the problem, said De Graeve, is a lack of awareness. “Police officers cannot carry out their jobs according to a ‘gut instinct’,” he said. “They have to base their actions on specific and factual criteria in order to be effective.”
This would improve law enforcement in general, he continued. “Officers who focus on particular ethnic groups pay less attention and spend less time on actual criminal acts carried out by other groups. They have a blind spot.”
Photo: Thierry Roge/BELGA