One of Britain’s largest police forces has launched a review into how it deals with Gypsies, Roma and Travellers after being accused of institutional racism by one of its own officers.
Thames Valley Police said yesterday that it had reached a settlement with Constable Jim Davies, an English Romany Gypsy who claimed at an employment tribunal earlier this year that he had been subjected to years of racial abuse.
PC Davies, 52, from Brackley, Northamptonshire, also alleged that he had witnessed other officers referring to Romany Gypsies as “pikeys”. His experiences led him to found Britain’s first Gypsy Roma Traveller Police Association (GRTPA), which launched in March and now has 55 members.
In a statement, Thames Valley Police said it would “not tolerate any form of discrimination towards any minority group”. It added: “In light of the issues and observations raised by PC Davies, a review of how Thames Valley Police engages with Gypsy Roma Traveller communities will be commenced.
“This review will be conducted independently and will involve a review of existing policies and procedures to ensure Thames Valley Police serves all of its communities and ensures that any racial stereotyping or outdated practices and procedures are amended or removed.”
PC Davies, who has worked for Thames Valley Police for 20 years and is currently in the fixed penalty unit, told The Independent he had never sought any financial compensation from the force because his only motivation was to “change things and make things better”.
Although he was unable to talk about the specifics of his own case for legal reasons, PC Davies said he had set up the new association because of the lack of a “support network” for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller police officers, who he said faced “open discrimination”.
“It’s not something that’s peculiar to the police, it’s there in all walks of life and all occupations,” he said.
“Various members tell a similar story: it’s very rare for someone to challenge a colleague for racist behaviour or racist comments if those comments apply to Gypsies and Travellers. And that makes for a very difficult working environment.”
He added that there was a tendency for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller police officers to hide their ethnicity because they were frightened about receiving abuse.
“I and other members of the association have had officers come up to us and be quite adamant that they do not want us to disclose their ethnicity to anybody else, and that’s a real worry. The only reason that someone would not want to disclose their ethnicity in their place of work is because they don’t feel safe doing so.”
PC Davies said that he hoped the GRTPA would help to foster better relations between the police and members of the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, as well as challenging the negative stereotype that “we’re all criminals”.
“If Gypsy and Traveller communities around the country can see that some of their own people are police officers, then hopefully that’ll give them more confidence in the police and take away the fear factor.”
The Traveller Movement welcomed the independent review but added that the case of PC Davies showed “serious failings” had taken place in the past.
Mike Doherty, a spokesman for the charity, said: “Police forces, like any other British institution, are not immune from institutionalised discrimination towards the UK’s Romany Gypsy and Traveller ethnic minorities and it is good to see Thames Valley grasping the nettle and initiating a review into both how it polices these communities and how its officers from those communities are treated.