Keeping everyone safe, at all times

Sanna Heikinheimo Julkaisupäivä 26.6.2020 12.54 Blogit

Racism is a crime. It must not be kept secret or tolerated. Finnish society is based on the rule of law and we all have the power to stop racists, be they a political decision-maker, a public figure, your next-door neighbour or the police.

First we had #metoo, now #blm. At their core, both movements are about the same issue, the integrity and equality of human beings. The duty of the police is to safeguard basic rights.

I would venture that an openly racist police officer would not be able to remain hidden for long in Finland. Our work is evaluated on a daily basis, and in a very public manner. This is a good thing. Regular confidence surveys, individual complaints resolutions and news of suspected irregularities shine a light on both the organisation and the individuals operating within it. Every citizen is responsible for monitoring their own behaviour.

In our country, the police enjoys an exception level of trust. This is not just thanks to the authorities but to Finnish society as a whole. It is based on legislation that confers powers but also responsibilities and related supervision. The stricter the operating guidelines, the less room for interpretation by those who carry out the actual work.

Fine line between legal and unlawful

The Aliens Act is one example of an area where powers need to be clearly defined. The aim of the law is to monitor compliance with conditions of stay in the country, safeguard the rights of foreign workers, supervise the legal right to work, and identify and help victims of human trafficking.

From the monitoring of foreigners it is but a short step to ethnic profiling, one of the manifestations of racism. You are guilty of this if you use your police powers solely or primarily because of a person’s race, ethnic origin or religion or belief.

At this point, we must of course ensure that our legislation is formulated in such a way that the chance of being on the wrong side of the law is as small as possible.

Three years ago, the National Police Board investigated the implementation of the ban on ethnic profiling in monitoring of aliens and other police operations. There have been hardly any complaints concerning this issue. However, this in itself does not prove that this is not a problem.

People with a foreign background also trust the police

Surveys reveal what the experience of persons who have been the subject of police operations has been. The Stopped survey found that young adults aged 15-29 from a Finnish ethnic background and a non-Finnish ethnic background run the same risk of being stopped by the police. However, some of those interviewed had felt that the reason for being stopped was their skin colour or appearance.

Research data can also be found in MIDIS survey reports from the European Institute for Gender Equality. According to these, one in ten people stopped by the police felt they had been the victim of ethnic profiling. This figure is the same as the European average. Among people from sub-Saharan Africa, trust in the police was highest in Finland out of all the countries looked at in the survey.

In a survey of mental wellbeing, security and inclusion carried out by the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, trust in the police among people with a foreign background was actually higher than among people of Finnish ethnic origin.

Racism discriminates and may lead to violence

Finland is a country known for a high level of public trust, i.e. trust in others, including strangers. The ethos of society is that the authorities are genuinely at the service of citizens.

As a result of immigration, our country has become more diverse, but it remains very safe. However, there are signs that different social realities and standards of living are taking shape in Finland too, which in the long run could have destabilising effect on society.

Discrimination can lead to problems. The hatred it causes provides fuel for, among other things, terrorism and violent extremism.

It is therefore particularly important for the police to ensure that it enjoys the trust of all population groups. Proactive groups try to engage in people’s everyday lives in other ways than through actual policing duties.

Basic and human rights are widely covered in both basic and advanced police training. Every police graduate swears an oath to respect the dignity and rights of every person and to act openly and in a way that promotes conciliation.

If we discover problems, we deal with them

The ranks of police almost certainly include people who are critical of immigration. However, this must not show in the way they carry out their official duties. In the same way, minorities may project racism onto the mainstream. Police patrols are greeted with shouts along the lines of “You racist cop” on a daily basis. The situation must also not escalate to a point where the police fail to carry out their duties for fear of being labelled racist because of the ethnic background of the customer. Equal treatment means that everyone is treated equally.

The fact that some demonstrators smash up places and beat up people is not a reason to label all demonstrators. And the same applies to the police. The actions of one police offer is not a reason to label the entire police service.

If we discover problems, we deal with them. An example of this is a police Facebook group where an inappropriate discussion took place. The prosecutor did not find any evidence of a crime; however, the police units issued reprimands.

Finland is by many measures the most stable, liberal and safe country in the world. However, this does not mean that we are perfect.

This is why I return to what I said at the beginning. Stop racists, even if they are in a position of authority. In case of inappropriate treatment, file a complaint or report a crime. This is the only way to ensure that justice will be administered.

Sanna Heikinheimo,
Deputy National Police Commissioner
Police Operations Unit
National Police Board