New publication reveals discrimination within the Dutch national police

Edition 28 December, by Benjamin B. Roberts

In the Netherlands, the Dutch national police force is not a mirror image of Dutch society: 22% of the total population in the Netherlands has a non-Dutch background while only 7% of the national police force is non-Dutch. In the world of equality, that is a disaster waiting to happen, in and out of court. In 2015, a diversity movement within the Dutch police force was launched to balance this discrepancy. In the course of three years, the movement, known as De kracht van het verschil [The power of diversity] set out an ambitious four-point plan to win the trust and gain a firmer footing among citizens, with the ideal to take discrimination on by the horns. The earnest movement aims to motivate citizens to file complaints when discrimination is committed, hire more police employees from ethnical backgrounds, and have more police agents with a different social and culture background patrol the streets. In a timespan between 2015 and 2018 the movement aimed to increase the cultural diversity in the Dutch national police force to at least 25%, which would be more representative of Dutch current society.

However, last November 2017, the office of Erik Akerboom, the chef officer of the Dutch national police force, was stormed by twenty some odd members of the Dutch national police force that handed him a bright yellow book, You May Say I’m a Dreamer, but I’m not the only one. It was not an early Christmas present about the lyrics of a song from John Lennon, but rather a black book about the current status of discrimination within the Dutch national police force. The 92-page collection of accounts describes how minorities such as Muslims, Blacks, and gays within the police force on discriminated on a daily basis. The stories are based on 26 members of the Dutch police from all over the country, and that have worked for the police from only recently to those who have been a member of the force for more than 30 years.

Subtle discrimination

The majority of the stories and incidents are not blatant acts but rather subtle acts of discrimination, which still remain hurtful for members of the police force. One of the older Black members of the police force who joined the police corps more than 30 years ago, recollects how he was introduced to the rest of the unity shortly afterward he joined. They referred to me “as the first black one”. Another black member of the police force noted that she overheard one of the managers come into the next room and ask a group of colleagues “Where’s the negro?” in which everyone laughed. One member of the force, who is a woman and Muslim, needed a signature on a document from her manager and knocked on his door, and was treated her like one of the cleaning women because as he jokingly replied, “Most of the cleaning women in the building look like you”. Joke or no joke, according to the stories, the culture of the Dutch police is predominantly homogeneous: western European and macho. The 26 interviews range from a young man who joined the police force and whose appearance might have been too fashionable and flamboyant and eventually was badgered by colleagues and eventually left the force, to another colleague with a non-Western background who was forced to look at a poster of Geert Wilders in the station, which was hung by a colleague and whose manager refused to have him remove it.

One of the participants in the collection of stories concluded that Dutch police force is an incestuous organization that resembles a cult that resides on a desolate island. The woman, who has a Suriname background, recalled that when she and the rest of her recruits first joined the police force, they had to forfeit their modern ideas and were re-educated in the old norms of the police. She noted that those who thought differently and did not kowtow the norms of the police, were eventually bullied and badgered off the police force.

“Just joking”

Many of the employees who feel discriminated within the Dutch police force argue that the discrimination was not blatant but still feel and qualify as discrimination. The incidents and often based on a feeling, which the participants felt uncomfortable, and thought that the remark would not have been made if they had had another ethnical background. One of the stories includes an incident from a member of the police force who noticed a photo of himself hanging in the corridor near the lunchroom. It was a photo of him handcuffed, and bars of a jail had been drawn over the poster, as if he was in imprisoned. Underneath, someone had written: “Imagine our monkey in a cage”. The police officer first thought that it was a joke. But nobody ever bothered to tell me that it was a joke.

Akerboom, the new chef officer of the Dutch national police force, who was appointed March 2016, has his work cut out for him. Besides altering the recruitment policy of the police force and ensuring that 25% of all new recruits are socially and culturally diverse, Akerboom is taking the accounts of discrimination seriously and has distributed the booklet to all the chiefs of the police districts throughout the Netherlands. He also assured the police personnel who were brave enough to share the stories in the collection that they would remain safe. More importantly, he aims to change the mentality of the Dutch police force, where 65,000 work. Of course, he also realizes will not happen over night. Akerboom plans to investigate the incidents described the booklet and discuss them with other units of the force, and illustrate that this is not an acceptable attitude within the police force. The compilers of You May Say I’m A Dreamer But I’m not the only one, are reported to be happy with the developments, although they know change implementation is a long and slow process, especially in an conservative organization like the police. But once discrimination within the police force is tackled, it will bear fruit for outside the police force as well.