Swedish police backtrack on ‘ethnic’ profiling

Police in Stockholm have been forced to apologize after singling out three nationalities in a letter to a local neighbourhood watch group warning them against organised crime, according to Swedish media reports.

“Criminals are criminals, their nationalities are a lesser matter,” Mauro Gonzalez of the Federation of Chilean Associations in Sweden (Chilenska Riksförbundet) told The Local.

The letter sent out by police in Huddinge, a southern suburb of Stockholm, advised residents to be especially vigilant of “South Americans – in particular from Chile”, “Lithuanians” and “Romanians”, after a wave of burglaries in the area.

Many felt singled out due to the letter’s references to specific nationalities. One resident reported the letter to the Ombudsman for Justice (Justitieombudsmannen – JO).

“I got this in regards to a neighbourhood watch programme from the local police. I question if it is ok to point the finger at different nationalities this way,” the report read, according to news website nyheter24.

The Federation of Chilean Associations in Sweden (Chilenska Riksförbundet) have also publicly complained and asked for an apology from the police.

“We feel that it is wrong of the police to link criminal activities to specific nationalities,” said Gonzalez.

Anna Schelin at the local police said to nyheter24 that it was the “unfortunate phrasing” of the letter which lay behind the stong reactions. She told the news site that she had received a call from a man who wanted to know why the letter had been sent out.

“I had to explain it to him and I think he understood better. The reason behind it is that a lot of burglaries have been committed in the area. There is nothing racist in calling someone a South American or Romanian,” Schelin told the news site.

The police think that the ombudsman will have to decide if sending out the letter was wrong or not, but they stress that they have not meant to offend anyone.

“We have had reactions from people who feel offended, so all we can do is apologize and try to explain that sometimes we need to give this kind of information and it is important it is not taken out of its context,” said Hesam Akbari at the Stockholm police information department to Sveriges Radio (SR).

Akbari added that the perpetrators in this case have come to Sweden solely for this purpose and are not Swedish residents.

According to Gonzalez, the federation understands that information has to be sent out to residents warning them of current criminal activity.

“But they could warn residents that the perpetrators are from countries other than Sweden, they don’t have to link them to specific countries like they did in this case,” Gonzalez told The Local.

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