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Racism and Police Stops: Adapting US and British Debates to Continental Europe

NCJ Number
European Journal of Criminology Volume: 5 Issue: 2 Dated: April 2008 Pages: 161-191
Joel Miller; Philip Gounev; Andras L. Pap; Dani Wagman; Anna Balogi; Tihomir Bezlov; Bori Simonovits; Lili Vargha
Date Published
April 2008
31 pages
This article presents findings from an international research program that examined the features of police stops in Bulgaria, Hungary, and Spain in the context of British and U.S. debates on manifestations of racism in police stops, with attention to ethnic/racial profiling, disproportionality, and institutional racism.
The concept of ethnic or racial profiling in police stops is a relevant issue in all three countries, based on evidence collected through surveys and interviews with police officers and ethnic minorities in Bulgaria, Hungary, and Spain. Police officers who described ethnic profiling in Bulgaria and Hungary referred to Roma (nomadic ethnic subgroups of Indian origin sometimes referred to as gypsies). In Spain, officers discussed ethnic profiling in terms of immigrants rather than Roma. Stopping people partly because they "look like foreigners" is, in some cases, accepted as operational policy within Spanish policing. Although the concept of ethnic profiling in police stops is a useful framework for examining how police discretion is used, it does not capture the range of racialized policing practices researchers observed in the research. This leads to the framing of two other concepts, disproportionality and institutional racism. Disproportionality focuses less on aggregate statistics of the characteristics of police stops and more on the proportionality of stops of various racial/ethnic groups in relation to their proportion of the driver population (vehicle stops) and the walking population (pedestrian stops). Institutional racism may be evident in police actions that have less to do with the decision to make a stop than how the driver or pedestrian is treated by the police after the stop is made, i.e., is the police officer respectful, courteous, and professional or demeaning, disrespectful, and condescending in his/her interactions with the driver or pedestrian, based on race/ethnicity. 7 tables and 79 references