Investigation into police reveals that discrimination is ‘hidden from view’

22 February 2016

An investigation into UK police services by the Traveller Movement using freedom of information laws, has revealed that less than one in five record and monitor their interactions with Romany Gypsies and Irish Travellers.

The investigation came about as a result of increasing reports from Gypsies and Travellers that their communities were being over-policed and policed in a heavy-handed way. To put figures behind these anecdotal claims, the Traveller Movement checked the ethnic monitoring statistics of police services only to find out that most did not record their interactions with members of the Gypsy and Traveller communities.

 Yvonne MacNamara, CEO of the Traveller Movement said:

“Following repeated reports of alleged heavy-handed policing of Gypsy and Traveller communities, we found we were unable to verify these claims because most police systems did not have the relevant data.”

“Recording the ethnicity of Gypsies and Travellers is essential. If Gypsies and Travellers are not counted along with everyone else, then discriminatory policing towards them will remain hidden from view and cannot be challenged.”

The results of the investigation, published in a report last week and making national headlines, reveal that:

The vast majority of police forces in the UK (81%, 39/48) do not include Gypsies and Travellers in their ethnic monitoring systems.

Of the 48 forces that responded to the FOI, 34 (71%) did not hold any information on how many police officers self-declared either as Romany Gypsy or Irish Traveller. Of the 11 forces that did hold information (13%) stated that no Gypsy or Traveller officers served with them, 5 (10%) said they had serving officers who were ether Gypsies or Travellers and 3 (6%) gave an inconclusive response.

2 forces indicated from their responses that they did not consider Gypsies and Travellers to be ethnic groups.

In the FOI responses 9 of the forces consistently didn’t use capital letters when referring to Gypsies and Travellers; a key indicator of how inclusive and aware the Police are of Gypsies and Travellers is whether they use capital letters when referring to these groups.

Not including Gypsies and Irish Travellers as ethnic codes in Police monitoring systems limits the Police and Homes Office’s ability to better understand the issues facing these communities. It also poses the danger of forces not being be able to ensure compliance with the Equality Act 2010 in terms of monitoring for any potential disproportionality, says the report.

Currently the requirement for forces to record and report details regarding the ethnicity of members of the public they come into contact with, and members of staff, derives from Section 95 of the Criminal Justice Act 1991 and in line with their duties under Equality Act 2010.

Gypsies and Travellers are both legally recognised ethnic minority groups in the UK and were included as such in the 2011 Census, it follows that they should as standard practice, also be included as ethnic groups in all Criminal Justice System agencies’ ethnic monitoring systems, including the Police.

Jim Davies, the Romany Gypsy police officer and Chair of the Gypsy Roma Traveller Police Association reacted to the news with concern.

“People from any minority group get nervous at the thought of “Ethnic Monitoring”. This is especially true of Gypsies and Travellers,” he said.

“We have to live under what sometimes seems like the constant attention of the Media, The Authorities and The Non Gypsy Traveler population. Why should we welcome “Ethnic Monitoring” by the police?”

“It’s important to understand here then, that when we talk about “Ethnic Monitoring” it’s not us, The Gypsy or Traveller who is being looked at. It is the Police themselves who are being monitored (or any other service provider like the Health Service, Education etc. who also might carry out Ethnic Monitoring).”

“Only by keeping a record of the ethnicity of the people the police deal with on a daily basis, the victims and the suspects, can the work of the police be examined to see whether it is fair or whether there is any discrimination at play. This form of quality assurance happens for most other ethnic groups but not for Gypsies and Travellers.”

“Ethnic monitoring of Gypsies and Travellers needs to happen if we are ever to ensure we will be treated fairly by the Criminal Justice System. This research and report by the Traveller Movement is an important step on the way to making sure that happens”