Study finds ethnic profiling is a widespread problem in Finland among the police, Finnish Border Guards and security guards

by , under Enrique Tessieri

The Stopped research and journalism project, Finland’s first-ever comprehensive study on ethnic profiling, published its finding Tuesday. While there have been scores of stories published about ethnic profiling on publications like Migrant Tales, there is nothing surprising by the study’s findings. 

If there is something that surprised us it was that ethnic profiling, despite continuous denials by the police, is so widespread that it is a serious problem.

One reason why ethnic profiling is so widespread in Finland is because it is condoned and encouraged politically by politicians, even ministers.

The big question is what will the police, Finnish Border Guards and security guards do to tackle ethnic profiling? Taking into account the anti-immigration atmosphere in Finland, it is clear that such measures will take time and happen slowly.

You can read the full study here.


Here are some headlines of the study:

MTV: Ethnic profiling is so common that some minorities are used to it – security guards are rude but the police are more polite

Helsingin Sanomat: Helsinki police: A lot of work has been done to do away with ethnic profiling – according to a new study (police) stops are common.

YLE NEWS: Study: Ethnic profiling in Finland continues despite legal prohibition. 

YLE: I considered it odd that they stop me a black person at every metro station – ethnic profiling affects people’s daily lives 

Helsinki University: Ethnic profiling is a problem in Finland, according to a research and journalism project 

Iltalehti: Study on ethnic profiling by the police: You are invited to search for “non-Finnish looking” people – language skills are asked later.

Ilta-Sanomat: A Nigerian woman standing in the street was asked “what are you doing here” (by the police) – this is what ethnic profiling looks like in Finland. 


Here are some of the conclusions of the study on ethnic profiling:

  • “The Finnish Alien’s Act (where ethnic profiling is clearly stated that it is illegal) does not give a sufficient criterion for reasonable suspicion, and thus the police are not required to specify the grounds for their checks. The subsequent wide discretionary power leads police to use their intuition or ‘gut feeling,’ discussed as tacit knowledge in the research, to identify targets of control.”

  • “The interviews with the police support the information provided by the interviews with stopped persons which show that the initial reason for the approach is based on ethnic or racial criteria, after which the question of language is raised. The practices of police can often include a direct, or more commonly an indirect, reference to seek for ‘non-Finnish looking persons,’ i.e. non-white persons.
  • “Legislation, it seems that at least part of the police force has resorted to a kind of ‘double-standard,’ which means the leadership states that ethnic profiling is not allowed but the practice has not changed. This may be due to a lack of instructions or hinting on the acceptability of practices of searching for “non-Finnish looking persons” as long as this is not made public.”
  • “Practices that only or predominantly register stops in which the reason for ID-check or other police action was grounded omit information about the whole phenomenon and hinder investigation on (the risks of) ethnic profiling. Transparent and systematic registration would enhance possibilities of following police practices and the ways that they are directed towards different groups in the society (OSJI 2012, 75). In Sweden, regulations on registering all stops and their grounds have been introduced, but the practices are not always in line with the regulations; however, proper registering practices could provide means for those who wish to inquire or complain about police stops (Leander 2014a, 11–21).”
  • “Another kind of police action that has been identified as problematic in relation to ethnic profiling, i.e. terrorism related surveillance (e.g. Mulinari 2017, 24–26), does not feature in our data very much. These kinds of actions and logics of ethnic profiling are mentioned mainly in connection to control at airports and harbours. The interviewees mentioned security and customs checks in which the terrorism related suspicions were apparent to them. However, we did not set out to investigate these kind of stop and search actions by the police, which may mean that our questions were not formulated in a manner to invite such discussions.”
  • “Both the results from the interviews and the survey also point to the direction that the police are more skilful in exercising control of racialized minorities than the security guards. The interviewed persons who had experiences of stops by both groups emphasised that the police were often more reasonable while the guards were evaluated as rude and aggressive.”
  • “The legislative changes that were introduced to the Alien’s Act, which should prevent ethnic profiling by the police and border controls, are an important achievement. However, current legal framework provides a wide discretion and does not include strict enough criteria to stop ethnic profiling. Our study shows that there are also problems with police practices that need to be addressed. Moreover, the practices and guidelines of security guards seem to be investigated or regulated to an even lesser degree and the results of this study indicate a clear need for further interrogation of these.”
  • “Lastly, both the interviews and the survey analysis point towards a need for information on the rights of those stopped and the complaint mechanisms related to ethnic profiling experiences. A majority of the respondents in the survey requested such information and were not sure where they would turn to in case they would wish to provide a complaint. None of the interviewed persons told about having filed a complaint, despite the many experiences of ethnic profiling they described.”