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Study: Ethnic profiling in Finland continues despite legal prohibition

Finland’s Aliens Act prohibits police officers from engaging in ethnic profiling, but the practice continues nevertheless, according to a study by a research collective.

Image: Emilia Malin / Yle

Victims of ethnic profiling have described how police, security guards or even sales personnel have singled them out for additional attention, allegedly on the basis of their ethnicity or appearance.

The findings come from the “Stopped” research project conducted by Helsinki University’s Swedish School of Social Sciences.

According to a report from the research and journalism project, targets of ethnic profiling described how they had been stopped, followed and asked for identification on the streets, in parks, at railway and metro stations and in stores and restaurants.

“Some of the interviewees described how these experiences had become commonplace and they said they had become used to these unfortunate events,” the report concluded.

The Aliens Act prohibits police officers from engaging in ethnic profiling, but the practice continues nevertheless, researchers said.

Somali-background people 10 times more likely to be stopped

Respondents described the actions of security guards in particular as rude and unpleasant. By contrast, police conduct in such confrontations were seen as more polite, but interviewees said that being stopped and checked for identification was often a disagreeable or embarrassing experience.

“For example, the risk of a Somali-background respondent being unnecessarily profiled by guards is nearly 10 times the risk of a member of the majority Finnish population. The observation does not relate to the police to the same extent,” the report noted.

According to the research findings, police most often engage in ethnic profiling during immigration enforcement, public order assignments, traffic enforcement and also when searching for an unknown perpetrator of a crime on the basis of vague identifying factors. The research seemed to suggest that police stops focus on crowded public places.

The researchers concluded that there is a need for change in police training and practices and also called for a review of guidelines in the private security sector.

According to the study, one outcome of the negative encounters experienced by ethnic minorities is that they are often reluctant to turn to the police when they need help.

Researchers interviewed 145 respondents belonging to ethnic or racial minorities for the study as well as 26 police representatives and 14 other specialists. The interviews took place in the Helsinki region and in Turku between 2016 and 2017.