Finland's National Police Board has criticised the Helsinki Police Department for an intelligence-gathering operation targeting the Roma minority.
According to national broadcaster Yle, the police have for years stopped Roma individuals in and around the city and compiled information on them into profiles based on ethnicity.
Among others, during the information-gathering operation that took place in 2013-2015, law enforcement officials tracked the movements of the Finnish Roma community in the Helsinki metropolitan area, noting vehicles they owned and social circles in which they moved, but also records of any weapons they were carrying. Police said the latter was justified by the violent conflicts between Roma families, which included shootings in public places.
In its reprimand, the Police Board ruled the intelligence operation “problematic” and stated that such a focus on a particular societal segment is incompatible with normal policing.
“A practice that only targeted a single population group cannot constitute part of normal police operations. Operations of this kind must always be underpinned by information management, concrete phenomena and ongoing investigations. Individual rights must never be infringed upon if based solely on ethnic background,” Assistant Police Commissioner Pekka-Matias Väisänen of the National Police Board said in a statement.
However, the authority didn't go so far as to accuse the local officers of ethnic discrimination, and found that the practice nevertheless had justifying grounds, as required by the Non-Discrimination Act.
“The operations were based on law and regulations, and as a premise, it had an acceptable objective and the means adopted by police officers to reach the objective seem to have been proportionate,” Väisänen admitted. “Although the choice of the individuals as targets of the measures was influenced by their presumed ethnic origins, this was neither the only one nor the crucial reason behind the measures taken,” he said.
In conclusion, the board called the Helsinki Police Department’s to respect non-discrimination and comply with the ethnic profiling ban in all police operations in future.
Finland's Roma community is over 500 years old and is estimated to number some 10,000 members. Despite constant efforts from the authorities and civil rights groups to combat and alleviate what is seen as discrimination, the Roma keep lagging behind in education and income, with unemployment and housing conditions being perennial problems.
For the past decade, however, the presence of street beggars from eastern and southern Europe, predominantly Roma, has been a problem across Scandinavia, with reports of “organised begging”, complaints from residents, and sanitary concerns.
This past weekend, a demonstration on behalf of Roma rights was held in Helsinki's Senate Square. The protest was billed as a token of solidarity with the Roma community, and organisers called for higher visibility for the Roma in Finnish society and special policies that take the Roma into account.