Survey Data Highlights Police Ethnic Bias in Spain

A new national survey released today in Madrid indicates that members of ethnic minorities in Spain are twice as likely to be stopped and checked by police than members of the majority population.

The survey, carried out by the survey firm Metroscopia and analyzed by researchers from the Human Rights Institute of the University of Valencia and from Oxford University, supported by the Open Society Justice Initiative, provides new evidence of the extent to which Spanish police are disproportionately targeting members of ethnic minorities for identity checks and other police stops.

In addition, the survey found that members of ethnic minorities who were not born in Spain were three times more likely to be stopped than members of the Spanish majority. Of those surveyed, in the past two years 60 percent of people of Gitano background had been stopped and 45 percent of individuals of North African background were stopped, while just 6 percent of people with Caucasian European background were stopped.

The survey used telephone and personal interviews to ask 2,800 people across Spain a range of questions about encounters with police, and covered both street stops and vehicle stops.

Despite the higher likelihood of being stopped, there is no difference in arrest or summons rate across ethnic appearances, nationality, or religion, indicating that the use of perceived ethnic features as the basis to stop someone is not an effective indicator for quality law enforcement or improving citizen security.

The survey shows that within the past two years:

  • Non-Spanish nationals are three times more likely to be stopped than Spanish nationals.
  • Of those surveyed, Spanish born ethnic minorities were three times more likely to be stopped (16 percent) than of the ethnic majority Caucasian population (5 percent).
  • Among those surveyed, 36 percent of non-Spanish born ethnic minorities reported being stopped versus just 5 percent of Spanish born Caucasians.
  • The percentage of each ethnic group who reported being stopped in the past two years were: 60 percent of persons of Gitano appearance, 45 percent of persons of North African appearance, 39 percent of persons of Afro-Latin American appearance; 22 percent of Andean-Latin American appearance; and 6 percent of Caucasian European appearance.
  • Muslims have reported being stopped at three times the rate than Christians or those of other or no religion.
  • Half of the Muslims surveyed reported being stopped more than four times in the past year alone.

The survey report comes on the heels of very recent reports by the Spanish Human Rights Ombudsman, the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophoboia and related intolderance, Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, and the Human Rights Commissioner of the Council of Europe, which have documented and condemned ongoing practices of ethnic profiling by Spanish police.

Although the Ministry of Interior issued a Circular in 2012 calling for an end to the practice, the reports by these oversight bodies, as well as from domestic and international human rights NGOs have demonstrated that the practice has continued.

The Ministry of Interior reported over 7,900,000 identity checks in 2012 alone. There is no publicly available data that presents the ethnic identity of people stopped by the police.

Speaking at a news conference to announce the report at the office of the Defensora del Pueblo, Mohamed Gerehou, a Spanish born citizen of Gambian background who has experienced repeated police stops, said:

“I very much welcome the survey findings as it validates what myself and others have reported. This is not just a statistical fact, but it is about people’s lives. As a Spanish citizen born and raised in Spain, ethnic profiling is especially damaging as I am made to feel a second-class citizen and told that I don’t belong here.”

José García Añón, of the Human Rights Institute of the University of Valencia said: “This study is the first of its kind to offer empirical evidence that proves the ongoing use of ethnic profiling by Spanish police and the consequences it generates. While such statistical evidence is a critical step in documenting and addressing the problem, the next step necessary is to create solutions to eradicate it, avoiding these acts of discrimination.”

James A. Goldston, executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative, which works to end ethnic profiling by police across Europe, said:

“This report underlines the need for the Ministry of the Interior and the Spanish authorities to implement binding regulations prohibiting the use of ethnic profiling by police officers and to implement effective monitoring and oversight mechanisms, such as stop forms, to ensure fair and effective policing for all Spanish residents.”

The launch of the report has also been endorsed by Amnesty International Spain, and by the Plataforma for la Gestión Polical de la Diversidad, a police and civil society national coalition, that includes the association of local police chiefs in Spain, Unijepol.

The work of the Open Society Justice Initiative to eliminate discrimination includes research, litigation and capacity-building aimed at ending ethnic profiling by police in the United States and Europe.