19th Jun 2021

EU report sheds light on police profiling

  • Most people are stopped when driving - but most minorities are stopped while on foot, the report found (Photo: EPA-EFE/Robert Ghement)

On the first anniversary of the death of George Floyd, murdered by Minneapolis police in the US and sparking a global protest movement over racial discrimination and police brutality, the EU's Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) took a look at police stops and racial profiling across the EU bloc.

The police most often stop men, young people, ethnic minorities, Muslims, or people who do not identify as heterosexual, the FRA's report, published on Monday (25 May), found.

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Police officers searched or asked 34 percent of ethnic minorities for their identity papers - compared to 14 percent of people generally in the EU.

In Austria, police officers stopped immigrants and descendants of immigrants from sub-Saharan African countries at the rate of 49 percent, meaning every second person. Among the general population, 25 percent were stopped by police.

In Greece and Croatia, 33 percent of Roma people had been stopped by officers, in Spain 32 percent (among the general population the rate was only four percent), and in the Netherlands 29 percent.

People belonging to an ethnic minority are more often searched by police.

Police officers performed a search on 34 percent of people with an ethnic minority or immigrant background who were stopped while moving on foot, compared with 14 percent of the general population without such a background, the report found.

On foot

The agency said that people's experiences with police also depend on the circumstance of how they were stopped.

Perceptions of profiling may be less common when people are stopped while driving, because this is more likely to involve random checks unrelated to the personal characteristics of the person being stopped, the report found.

Most people are stopped when driving - but most minorities are stopped while on foot.

For the general population in Greece and Austria, most police stops (94 percent and 87 percent respectively) happened when people were driving, or using a bike or motorbike, as opposed to police stopping them while on foot.

However, 78 percent of immigrants, and descendants of immigrants, from South Asia in Greece, and 72 percent of immigrants, and descendants of immigrants from Sub-Saharan Africa, in Austria, who were stopped by the police, were on foot.

Lacking respect

About 80 percent of the general population said police treated them respectfully during the stop.

However, only 46 percent of respondents among minority groups said they were respected when police stopped them.

In the Netherlands, only three percent of Roma said they were treated with respect, compared with 76 percent of the general population.

In Italy, 29 percent of descendants of immigrants or immigrants from North African countries said the police behaved respectfully, compared to 86 percent of the general population.

In Portugal, 10 percent of Roma perceived police to have behaved respectfully, compared to 92 percent of the general population.

Fair stops

The report highlighted that the police may legitimately stop people for a variety of reasons, but discriminatory profiling - when race or ethnicity is the police's sole basis for stopping someone - is unlawful.

The agency called on EU countries to fight discrimination.

"Everyone has a right to be treated equally, including by the police," FRA director Michael O'Flaherty said.

"One year ago, the Black Lives Matter protests underscored the need to tackle racism and discrimination that are still all too common in our societies. It is time to rebuild trust among all communities and ensure police stops are always fair, justified, and proportionate," he added.

The report draws on findings from several FRA surveys, and for the first time shows differences between the general population and ethnic minorities across member states.


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