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Building Romanian Democracy: The Police and Ethnic Minorities

Building Romanian Democracy:

The Police and Ethnic Minorities

Bucharest, Romania

February 1994-1998




Ethnic accord depends not only on sound national policies but also upon the workaday behavior of governmental institutions and agencies. Nowhere is this more evident than in police interaction with the public, especially with members of ethnic minorities.


Even as it fosters dialogue among statesmen and political leaders, the Project on Ethnic Relations encourages the adoption of practical measures to reduce the frictions and misunderstandings that often characterize the sensitive, direct interface between the authorities and members of minority publics. As we know from the American and other Western experiences, there are no easy solutions to these problems, even in fully developed democracies with plentiful material resources. Greater still, then, is the challenge in societies that have only recently emerged from the authoritarian practices of Communist governments.


This challenge came dramatically into view when, during the first years of transition in Romania, an epidemic of lethal attacks on Romani (Gypsy) villagers by ethnic Romanians and Hungarians found the authorities ill-prepared to prevent the outbreaks or to quickly restore peace, let alone bring the instigators to justice.


In 1994, PER brought international experts to Romania in order to diagnose the sources of the violence and to recommend new practices to the presidency, the government, and the Romanian National Police. This undertaking led, in turn, to a collaboration between PER and the Southern Police Institute of the Department of Justice Administration of the University of Louisville (Kentucky), which over a period of several years organized a series of training programs that were carried out together with the Ministry of the Interior, the General Inspectorate of Police, the Council on National Minorities, and several Romani nongovernmental organizations. Representatives of the Council of Europe also participated in several of the activities. The results of this collaboration are summarized in the report that follows.


PER is pleased to have facilitated this work through its Bucharest office, and to acknowledge the pioneering role that was played by Dr. Larry Watts, who was resident in Bucharest as PER’s senior advisor when the project began and who for several years saw to the complex tasks of liaison with the Romanian authorities. Nicolae Gheorghe, then the head of Rromani CRISS, a Romani NGO, provided indispensable liaison with local communities.


The main credit for the project goes to Dr. Deborah Wilson, chair of the Department of Justice Administration of the University of Louisville. She not only was in charge of the undertaking but was a participant in all of its most important aspects. PER would like to emphasize its debt to her and to the University of Louisville. This report has been prepared by Drs. Wilson and Watts. It was edited by Warren R. Haffar of PER’s Princeton staff and Robert A. Feldmesser, PER’s senior editor. PER is solely responsible for its contents, which have not been reviewed by the participants.


Although the activities described here took place in Romania, the reader should not suppose that problems of police-minority relations are peculiar to that country or that they are more serious there than elsewhere in the region. We launched these efforts in Romania only because the authorities there were among the first to acknowledge the need for improvement and were willing to be exposed to the criticisms of outsiders. With a solid beginning in Romania, the Southern Police Institute was able to continue its work there and, in 1998, to launch a similar project in Hungary with the collaboration of PER’s Budapest office.


PER funded the initial phases of this project, while the Romanian authorities covered some local costs. Principal funding was provided directly to the Southern Police Institute under grants from the U.S. government.



Allen H. Kassof, President

Livia B. Plaks, Executive Director

Princeton, New Jersey

July, 1999



The police are the most visible governmental institution, the representation of government that citizens are most likely to observe and to have direct contact with on a regular, if not daily, basis. To civilians, the police represent “government in action” and thus may influence their overall opinions on and perspectives of the larger government, its philosophy and applicability to their daily lives. The police and their actions are therefore of central concern in the transition to a democratic form of government. The actions of the police may strengthen or weaken the public support necessary to sustain a viable democracy.


The years immediately following the revolution in Romania were times of rapid and extreme social change. Radical transformations of major social institutions, following the isolationism fostered by Communism, were necessary. Among these transformations, that of converting the police and policing philosophies and strategies to those of a democratic government, which places an emphasis on human rights and the rule of law, was initiated without great emphasis and with little concern for the consequences of such a major change.


Between 1990 and early 1994, there were a number of incidents of mob violence in Romania involving actions taken against the Roma. They frequently took the form of retaliation against Romani residents in villages for real or presumed criminal acts and often included the burning of Romani homes. In most instances, the police were seen by many as contributing directly or indirectly to the severity of these incidents.


In response to this situation, the Project on Ethnic Relations (PER) organized an assessment team, composed of specialists in police management and mob violence, to provide expert advice on the prevention and control of outbreaks of mob violence and with the long-term goal of reviewing the administration of justice and the effectiveness of local police. This assessment team was hosted by the Romanian Ministry of the Interior, the General Inspectorate of the Police, and the Council on National Minorities.


Between February 6 and 10, 1994, the team visited villages and areas in Romania where mob violence either had been threatened or had occurred during the preceding four years. The team noted that the threshold for mob violence against the Roma, particularly the burning of Romani homes, was very low. Several times, some precipitating event, such as a mugging, rape, or knife fight, had triggered the mass burning of homes, regardless of the involvement or implication of involvement of specific Romani residents in the instigating event.


The assessment team made a number of recommendations, falling into three general categories:


1. Development of policies and procedures for effective intervention


Develop a policy statement leading to guidelines for a coherent approach to the problem of intergroup violence.


Convene a conference of police officials on the subject of intergroup violence to discuss standards and strategies for addressing this problem.


Develop training materials on the management of intergroup violence.


Exchange information with police from outside Romania as a means of learning about different orientations and strategies for addressing intergroup violence.


