Romany constable blows the whistle on police prejudice towards travellers

By Katy Guest

01 May 2005

One of Britain's few Romany police officers has spoken out against racism in the force, complaining that he has suffered "awful" treatment at the hands of the police.

PC Steve Dean said that the police hostility he has experienced when out of uniform explains the difficulty the police have in winning over hostile traveller communities.

"I have seen it from both sides," PC Dean said. "At the Gypsy Appleby Fair four years ago I was treated awfully by a serving police officer who thought I was a member of the travelling community."

PC Dean was with his family, who are Gypsies, and was waiting in the back of a pick-up truck. "Two officers came over and became extremely aggressive," he said. "They told me to move the truck and I explained that I wasn't the driver. Prior to us being there, there had been a car with two girls in it in exactly the same spot. The same two officers had made no effort to move them. Gypsies are the only ethnic minority it is still acceptable to be racist about."

He was also racially abused during another incident. "My father and I were breaking a horse into harness. A police car drove by as close as possible, which was very likely to spook the horse, and they started shouting abuse. It was plainly just police officers being prejudiced. I didn't tell them I am a police officer too. I didn't see what it could achieve for me."

PC Dean would like the Home Office to conduct a recruitment drive among travelling communities. He claims that some in the force still refuse to accept that Gypsies are a racial minority.

He voiced his criticisms as the Cambridgeshire force, which covers one of the country's largest concentrations of Gypsies, launched a £10,000 community relations initiative called Del Gavvers Pukker Cheerus - Romany for "give the police a chance". Free CDs tell Gypsies and travellers what steps to take if they are feeling harassed. Relations between the authorities and travellers have been particularly tense in recent months.

PC Dean, a breeding manager at Keston dog training centre in Kent, is a proud member of a Romany family. PC Dean's mother was born into a large Gypsy family that, like many, settled during the Second World War. As a child he would help his travelling relations crop picking.

"At family weddings and funerals I get a bit of teasing about my job, but nobody took it badly," he says. "I went to visit my great granddad just after I joined the police. I showed him my brand new, shiny helmet. He put it on his head and his face took on this really stern look. He pointed at the floor and said: 'Put the fire out and move on!' That's what a police officer was to him."

It is this attitude that PC Dean aims to change. But he realises it will be a slow journey. "Anyone currently living the life of a traveller will probably be very reluctant [to join the police]," he admits. "They'll have very negative experiences of their contact with the police whether they were in the right or the wrong. But if you're settled and you're not involved in crime there's no reason to have that negative view. I hope they will try to let people know that."

He does add that, since he was interviewed in the police newspaper The Job, he has had several emails from officers in the Met with similar backgrounds. "They said they'd mentioned it to colleagues and the reaction was so hostile they'd clammed up about it."
The Met, like many police forces, is proud of its efforts to build relationships with the Gypsy community. But the message is confused. One spokeswoman said there are no figures for the number of Gypsy officers because: "Race is black, white, Asian ...

There is no category for Romany." But according to Nick Williams, the Met's Gypsy and Traveller Liaison Officer: "Romany Gypsies and Irish travellers are minority groups in terms of the Race Relations Act, and Met policy states clearly that the service is aware of that."

Hughie Smith, the president of the Gypsy Council, is not optimistic. "There's more than just suspicion, there's downright enmity," he says. "A lot of police are decent people but they're the people who move us on. I've dealt with women who have lost babies during evictions, or been left to walk the streets. Gypsies have long memories."

Original Source