Two good agents could replace two mobile units
Peter Slort is the highly driven portfolio holder for Diversity with the Dutch National Police. Since November 2016 he has been spreading the importance of diversity throughout the police organisation.
Slort (58) is a firm believer in a broad approach to increasing diversity within the police organisation. 'It's a waste of time trying to deal with ethnic profiling if you aren't at the same time striving for a diverse organisation. And equally it's pointless recruiting young people with a migration background into the police if you lose them again in no time.' Slort has four main lines of approach. Not all of them relate to bicultural groups, although this aspect does have high priority; two other focus areas are the influx of women (which is already well advanced) and homosexuality (in the 'Pink in Blue' teams, for example) which has been the subject of attention for much longer.
Strengthening the connection
The first line is to strengthen the connection with those sections of the population from a migration background. This is being approached in several different ways. Dialogue meetings are organised with local citizens and external partners, police officers take part in diverse unifying activities, such as iftars (the evening meal during Ramadan), dialogues on keti koti (the celebration of the abolition of slavery) and national commemorations. And a network of external allies and key figures is being developed at all levels of the police. All these activities are aimed at building mutual trust. Slort: ‘It's important to build good relations, particularly in times of peace. We already have the experience that it can avoid a situation getting out of hand. Two good police officers in the right place at the right time can avoid the need for two mobile units getting involved.'
Diverse police community
The second line relates to the efforts to create a diverse police force. 'I am absolutely convinced that that will improve the quality of the force - which is already among the best in the world. We don't necessarily aim for the police to be a reflection of the local population. If we did that, it would mean that in the Schilderswijk in The Hague, 90% of the agents would have to come from a migration background. What's important is to bring in competences such as cultural knowledge and language skills. These competences are then shared with and taught to all staff within the police.'
A major success has been won in this area: of the 750 new recruits at the Police Academy, 25% have a migration background. How did they manage to achieve this? 'It took a huge effort,' Slort says. 'We ran a highly focused recruitment campaign, had open days in libraries in large cities, went into mosques, used our network, and so on.'
Retaining police officers with a migration background
The third line - and a major priority - is retaining recruits with a migration background. There have been quotes in the press by police officers who do not feel safe within the police because they feel they are targeted by their Dutch colleagues. That was reason enough for some of them to leave the police force. Slort: ‘This is something we see affecting more people in the police force than only those with a migration background. The issue of inclusion affects everyone. It is a highly complex issue because it has to do with prejudice and culture. We have now set up a special programme to address this problem and to transform the police into an inclusive organisation for everyone.' This will be the subject of Slort's lecture at the diversity symposium at Leiden University on 22 November.
The fourth line is strengthening the professionalism of the police at all levels. As an example Slort mentions ethnic profiling. Leiden University concluded after a recent study that this is not a structural issue, but young people from a migration background have a different experience. ‘Their image is that the police are their enemy. We really need to eradicate that. Everyone within the police force has to really understand that discrimination is not acceptable, and that any checks that are made should be on the basis of facts and circumstances. Knowledge and competences are important resources here, including on groups with a migration background. We are addressing this issue by working on a network of people with diverse professional skills. The network includes police officers who can be called in when their specific knowledge and competences are needed.'
Slort stresses that it will be a long process made up of many small steps, and that these steps have to be taken mainly by the local units themselves. 'Our philosophy is that it has to be done within the units themselves,' Slort says. 'We mobilise people who also see the need for this process. Practical and achievable plans are now being developed together with project consultants. The plans may be very different in terms of content and speed, and that's fine. Of course, there are murmurings from people who are worried about positive discrimination, but it's not a matter of choice; we're going to carry on monitoring progress.'
The police are the most visible group of public service providers, which makes them particularly susceptible to adverse publicity and image problems. The report that police officers with a migration background were involved in 40% of the infringements of integrity, while they make up just 7% of the total police force, was immediately front-page news. The solution is being sought in stricter and more extensive screening of all police staff, with the individual's social environment also being the subject of scrutiny. And then there is the debate on whether or not head coverings should be allowed. Chief of Police Erik Akerboom's positive attitude towards this issue was met with a lack of support within both the police and the general public. A trainee police officer has since initiated a case against the police, which is still ongoing.
These issues do not impact Slort's enthusiasm for his mission. 'It won't always be easy, but it has to happen, and it'ssomething we want to happen!'
See here the full programme for the symposium on How inclusion makes diversity work on 22 November in Scheltema. NB. Tickets are still available, but only for the evening programme.
Who is Peter Slort?
Peter Slort started at the Police Academy in 1978, where he took the training programme for potential managers. He has held different positions at the Amsterdam-Amstelland police department, including in the uniformed service, central investigation department, foreign residents police and district chief in Amsterdam-West. His most recent position, which he held until the end of 2016 before becoming portfolio holder for Diversity and the Power of Difference - the official title - was as Head of Operations in the east of the Netherlands. From 2001 to 2007 Slort worked in Washington at the Netherlands Embassy, where he was the Dutch liaison officer in the fight against international crime, in which - in addition to Dutch citizens - North and Central Americans were also involved. As part of a management training programme, he carried out research on diversity within the police in the US. The differences are greater than the police series on TV would have us believe. The teams there are very large, ranging from highly diverse groups to totally white ones. But a lot is happening there too in terms of diversity.’