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Police Perception of Social Problems and Clients - The Case of the Gypsies in Finland

NCJ Number
International Journal of the Sociology of Law Volume: 9 Issue: 4 Dated: (November 1981) Pages: 345-359
M Gronfors
Date Published
15 pages
Police attitudes and behavior toward gypsies in Finland are examined in an effort to determine whether police should view such 'problem' groups as a control problem or as one requiring social policy solutions.
Findings and conclusions are based on 18 months of participant observation among Finnish gypsies and interviews with a sample of 55 male police officers from Helsinki and Tampere. The officers interviewed were selected by their supervisors, so it can be assumed their performance and attitudes were valued by their agencies. Interviews were nondirective, as the researchers let the officers talk freely about their perceptions of gypsies. Those interviewed unanimously condemned gypsies for not settling permanently, not contributing to the economy, being different in their sexual attitudes, and not being able to discipline their emotions. In Finland, any form of police intervention can be justified by the police claim that the persons involved were acting in a suspicious manner. Police are permitted to request the information necessary to establish a person's identity, and if the supplied information is suspected to be false, the person may be detained for further verification. The police interviewed acknowledged that gypsies as individuals and groups (identified by their unique dress) were almost always stopped by police when they were observed on the street or in cars, because of their reputation of being a criminal element. An examination of offenses committed by gypsies in a given year, however, did not show them to be disproportionately involved in crime. The data tend to indicate that police, through similar backgrounds and shared socialization as an occupational group, view socially deviant groups like gypsies (the most visible socially deviant group in Finland) as requiring excessive social control. Social policy directed toward the acceptance of subcultural differences in a dominant culture is generally ignored or disparaged by police. Notes and 20 references are provided.


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