Only losers file complaints...?

If police officers don't trust citizens, citizens won't trust police officers either. If police officers only strive to serve the demands of abstract legislations and their superiors, instead of the public – which they are supposed to be serving – then it's no wonder that the gap between the two parties keeps deepening. If we don't have good experiences with each other – be it the police, doctors, or members of any social group – it's no surprise that we prefer to avoid each other. We're not comfortable with filing complaints, bearing witness, and in cases where we must communicate, we try to keep it as brief as possible. And if we are a member of a group (such as the Roma, gay people, disabled people) that often faces rejection and contempt in other spheres of their life as well, we are even less likely to turn to the police; because the reason why we were threatened or beaten up, the walls of our houses were covered in graffiti, or our bikes were damaged is precisely the fact that we belong to the given group. But is it in the interest of the police at all to inspect the cases of victims of hate crimes as more than just simple vandalism or assault, and do the police even want to gain the trust and cooperation of citizens?

Thankfully, experts, NGO's, the police and ministry representatives all came together at the roundtable discussions about hate crimes organised by the Ebony African Association. The discussion had a rather provocative start. Ferenc Krémer sociologist suggested in his talk that without cooperation based on partnership and the democratic restructuring of the police, they cannot function truly efficiently and cannot correspond to the interests of the public. The hierarchic system of the police that is still in place was imported from Stalin's Soviet Union in the 50's. No substantial changes have been made ever since, because the political willpower necessary for the implementation of such changes has lacked throughout all governments. For this reason, the behaviour of police officers is still predominantly motivated by the expectations of the hierarchy.

However, there can be various conflicts, interests and difficulties in citizens' lives that cannot be handled well based solely on familiarity with relevant regulations and the internal expectations of the organisation. It's certainly not a disadvantage if police officers know how to communicate well with members of the public, if they know them personally, and if they take time to discuss with them the topics that are relevant to them. Unfortunately, currently this – although there certainly are innovative communication and social sensitivity trainings included in the education of police officers – isn't among the priorities of the organisation, despite what Krémer said: „There is no partnership where hierarchy rules, and where one party feels superior to the other.” And talking honestly and with trust to a police officer that communicates down from a position of power is just as difficult as talking to an authoritarian doctor or teacher. If we are pushed down with force we are less likely to voice our issues, to ask questions, and more likely to swallow differing opinions. This isn't a problem for citizens only but for the police as well, because as a result, they have access to much less information about the matters relevant for their work.

Csilla Nagygyőr senior superintendent, the national coordinator of the hate crimes branch believes that investigating hate crimes requires much more complex work on the part of the officer in charge, because in these cases it's not only the actual physical occurences that matter, but the possible motivations of the culprit as well.

In the case of hate crimes, it's not the hostility directed personally agains the victim that the focus is on, but the hostility against the group that the victim belongs to. In other words, it's not the same if Peter is beaten up because he tells annoying jokes and provokes and offends others (because of his „Peterness”), or because he happens to be Roma, gay or disabled. In the latter case, the culprit can expect much graver consequences. But seeing through these motivations is no easy task.

Based on all this, we can come to the conclusion that if they are not investigated properly, these cases can be easily downgraded and treated as simple vandalism or assault. As being overloaded with work is not unkonwn to the police – just as in any other occupation – it is understandable that these cases are often not assessed adequately, and only few of them are treated as actual hate crimes.

The extra work could be more worth taking up if the system or the management rewarded it. But the system does not motivate the increase of criminal statistics, especially in a delicate field  such as hate crimes, even though with a crime with such a high level of latency worldwide – where a great deal of the cases is never revealed – it could be worth for the system to motivate shedding light on the „dark spots”, that is, treat hate crimes as hate crimes.

In Sweden, for example, with regard to violence against women – which field also has a low level of visibility – the police have established a system that motivates police officers to register and investigate cases – Tamás Dombos, staff member of  Háttér, and a member of   Working Group Against Hate Crimes informed us. Dombos also presented examples of good practice regarding the cooperation between Hungarian NGOs and the police, although all of them were initiated by the NGOs and they all remained at the level of trainings, case study study sessions, negotiations and suggestions.

The organisations of the working group have provided assistance both to victims and police officers conducting complaint procedures in numerous cases. Dombos believes it is important to differentiate between the two roles NGOs can take in relation to the police. On the one hand, they can choose an openly critical and rights defenders' attitude, or a more discreet advisory role. The two are in conflict with each other, as the advice of those that openly ctiticise the operation of an organisation are much less likely to be asked for or accepted.

In cases where the victim has competent support throughout the complaint and investigation processes, good results can be gained. However, „it's impossile to have an advocate for each victim”, Dombos said. This is why it's important for the system itself to have a more open attitude of partnership towards the cases of victims. Moreover, the organisations that victims are in connection with also have an important role in supporting them. Because, as most of us are not really comfortable with going to the doctor, or prefer avoiding conflicts, members of vulnerable groups are not comfortable with raising their voices when they face violence because of their identities, either. For this however, community formation is essential – according to Krémer.  

In order for someone to turn to the police, it's important for one to be aware of their rights, and to know that standing up for oneself as a victim does not make one a loser, instead, it's a cool step – that can have a fair result in a state with the rule of law.

This piece was written based on the fourth roundtable discussion organised as part of the Collaboration against hate crimes project implemented by Ebony, and the thoughts that were inspired by the discussion.