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Presentation of the report “Police Stops and Ethnic Profiling in Bulgaria”
On September 19, 2006 the Center for the Study of Democracy launched the report Police Stops and Ethnic Profiling in Bulgaria at a public meeting of the National Crime Prevention Commission. Between June and December 2005 CSD and Vitosha Research, supported by the Open Society Justice Initiative carried out a study of police stops. The resulting report examines the use of stops by the Bulgarian police, focusing on the practices of disproportionate stops of members of the Roma ethnic minority. The report also highlights issues related to police abuse during stops as well as crime among Roma communities.

In his opening address, Bulgarian Minister of Interior Rumen Petkov who chaired the meeting pointed out that the report was produced through the joint efforts of CSD researchers and MoI representatives. Studying profiling can demonstrate whether ethnic, racial or religious stereotyping is present in society; that is, whether a society is tolerant and democratic and such efforts can help prevent interethnic conflicts. Minister Petkov underlined that crime prevention as a major MoI tool could be fully effective through partnership across institutions and with the civil society sector as well as through facilitating citizens’ access to policing services. The report contains relevant suggestions on the legal and organizational steps needed to improve and assess police stop and search practices which can complement already existing structures such as the Human Rights and Police Ethics Commission at the National Police and training measures underway targeting better interaction and confidence building between police and the Roma minority.

UK Ambassador Jeremy Hill presented the British experience in assessing and streamlining police stop and search practices and the policing of ethnic minorities, underlining that the debate on ethnic profiling has Europe-wide implications. He pointed out that profiling has always been a sensitive topic which has recently gained prominence in the context of terrorism and counter-terrorism where it may be viewed as an investigative tool. On the other hand, it is associated with racial, ethnic and religious stereotyping and when authorities rely on such generalizations they risk getting involved in discriminatory practices. Governments and the criminal justice system should be watchful for the extent profiling is objectionable and infringes on human rights. Ambassador Hill stated the British Government's support to the Crime Prevention Commission's further initiatives as well as its readiness to back civil society efforts in its further research on the subject.

Mr. Tihomir Bezlov, Senior Analyst at the Center for the Study of Democracy, focused on the main survey findings and recommendations to law enforcement concerning their relations with the Roma minority, and suggested the need for special, publicly available guidelines strictly regulating police stops, greater accountability of officers conducting stops and development of the police capacity to analyze recorded stops data, including the more consistent collection of ethnic data.

In his presentation Mr. Milcho Enev, Chief Inspector at the National Police Service, emphasized that community policing at large and police services tailored to a multi-ethnic environment have been recognized as priority areas at the Bulgarian police. However, regular police staff needs to adapt to working with a culturally specific and socially vulnerable group such as the Roma population avoiding the long-ingrained stereotypes to their community. He dwelt on the ongoing theoretical and practical trainings of police officers throughout the country on human rights and conflict resolution. Mr. Enev said that there is a police methodological guidance in place on how to apply a problem-oriented approach. In addition, officers in Roma populated areas are helped in identifying and resolving local problems by the local authorities, civil society organizations and local Roma leaders. He concluded that future projects in cooperation with the non-governmental sector will supply the tools necessary to monitor police stops that would increase police efficiency and prevent illegitimate ethnic profiling.

Mr. Philip Gounev, Research Fellow at CSD’s European Program, referred to the multiple UK and US studies of racial profiling examined in the report and stated that one of the main areas that need to be addressed is how to heighten ethnic minorities’ confidence in law enforcement and the various other state institutions.

Mr. Bozhidar Bozhinov, Chairman of the Bulgarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, pointed that the Roma community’s problems need to be tackled from the inside not least by the active participation of Roma rights organizations through addressing illiteracy and a culture that might at times encourage offending. The police and the MoI could not address the multiple community problems alone and the victim role of certain ethnic groups should not be overemphasized as all citizens are equal before the law.

Association of Chief Police Officers Chair Gen. Rumen Stoilov spoke about the numerous best practices translated into local police initiatives through the association and gave examples of working with the local government and civil sector to tackle practical Roma problems. Не added that crime prevention in the Roma community could gain by locating police departments in or nearby Roma populated neighbourhoods and that the police should be aware of the possible adverse effects of ethnic data collection during stops.

Mr. Tsvetan Tsvetanov, Deputy Mayor of Sofia on security issues, argued that education underscores any possible improvements in the social status of the Roma including the reduction of crime in the community and that the lack of it in the last decade or so has led to the present deterioration in Roma living conditions. He added that police officers are those directly involved in present-day problem situations, but if long-term impact for interethnic relations and public safety is to be achieved, they need to work together with other government agencies and make their work available for civil oversight.

Ms. Maya Cholakova, Director for Ethnic and Demographic Issues at the Council of Ministers, noted that large-scale sustainable initiatives have been implemented in recent years at all levels of government and by civil society. All these, including research on Roma issues, should speed integration and social cohesion.

Public meeting agenda
Opening address of Minister of Interior Rumen Petkov (available only in Bulgarian)
Remarks of Mr. Milcho Enev, Chief Inspector, National Police Service (available only in Bulgarian)
Presentation of Mr. Tihomir Bezlov, CSD Senior Analyst (available only in Bulgarian, MS Power Point, 402 KB)
Report Police Stops and Ethnic Profiling in Bulgaria (PDF, 563 KB)
Media coverage (in Bulgarian)
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