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Promotion of equality strengthens trust in Police

Linnea West Published Date 15.3.2021 15.57 Blog

Police expertise in equality issues

The Police has defined its own vision: the Police wants to safeguard all people all the time. Meeting this fine and big promise calls for work in many fields. Equality questions are increasingly in focus, not only due to advanced legislation but also wider changes in the world. 

The new Non-discrimination Act entered into force in 2015 and it obliges both the authorities and employers to promote equality. According to the Act, the materialisation of equality in all operations must be assessed, and necessary action has to be taken to promote equality. Moreover, promotion of equality is highlighted as one focal point in the Police performance management system. The National Police Board is also working on a new nation-wide Police equal opportunities and equality plan.

The Police organisation itself is a cross section of people living in Finland. The Police must treat all people equally – both within the organisation and as clients. Due to progress in legislation, the future Police is expected to have even higher competence in equality questions and respect of human rights.  Without the trust of the people, the operating conditions of the Police are not very strong. Today, the National Police Board has specific working groups for analysing and promoting equal opportunities and equality issues. A member of the group, I have already had the chance to see the importance given in the Police to equality promotion issues. The multicultural nature of the Police is very well present in the group itself, and this premise is willingly utilised in the discussions with representatives of various minorities.  We have already launched the valuable dialogue!

Equal security

Surveys of internal security and safety have shown that people are not equal in this respect. According to the survey, young people from immigrant backgrounds or with a disability experience more violence or threat of violence than their peers.  In contrast, the aged fall victim of crime less frequently than the population on average. Finland ranks second in the statistics of women facing violence in intimate relationships while two thirds of Finnish people dying in accidents or due to violence are men. 

Naturally, the security authorities are obliged to safeguard everybody equally but it is obvious that some groups have larger needs in this respect, and this fact should be recognised. Equal treatment does not mean mathematical equality but some people need “better” service to have access to their equal rights. Preferential treatment entails special measures to ensure factual equality to improve the position and circumstances of people of certain groups. In other words, different groups find themselves at different distances to reach the same place.

Equality in Police organisation is also reflected outwards

Promoting equality is an important element in the construction of people’s overall security. The measures must be targeted directly at the people, with their everyday life in mind. In addition, the work must also be visible within the Police or it will not be credible. Promoting equality within the Police organisation is important but it is also a question of the image conveyed by the Police towards the outside world. For example, by furthering the equal opportunities of various minorities within the Police we send a message to the society at large. Not only does this protect human rights but, at best, also enhances the people’s trust in the Police. The Police can also more credibly supervise the respect of human rights when their own reputation is immaculate. Naturally, this calls for an open discussion culture.

Supervisors are responsible

Each and every member of this administration shoulders their personal responsibility for not behaving or inciting others to behave in a discriminatory or derogatory manner. Young Police officers often adopt their seniors’ attitudes.  Therefore, the superiors bear particular responsibility for the modes of operation of their subordinates, as well as for the general work climate. The superiors are always obliged to interfere if they learn about discriminatory or derogatory behaviours. Employees also have the duty to inform the employer about any discrimination or inappropriate behaviours they might observe. The superiors’ everyday responsibility in the Police is to remember that attitudes cascade down to the staff.

Attitudes do not change overnight. The message sent by the superiors plays an important role in view of future attitudes. Should the superior detect any shortcomings in equal treatment but choose not to interfere, such behaviour becomes acceptable in the eyes of the others. However, to promote equality, it is not enough to root out discrimination and inappropriate behaviour. Not doing certain things does not mean that other aspects would be actively furthered. The objective is to bring everybody’s safety and security at the same level, and this may require preferential treatment measures, and recognition of the needs of various population groups, in general.

Police cannot do without people’s trust

The materialisation of legal protection depends on the people’s trust in the Police. Report made at the Police University College focusing on hate crimes (2018) suggests that the number of hate crimes known to the Police is influenced, not only by the number of the crimes committed, but also by the people’s willingness to report such crimes to the Police. According to an earlier report referred to in the above publication (Ministry of Justice 2016), only 21 percent of the survey respondents who had experienced harassment or hate speech reported it.  The most common reason not to report was the respondents’ conviction that the case would not have been followed in any manner.  

The Police must be worth the trust of everyone living in Finland. As an element of this theme, the Police preventive work strategy for 2019-2023 includes the following: “The contacts and interaction between the Police and the minority groups is of vital importance for both parties.  They can be methods to enhance factual equality, promote good relationships between the population groups and to strengthen the minority groups’ trust in the Police and the society at large. Such interaction promotes the collection of information about the minority concerns, security problems and the aspects that impact the safety and insecurity feelings of various population groups.”

Trust in the authorities is important, in particular, to root out hate crimes. In the spring of 2020, the Finnish Business and Policy Forum EVA made a value and attitude survey, focusing on the impacts of the Corona-19 crisis on the trust put by Finnish people in 30 different societal parties or actors. According to this survey, the Police still enjoys high trust among the people. Therefore, I am hopeful that continued equality work would convince all victims of hate crimes of the fact that the Police is actively working in their best interest.

Linnea West
Senior Detective Constable, Master of Administrative Sciences, Student at the University of applied Social Sciences
Ostrobothnia Police Department

Linnea West National Police Board Police operations and development en