In recent years, the police have paid a lot of attention to racial profiling. But it is certainly not only a person’s immigration background that can lead to police identifying certain people as suspects. This is evident from a report by the Police and Science Research Program.
What about the level of education, for example? The research shows that young people of immigrant background are two to three times more likely to be suspected of a crime compared to young people of Dutch origin who have committed the same crimes. But the difference between secondary pre-vocational education and pre-university education is even greater. The first group in the photo appears almost five times earlier than their more educated peers.
“Ethnic groups are often mentioned in cases of unequal treatment by the police,” says researcher Willemijn Bezemer of Erasmus University Rotterdam. “Caring for this is very important. But the great value of this study is that it is clear that other groups also experience differences in the chance of criminal behavior being registered by the police. From a justice and crime control standpoint, it is important to pay more attention to this,” Bezemer says.
Together with Erasmus colleague Arjen Leerkes, Bezemer compared the self-reports of 6,000 young people about their criminal behavior with police statistics. The Central Bureau of Statistics conducted the research among young people in 2010 and 2015. The researchers wrote: “To our knowledge, this is a unique database with unique research capabilities both nationally and internationally.” This allowed them to identify an over- or under-representation of each group that could not be explained by patterns of self-reported criminal behavior. In addition to race and education level, factors such as gender and living environment were taken into account.
Boys appear to have three times as many suspicious registrations in their name as girls who report the same criminal behaviour. Young people in the urban environment end up in the police statistics at a rate of up to 3.5 times more than youth in the countryside who exhibit the same criminal behaviour.
Based on their own research, scientists can’t pinpoint the reasons for these differences, but they offer possible explanations.
For example, previous research has already pointed to unequal treatment of young people with higher and lower education by the police. “If young people are able to make an impression of a good citizen, for example by responding politely, apologizing and not appearing intimidating, they can get away with often infringing behavior,” the researchers said. As a result, victims or local residents are less likely to report the crime. Additionally, police officers only have their “discretion” to issue a warning to someone.
Regarding the harm of boys, researcher Bezemer believes that girls get away with crime more easily because of their innocent image. “Girls are not usually considered very dangerous,” she says. “But of course it is not the intention that half of the young people get away with crime more easily.”
The study gives an example of shoplifting. “Security in the store may be more attentive to people perceived as ‘common criminals’; a thirteen-year-old girl dressed may be less watchful than a seventeen-year-old boy.”
Young criminals in rural areas may “benefit” from the reduced police force there. The researchers also suspect that the police are less likely to be called due to greater social control in smaller communities. If officers are called, they may overlook the crime sooner if they know the perpetrators and the parents.
“Overall, our analyzes indicate that there is a significant degree of juvenile delinquency in the Netherlands that the police have not had much insight into. This relates mainly to crime among (children of) educated people, among young people of Dutch origin, among young people from non-urban areas and crime among girls / young women”, according to the researchers.
They argue in favor of expanding the discussion about racial profiling. According to the researchers, “There is a significant lack of attention to factors that are more or less related to ethnicity, but are also relevant to young people who do not have an immigrant background.”
A version of this article also appeared on NRC on the morning of October 15, 2021
“Twitter junkie. Lifelong communicator. Award-winning analyst. Subtly charming internetaholic.”