, Volume 14, Issue 3, pp 265-292
Date: 09 Sep 2006

Racialisation in police stop and search practice – the Norwegian case

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Abstract

This paper explores the reasons for the conflictual relationship between the police and ethnic minority men in stop and search encounters, which leads to the often heard allegation that “All police are racists.” It deals with stop and search practices in Oslo as described in interviews with ethnic minority informants and police officers, and as observed through fieldwork amongst the Oslo police rank and file. The approach is qualitative, and explores the perceptions of those stopped by the police, as well as the police’s perception of stops and ethnic minority groups. The paper explores a few individual cases in depth to provide an alternative reading of stop and search that is lacking in the mainstay of quantitative studies. The first case analysed has a perspective which emphasises the interaction as it unfolds between the police and the ethnic minority man stopped, and explores the reasons for the resulting escalation. Elements of the stop which are analysed include the police’s refusal to explain the stop; this in turn causes disrespect on both sides which results in invectives, resistance, bystander involvement, and the police officers’ call for assistance. The other cases analysed in the paper are, to a higher degree, viewed in the light of police perceptions of and their contextual experiences regarding ethnic minorities. The complexity in the analysis corresponds to the complexity determining stop situations. Regular stop situations and their outcomes involve vague descriptions and the police’s lack of discernment in consideration of suspects from different ethnic minority groups. Police stereotyping accounts for what ethnic minority men perceive as unjustified stop and search, with the findings suggesting that the Oslo police practice ‘car profiling’ as much as ethnic profiling. To this end it is suggested in the paper that the combination of having dark skin and driving a BMW exposes ethnic minority men to stop and search.