New Dutch police chief says he has no magic cure for discrimination
Racism and discrimination is a more deeply rooted problem than he imagined, Henk van Essen, the new chief of the National Police, said in an interview with the Volkskrant. While there is no "medicine" against discrimination, the Dutch police are actively trying to fight against this issue, he said.
"The sense of disadvantage and inequality that people experience, including within the police, is deeper rooted than I could have imagined ten years ago. What I have learned is that it is extremely difficult to put yourself in that feeling when you don't have that color or orientation," Van Essen said to the newspaper, speaking about the Black Lives Matter protests in the Netherlands and all over the world in the past weeks. Van Essen said that he's realized that "you can say that everyone has equal opportunities, but that does not make up for the disadvantages that some already have at the start."
Last week, Van Essen sent a message to all 65 thousand police officers in the Netherlands, regarding the protests. "Unfortunately there are also forms of discrimination and racism in the police in our country," the message read. "We must remain active to eliminate and prevent this."
According to Van Essen, the police have programs to promote diversity. In the past it was the "Power of Difference" program. "It emphasized that each officer is unique, has their own talents, and that diversity is important," he said. Now there is the "Police is for everyone" program, which focuses on how this diverse group of people can work well together, he said. "To achieve that, we now have the 'Safe Teams' program. One of my one-liners is: if you want to strengthen safety and confidence on the outside, it is essential that you also create this on the inside. This means that we must enter into conversation with each other."
When asked whether "entering into conversation with each other" will be enough to eliminate discrimination, the police chief responded: "If there is a medicine that will prevent discrimination in a year and a half, I would like to hear about it. I do not know of it. But it starts with being consistent in my message and expecting the same from other leaders. This message is in the training, in interim training, and in the way people respond to individual case histories. It is the power of repetition, but it takes time."
Van Essen also said that the reason protests against racist police brutality in the Netherlands haven't ended in riots, like in other countries, is because the Dutch police are "different from the police in Brussels, Germany, France or America."
"Nobody has yet asked why it is that all demonstrations end in riots there and not here," he said. "This is partly due to the fact that the police in the Netherlands are not against, but among people. The community police officer alone on the street, where do you still see that? Not in Brussels, not in Paris. We are unique in this. It is because of our local anchoring, because of the good relationships we build. That is what we stand for. That is sometimes underestimated."