Authors: Natasha Arnpriester, Susheela Math, Zsolt Bobis
Equinet’s Factsheet and Compendium of Promising Practices highlight the necessity to end ethnic profiling by law enforcement in Europe and the essential role of equality bodies in combatting this ineffective practice and promoting fair policing.
Ethnic profiling is the use by law enforcement of race, ethnicity, religion or national origin as the basis for suspicion in directing discretionary law enforcement actions. Thus, people are targeted because of who they are and not what they have done. Ethnic profiling is unfair and ineffective, and it can lead to the stigmatization of individuals and communities, undermine trust in law enforcement and damage police-community relations.
Furthermore, ethnic profiling violates the right to non-discrimination under international, European and domestic law. It is a dangerous form of racial discrimination that results in the stopping of large numbers of innocent people. In November 2018, Equinet, in collaboration with the Open Society Justice Initiative, organized a first-of-its-kind seminar on ethnic profiling for European equality bodies.
Equality bodies can produce thorough research on ethnic profiling by law enforcement and disseminate information about these discriminatory practices and their consequences. This allows them to prove discriminatory patterns and issue recommendations for fair policing. They can raise awareness on the ineffectiveness and unfairness of ethnic profiling through campaigns and conferences and share examples of promising practices.
Equality bodies have also played a key role in supporting legal cases of ethnic profiling in Europe by investigating and adjudicating complaints and intervening in litigations. Their involvement has led to settlements and favorable court rulings recognizing the obligations of law enforcement to act fairly.
Engaging with law enforcement is an efficient way for equality bodies to promote better practices. This can be done through a collaborative approach, by providing training to officers, or through a more confrontational approach, by investigating police practice or taking legal action against ethnic profiling.
Nevertheless, challenges remain for equality bodies in combatting ethnic profiling, particularly the lack of resources, limited mandates, and political obstacles. Data collection is also difficult has many European countries refuse to gather or release disaggregated ethnic data. This can hinder the ability of equality bodies to expose ethnic profiling in society or provide proof for legal cases.
Underreporting can greatly impede research on ethnic profiling, victims may fear reprisals or refuse to share their trauma. Trust in the equality body is primordial to engage victims in the process. Collaborating with NGOs and developing trust in impacted communities can greatly improve the efficiency of equality bodies in their research and investigative prerogatives.
Finally, public statements are useful tools for equality bodies that have a limited mandate. They can express concerns, urge legislators to act or issue public guidance for prevention.