We are currently experiencing network problems with the desktop version of Police Oracle. We hope to have these resolved as soon as possible.

Breaking down barriers: The Gypsy Roma Traveller Police Association

The police and the traveller community are normally thought of together in terms of crime. It's for this reason an association of Gypsy Roma Traveller (GRT) officers exists to move the relationship between forces and the community in a new direction.

Pete Kotlar is a PC with Cheshire Police. He is also one of the co-directors of the Gypsy Roma Traveller Police Association (GRTPA), whose founding motive in 2014 was to challenge what he refers to as the  “negative, stereotypical, racist behaviour - if you like - from police officers and staff”

He adds: "Our main message has always been for officers to consider before you use the word traveller consider if you would refer to any other ethnicity in the same manner. Before you say something about travellers, for example, would you say the same thing about any other race or ethnicity?"

The GRTPA currently has more than 70 members from across the UK and receives no external funding. 

PC Kotlar, who is originally from Slovakia, said that discriminating against GRT people was the acceptable norm in society and therefore also within the police service.

"It seems to be acceptable, and the norm to be using various terms and language towards GRT. That's just the culture we live in unfortunately, not just in police forces but nationally."

Part of the problem he said was before the existence of GRTPA the negative behaviours or language towards GRT within the police were never challenged. He also believes such attitudes have a lot to do with lack of education and awareness and said he sometimes comes across people who are not aware GRT was even deemed a separate ethnicity.

Officers’ perception of the GRT community can be seen through the lens of high levels of crime at certain encampments and high profile confrontations between the police and members of these communities.

The darkest of these is undoubtedly the events of last August when Thames Valley PC Andrew Harper was killed by three men from a traveller site in Berkshire.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) lead for Gypsies, Roma and Travellers, Cheshire DCC Janette McCormick, said last month after the perpetrators were jailed that it was wrong to “demonise” an entire ethnicity and assume that the traveller community were “inherently criminal”.   

DCC Janette McCormick said it was wrong to 'demonise' a community

PC Kotlar and the GRTPA want to send the same message and challenge the stereotype of entrenched criminality.

The general engagement or knowledge of the police towards GRT is around encampments or unauthorised encampments. However, that involves a very small percentage of GRT ethnicity he says.

One of the GRTPA’s aims for this year was to engage forces in carrying out their own internal review of whether GRT was used as a risk factor in their National Decision Model (NDM) process.

“I don't feel any ethnicity should be used as a risk factor. So when we see GRT mentioned in incidents and that's one of the reasons why we deploy officers - that is wrong.”

The Association also does not agree with the concept of forces having a Gypsy Traveller Liaison Officer. PC Kotlar said if forces want to have encampment officers to deal with unauthorised encampments then they should be named as such

He said engagement should be done by all officers on the beat, mainly PCSOs.

"Unauthorised encampment is not a criminal offence but a civil matter between the landowner or the local authority. Unless there are reports of ASB or criminal offences being committed by individuals within the unauthorised encampment, I can’t see how regular “passing attention” checks in the area is a proportionate response."

Being GRT can be an invisible characteristic. PC Kotlar said he has never felt disadvantaged or discriminated against within the police force. Yet he can see the tension in the relationship between the police and the GRT members of the public.

"From my own experience or my family's experience, my parents especially back in Slovakia, mainly because of ethnicity, the police were overtly racist towards them. So when they came to the UK, there were the same perceptions and the same fear of being discriminated against. From speaking with the members of the traveller communities, a lot of them have negative experiences with the police, unfortunately. That's why they wouldn't be really keen to engage. However, that's changing and that is the reason the GRTPA is there. Our motto is breaking down barriers and building trust with the communities."

PC Kotlar wants the police to be a service that all groups feel they can turn to when they need to. 

"We have a lot of domestic violence within our community as well. And again, victims of domestic violence don't want to get in touch with the police because of lack of trust."

PC Pete Kotlar (below)

Leave a Comment
View Comments 12
In Other News
Interview: Race Action Plan update
Surrey PCC says trespass should be made a criminal offence
Ignorance isn't bliss as pubic prove clueless about reporting crime
More News