Czech police learn to deal with ethnic minorities

By Pavla Horakova The Czech police are currently working on a project aimed at teaching officers how to treat members of ethnic minorities. The project also involves integrating members of minority groups into the police force. Czech officers are cooperating with their British counterparts who have decades of experience with different minorities. Radio Prague spoke about the project with the Czech Human Rights Commissioner Jan Jarab.

"It is a large project and it is very interactive, that is you have British lecturers coming here, you have Czech policemen coming to Britain and we appreciate that our British partners are not just those who have achieved something and who have completed a process. They are in the process of becoming more sensitive to minority issues and I can safely say they are further up in that process of further down the stream, if you will. They have gone a long way in those last decades, through automatic assumption that the policeman is totally objective, that he is a kind of a perfect machine, to realizing that policemen do reflect the mainstream prejudices, that they are human beings after all and as such they must be taught how to react to people who are different."

Obonete Ubam is the chairman of the League of Ethnic Minorities in the Czech Republic. He welcomes the project as an important signal that the Czech police have finally started taking ethnic minorities into account.

"This is a very important signal, very important moment that something is now starting, that the police are now starting to feel that they really are a public service and the minorities are also part of the general public which they are supposed to serve to and I think that they are getting serious about it now."

As part of the project, Czech police officers will learn more about individual ethnic minorities, about negative stereotypes and also what cultural differences they may encounter. Police will also be told to behave in a more pleasant way to people in general. As the Czech Human Rights Commissioner Jan Jarab points out, when somebody is treated rudely by the police, they might assume it is because they belong to a minority, whereas that rudeness in fact may reflect nothing more than the institutional culture of the Czech police. Obonete Ubam of the League of Ethnic Minorities agrees the attitude of the police needs to change.

"The main problem is lack of professionalism because it is obvious and I think it is an everyday routine for police officers to mistreat mainly members of the Roma community when they address the police with an announcement of a crime committed or if they just require any kind of service, so many times the police officers act very much disrespectfully, and that's a big problem. And of course, that's where everything starts because the communities will never have enough trust in the police if the police does not have enough respect for the communities."