Volume 12 Number 3
Dutch Police Reach Out to Ethnic Minorities
01 June 1999

Former Utrecht city councillor Aad Burger discovers how the Dutch police are responding to their country's increasing ethnic diversity.

Police forces across Europe have had to rethink their priorities and methods in the light of their countries' increasing racial diversity. One of those who has played a leading part in pioneering new approaches is Utrecht Police Commissioner Hans Papeveld. 'In a multi-ethnic society, you cannot work well without people from all sectors of society - apart from the criminal "community",' he says.

In some of the Netherlands' main cities up to a third of the population comes from an ethnic minority, and the figure may rise to 90 per cent in some primary schools.

Papeveld is the Director of the Police and Immigrants Expertise Centre (EXPA) which was founded in 1998, after years of work with and within the ethnic minority communities. EXPA's officers, who have wide experience, assist police officers and their civilian staff in their dealings with those from minority communities. The centre also provides sympathetic access to the police for those from the minorities.

In 1992, Papeveld tells me, the Tempo initiative was started to recruit and train police officers from minority groups. In some police regions where there were few vacancies there was 'positive discrimination' whereby those from a Dutch background were passed over.

There were some good results but officers from the Tempo scheme tended to be looked down on by their peers because of the preferential treatment. So Tempo was stopped and all candidates for recruitment received the same treatment and training--'except,' Papeveld adds, 'we would offer a special course to any candidate, whatever their background, who needed help with a specific problem such as language in order to qualify'.

The police advertise for recruits in Muslim publications and Arabic radio programmes but Papeveld believes in the person to person approach, through organizations and in mosques.

One of those at the heart of developing the new approach in the Utrecht region was the then Chief of Police, Jan Wiarda. He is now Chief Commissioner of Police for the Hague region, in command of 4,500 officers. Employing minority police officers is part of legitimizing the authority of the police force, he says. 'We must really know the society we live in.' Diversifying the force is both an issue of external relations and a learning process, he maintains.

Of the 2,700 police officers in the Utrecht region, 150 come from ethnic minority backgrounds (65 Moroccan, 65 Turkish and the rest from the Netherlands Antilles and the former colony of Surinam). Ninety of these were recruited under the Tempo scheme. The aim is to recruit 60 minority police in 1999, Papeveld tells me. And the ultimate goal is to have between 20 and 25 per cent minority police. EXPA's job is to speed up the process.

All police recruits have to pass a psychological test. 'Experts advise us that no test is unaffected by cultural values and traditions,' says Papeveld. 'Recruitment is still over-dependent on the Dutch model of the police officer. People all need to be of a high standard, but not in exactly the same way. We shouldn't recruit only those from the minority communities who have been fully assimilated into the majority culture. The experts are working on how we can do this better.'

To help new recruits a counsellor from the EXPA centre visits the training school each week. He looks at problems to do with homelife, housing or misunderstandings that have arisen. He can also help recruits to talk over causes of dissatisfaction within their unit with the officer in charge. Sometimes, if people don't feel at home, they can get on better in a different district.

Some minority ethnic policemen and women leave but Papeveld points out that this is not always due to negative experiences--some get recruited by government or the private sector. Qualified people are wanted everywhere. 'All we can do is to improve the way we treat each other, to become better employers.'

Papeveld tells of a talk he had recently with a policewoman. When asked where she came from she mentioned the region in Turkey where her family originated. 'I was interested in that,' says Papeveld, 'but it would have been better if she had said Amsterdam. I think we should stop describing people in this way. What is important is who you are, not where you came from.'

This sentiment is echoed by an imam who has worked a great deal with both young people from the ethnic minorities and the police. Many of the young people know little about the culture and traditions of their parents' and grandparents' country of origin, he says. 'They were born and grew up here. They should not be treated as Moroccans or Turks but as Dutch citizens. Police and teachers should remind them that they have duties as new Dutch. When they are well trained and prepared they will have much to contribute as police officers or teachers.'

Jan Wiarda highlights the difficulty for someone from a minority group to give leadership in a police force that has traditionally had a white, male culture. 'It is easier to hold one's own when you fit in with the existing culture.' In his opinion, people who have assimilated completely are usually successful but they are not fully part of the minority ethnic groups. It could take generations to build a truly multicultural police force, he warns.

But, he adds, the public are less concerned with the ethnic identity of a police officer than with his attitude.
Aad Burger