Recruiting police officers from the minorities

The Czech Interior Ministry has just launched a campaign aimed at recruiting officers from the ranks of minorities. If it is successful the Czech police force could soon have Romany, Vietnamese or Ukrainian re-enforcements.

"It's always the same story" - an officer who wished to remain anonymous - told the press. "You get called out to a case in the Vietnamese, Roma or Ukrainian communities and the minute you show up they close ranks."

It's a problem that many forces around the world have cracked by recruiting officers from the respective minorities and the Czech police force are now ready to follow suit. Radka Kovarova is head of the Interior Ministry's press department:

"We have two goals here: one is to increase the level of trust in the police in minorities such as the Roma or Vietnamese and the other is to get the majority population to accept minorities, to accept the fact that they will have increased responsibility and powers not just in state and public administration but also in the police force."

The campaign involving leaflets, information bulletin boards and cooperation with schools is to run through 2007. Starting from this July applicants will be able to undergo special training courses. Radka Kovarova says that minority applicants will have to meet all the set requirements, including a very good knowledge of the language. Applicants who are not high school graduates but would still like to work with the police can join the city police where a high school education is not compulsory.

But is the Czech nation - often regarded as suspicious of outsiders or even latently racist - ready to accept minorities in the police force? Some psychologists have their doubts but the north Bohemian town of Usti nad Labem which is a several steps ahead - having started the process of recruiting officers from their local minorities independently of the ministry's campaign - says there's no reason to fear complications. Jan Novotny is deputy head of the city police force.

"We started recruiting Roma right from the beginning when the force was being set up and today we employ 12 Romany police officers, some of whom have been promoted. They are good at their job and there was no negative reaction from the public. The only hitch was that when we sent out a Roma officer to the Roma community they protested at having "one of their own men" sent over to deal with the case. So we have avoided doing that since. But otherwise, Roma officers are like non-Roma officers. Reliable, devoted to their job and occasionally they have personal problems like everyone. I would definitely recommend recruiting them both for the city and national police force."

Radka Kovarova says that the reaction of the Roma in Usti nad Labem, who prefer not to be policed by their own people, should not be blown out of proportion. She says the police will have to be flexible and sensitive in overcoming any initial problems:

"Of course it will require a sensitive approach. For instance it would not be suitable or right to send only Vietnamese officers to deal with problems in the Vietnamese community. We shall have to find the right balance so that both sides get used to the situation - the majority as well as minorities."