Faced with a barrage of criticism over racist bias, the police in the Finnish metropolitan area apologized for reinforcing racist stereotypes and promised to shape up in the future.
During the seminar called "Lost in Helsinki" on homelessness and paperless immigrants, the Helsinki police listed seven typical cases as "Seven brothers" after a novel by Finnish writer Aleksis Kivi. Among them was a "Somali with three wives," an "Russian worker from Estonia who has a violent temper and likes to drink," and an "Iraqi asylum seeker who is 25 but claims to be 16." One of the "siblings" was a hijab-clad woman who "doesn't participate in society" and is the victim of "family violence" and "prostitution." Their stories were accompanied by pictures many perceived to be "racial caricatures."
Mirka Seppälä, the chairwoman of the asylum seekers' support association, called the presentation "pure racism" and part of a major problem, and filed a complaint with the Police Board. According to Seppälä, it is all the more striking since Police Commissioner Heli Aaltonen, who conducted the lecture, specifically stressed that ethnic profiling was prohibited.
Subsequently, the Discrimination Ombudsman (DO) argued that the storylines featured in the lecture were "confusing." Rainer Hiltunen of the DO office argued that by presenting caricatures, the police reinforced stereotypes and incidentally played into the hands of those slamming the police for having a racial bias, the daily newspaper Hufvudstadsbladet wrote.
Aaltonen admitted that when ripped out of context, parts of the presentation could be interpreted as reinforcing stereotypes. However, she assured that that was not the intention and regretted if anyone could have been hurt. She also insisted that the police do not accept any profiling or discrimination based on race, skin color, sex or other characteristics.
Later, the Helsinki police tweeted an apology, promising to focus on the topic in the future.
A report published last spring revealed that police and security officers use ethnic profiling despite their assurances to the contrary. Previously, the Finnish magazine Long Play reported about a secret Facebook group with about 3,000 police officers, where overtly racist discussions were held.