Saturday, March 13, 2010

Police Chief Comment on Eastern Europeans.

Last weekend, in connection with a recent murder case in Denmark, a Danish police chief in the homicide department, Ove Dahl, was quoted in the Politiken newspaper as saying (my translation):
The open borders results in us being overrun by Eastern Europeans. It's a huge problem. They commit bank robberies, burglaries, serious thief, begging, shoplifting - everything.
The Romanians are unscrupulous. They kill for a couple hundred kroner. It's a completely different culture.
After reading the quote, the vice president of the Radikal Liberal party, Zenia Stampe, reported the police chief for violation of section 266b of the Danish Penal code, which makes public comments degrading or insulting a particular group of persons on account of, inter alia, nationality, an offence.

The next day the police chief appologised, well kind of appologised, for his remarks and Zenia Stampe withdrew her accusation.

What happened next, is the most interesting thing in this matter: The near universal condemnation of Stampe! MP's, members of the public and the rightwing Jyllands Posten newspaper rushed to support of the police chief and disapproval of Stampe. Even the liberal Politiken devoted an editorial to the matter, criticising Stampe and calling the police chiefs remarks 'unfortunate'.

My own thoughts on this matter are somewhat contradictory.

I cannot condone Stampe, as I a disapprove of the inclusion of section 266b in the penal code. Although rarely used and requires a clear degrading statement, e.g. "All .... are vermin", for conviction, the section is an affront to freedom of speech.

I must, on the other hand, be critical of the police chiefs remarks, which in my opinion are xenophobic, even if there is an increased and large amount of crime being commited by Eastern Europeans. If quoted correctly, the police chief, by using general language such as 'being overrun by Eastern Europeans', 'The Romanians' and 'different culture', was not just directing his remarks to those committing crimes in Denmark, but to Eastern Europeans and Romanians in general.

The support for the police chiefs remarks by the politicians, newspapers and members of the public, therefore reveals a deafness to xenophobic language which exists in Denmark.


At 14 March, 2010 17:35, Blogger karlund said...

Why hasn't anyone attacked the law, which clearly is against the Danish constitution?!

I too can't understand the support for the police statement.

So I guess I completely agree with you...

At 21 March, 2010 09:34, Blogger Torsten Pedersen said...

Karlund, one (sad) thing that I've realised since returning to Denmark to work as a 'jurist', is how weak a protecter of civil liberties the Danish Consitution (i.e. 'grundlov') is.

Danish courts show great deference to parliament and are very unwilling to question the constitutionality of legislation passed by it. The Danish constitution ( i.e. 'forfatning') is, therefore, more akin to the British constitution, than the US constitution and other legally entrenched constitutions.

What Danish courts are good at doing, is enterpreting legislation in light of the Constitution. Section 226b, which was introduced into the penal code in 1938 after the 'Kristallnacht ' in Germany, is therefore interpreted narrowly to comply with the constitutional right of free speech. Section 226b is, therefore, rarely used, and was, for example, not considered as applying to the infamous Jyllands-Posten cartoons.

At 25 June, 2010 00:45, Anonymous JayDubya said...

Whilst I understand the points of view expressed here, it appears that no one has adressed the issue of if there is some basis in fact to support the Police Officer's statement.

If there is no supporting evidence, then there is a clear case to address. If the statement in fact is supported, surely this is a larger issue to consider than offending the feelings of the group of individuals from which the recidivsts originate?


At 26 June, 2010 11:12, Blogger Torsten Pedersen said...

JayDubya, if Romanians were committing serious crimes in increased numbers, then I would have no problem with a police chief saying so.

The police chiefs remarks did not, however, stay within facts and evidence, but was an expression his own opinions and judgements. He claimed, amongst other things, that Denmark was being "overrun" by Eastern Europeans, that the Romanians are "unscrupulous", and that they commit serious crimes because they have "a completely different culture". Judgements of being overrun, scruples and culture, can hardly be evidenced by facts.

There has, nevertheless, been some debate in Denmark on whether there is evidence to support the police chiefs remarks. For example these articles in the Politiken newspaper: and 

In the first article a criminologist argues that Romanians do not statistically commit more crimes, in terms of how many Romanians are resident in Denmark, than Danes.

In the second a police commissioner argues that from 2008 to 2009 there has been increase of 70 % in Romanians committing crimes in Denmark, but this is typically "tourist crimes", i.e. crimes by persons not resident in Denmark, and that Romanians are committing very low level crimes, i.e. stealing from vending and cash machines, and not crimes of violence against persons.

It is my experience, from working in the Danish Immigration Service department that deals with deportations (both administrative and court ordered deportations), that Romanians are overrepresented in the numbers of foreigners committing crimes in Denmark. These crimes and offences are, however, most often shoplifting, confidence tricks and begging.

I my opinion the evidence does not, therefore, support chiefs remarks as to an increase in serious crimes commited by Eastern Europeans, and definitely does not support his opinions on Romanians scruples and culture.

At 29 June, 2010 01:21, Anonymous JayDubya said...

Thanks for your reasoned and clear response - one of the reasons I bothered to leave a comment at all was your record of reason!

This is a difficult subject, and one that becomes more prevelent as time progresses. It is difficult in two main ways:

1) As in the famous quote 'there are lies, damned lies and statistics', the sponsor of any particular statistical analysis will in general colour the outcome of a study. Your examples suggest that this is the case, so it is difficult to know the true story.

2) In addition to the above, it is the individual's experience of and perception of crime - and the importance of that crime - which may form a solid opinion for the individual. This applies to all sections of the community. I would guess that this includes Police Chiefs, but they probably should be slightly more politically aware!

It is point 2 that probably explains the support for the police statement. The fact that most of the crime involved seems to be low-level does in my experience causes more damage to the general population as it is (in frequency terms) more likely to affect the individual. Consequently, that person (and everyone they tell) will form an opinion based on that. A victim of crime feels like a victim of crime, regardless of the level of that crime. Low level crime MATTERS to the individual, because thankfully that is all most people will encounter.

All of which leaves us where we started! However, it is not just restricted to Denmark where these feelings are evident. There are many in the UK who have this view. Is this coincidence, or the spread of xenophobia?

I wouldn't consider myself right wing, but I do consider myself to be anti-crime. There is always a victim, even if it is someone made to feel uncomfortable by an insistent beggar. If a certain community is perpetrating any crime (and I realise that has not been proven) it is in the public interest to provide that information. It could be, that if these suggestions have foundation, that self-policing from those communities might be beneficial. It is never a whole community that behaves in a detrimental way, but the whole community will be labelled.

Just a thought!


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