A charity has called for a review into whether the police gypsy and traveller liaison officer role may be breaching the Equality act.
The Traveller Movement’s (TM) report released last month, based on surveys and freedom of information requests to the 43 territorial forces, raised concerns travellers are being marginalised by an attitude among police officers that they are more likely to commit crime.
Of the 20 forces who told TM they have a dedicated GRT officer, 12 mentioned enforcement against unauthorised encampments and/or place GRT communities alongside thematic issues such as anti-social behaviour, gangs, youth violence etc.
The remaining eight focused on building positive relationships with gypsies and travellers.
Former chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, the current chairman of Kick it Out and council member of the Institute for Race Relations Lord Ouseley said in a foreword to the report “it is not difficult to see why there is a lack of trust [between travellers and police]”.
He wrote: “Police officers have reported derogatory and racist language used by colleagues against GRT people being insufficiently dealt with by internal police procedures; an Irish traveller woman said she was asked by a police officer – 'why are the majority of gypsies and travellers criminals?'
“Such a question is typical of the negative, stereotypical assumptions held by many about Britain’s GRT communities.
“Unfortunately, such assumptions have permeated institutional structures and procedures. For example, participants in this research described more police turning up to deal with an incident involving GRT people than would if non-GRT people were involved, demonstrating that ethnicity is sometimes treated as a risk factor.
“In addition, where there are police roles exclusively dedicated to GRT communities these are more likely to focus on enforcement to the exclusion of engagement, perpetuating the idea that criminality is associated with GRT individuals.
“It is not right that some people have a more negative experience of public institutions such as the police simply because they belong to a particular ethnic group – this has to change.”
The report called for an HMIC root and branch review of each force assessing “institutional bias”, a collaboration between police, licensing authorities and Pubwatch to ensure travellers cannot be denied entry to pubs based on their ethnicity and for the National Police Chiefs’ Council to re-issue advice on addressing racist behaviour towards GRT communities.
It also wants more money given to minority police staff associations, efforts to increase GRT hate crime reporting and more reliance on neighbourhood policing teams to forge relationships with traveller communities.
A male PC interviewed for the report recalled a colleague commenting “dead gypsy, good gypsy.”
“I complained to the sergeant and he [said]…’they are not racist, they are just very frustrated’."
Another male PC of GRT background told the TM “…. All of those [police] procedures, practices, behaviours run along the lines that these are criminal groups. It’s our job to deal with criminals, therefore it’s our job to deal with these people.”
Last week the NPCC and Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (APCC) submitted a joint response to a government consultation on whether police need more powers to deal with illegal encampments and called for more official traveller sites.
APCC lead for equalities, diversity and human rights David Munro said: “I am committed to improving relations between the police service and the GRT community and helping challenge any misconceptions that exist. I want to make it clear that any intolerance or discrimination towards the GRT community is completely unacceptable.
“I am pleased to see so many police forces have engaged with the Traveller Movement on this report which has highlighted there is clearly more to do in terms of establishing trust with the GRT community. We must ensure that as with all diverse groups, police forces positively engage with both settled and travelling GRT communities.
“It is important police treat everyone equally and remain completely impartial when dealing with criminality. The vast majority of the Traveller population are law abiding but if any associated criminality does occur then the police have a duty to respond as they would to any report.
“I believe that policing nationally is working towards finding that important balance and a more productive relationship with the GRT community.”