2. Development of a centralized capacity for data collection and response oversight


Create a central office to collect and analyze information and to make recommendations concerning means of addressing intergroup violence.


Create a centralized “swift response” fact-finding team to make on-site assessments of incidents of intergroup violence and to make recommendations for prevention of these acts in the future.


Facilitate use by the fact-finding team and the national police leadership of the existing body of knowledge on intergroup violence.


3. Technical improvements in the responses to incidents


Make immediate improvements in the mobility and communications capabilities of the police at local levels, to shorten response times and increase the breadth of responses. Priority should be given to those regions in which intergroup violence has occurred or in which intergroup tensions exist and to options that would promote the most immediate improvements-i.e., those of middle or lower range in cost.



While the recommendations were specifically aimed at the reduction of mob violence against the Roma through improved strategies and responses by police, they also had broader implications for the overall operations of the Romanian National Police, regardless of the specific nature of the incident or activity.


The assessment team addressed themes central to the democratic policing model: recognition of and respect for multicultural diversity and the management of community needs in a democratic and responsive manner. Later in 1994, PER and the Department of Justice Administration of the University of Louisville formed a partnership to continue work on these themes. The goals of the partnership were to promote positive change and to implement a democratic model of policing through professional exchanges and education. Scholars from the Southern Police Institute of the Department of Justice Administration and police commanders from various jurisdictions in the United States who had been affiliated with or graduated from the institute’s programs were recruited for participation. The Romanian National Police would learn about strategies that had been used, both successfully and unsuccessfully, by American police to enhance the community responsiveness and public accountability that are intrinsic to a democratic model of policing. The educational process was viewed as an exchange relationship in which American and Romanian police could learn from and about one another.

The first result of this partnership was seen in October 1994. With sponsorship by PER, the Ministry of the Interior, and the Romanian National Police, meetings between leaders of the Romanian National Police and representatives of the Southern Police Institute were held at three locations in Romania: Calarasi, Brasov, and Bucharest. At each meeting, the participants discussed issues related to police/minority relations and the concept of police responsiveness to community diversity and needs, commonly referred to in the United States as community-oriented or community-based policing. The objectives were to establish commonalties between the Romanian and American police officers, to share information on the strategies used by American police in dealing with minority-group relations and community responsiveness, and to assess the needs of the Romanian National Police for future educational and technical-assistance programs.


Following these meetings, the U.S. participants made a number of observations and recommendations. They noted that the Romanian police were generally functioning well, given the enormous resource constraints restricting their mobility and response, their limited access to timely information, and the limitations on their ability to institute new organizational structures. The Romanian police were urged to devote more time and effort to improving police/minority relations, since it is always far less expensive, materially and in terms of public support, to prevent tensions and outbreaks than to reestablish order following strained or disrupted social relations. The U.S. participants also advised that more resources be devoted to the police by the national government. The visibility of the police and the “message” their actions send to members of the general population are representations of the government’s commitment to equality, fairness, and a democratic model of policing.


More specifically, the American team made the following recommendations:


1.        Development of policies and procedures for effective intervention in situations of social tension and conflict


Create tactical response teams that are specially trained for rapid and effective deployment to areas of rising and evident social tensions.


Create a police auxiliary in rural areas as a specially trained civilian contingent, under the control and authority of the national police, to be used to assist the regular police on an “as-needed” basis in responding to emergency situations.


Create community advisory committees with representatives from both minority and majority populations to meet regularly with local police representatives to identify and discuss community problems and their possible solutions.


2.        Police discretion


Establish uniform basic standards to guide the exercise of police discretion in responding to community needs and incidents.


Address and respond to all offenses, regardless of their nature. The failure of police to respond to incidents, especially those involving social tensions, undermines public confidence in the police and creates a perception of the police that is counter to that of a democratic model.


Recognize individual rather than collective identities. Democratic policing is defined by fairness to individuals and recognition of individual rights. Practices based on ethnic stereotypes and social-group inequities should not be supported by the police; for example, they should not use the familiar form of address or pejorative ethnic-group labels when dealing with members of minority groups.


Adopt a standard means of dealing with individuals during arrest, such as the American Miranda procedure, in which individuals are informed of their rights and inappropriate use of police discretion is avoided.


3.        Recruitment


Actively recruit members of ethnic minorities as police officers, to develop a police force whose ethnic composition reflects that of the national population. This will strengthen the perception of the police as an organization that seeks to be responsive to community needs, is respectful of cultural diversity, and recognizes the need for equality and fairness.


Eliminate legal, bureaucratic, and cultural restrictions on the hiring of ethnic minorities. Standards for recruitment and hiring must remain stringent and of the highest caliber.


4.        Public perception


Institute pre-service and in-service training in communications skills as a means of improving police/ethnic minorities relations.


Actively promote a positive image of police and the police organization through public education and media campaigns, including the publication of information on positive police activities and changes in police organization; the involvement of non-police scholars and researchers in the analysis and interpretation of statistical information; and public discussion of controversial and difficult police/community and especially minority-community issues.


Develop a program to identify the sources of social conflict and tensions and develop public education and community partnership programs to involve police and civilians in joint efforts to identify and resolve problems.



These meetings led to the development of mutual respect and strong professional ties among the participants. Building on that foundation, a conference was held in April 1995 focusing specifically on the relations between the national police and ethnic minorities. The conference was again sponsored by PER, the Department of Justice Administration, the Ministry of the Interior, the Romanian National Police and by the Romanian Council on National Minorities. Those attending included not only representatives of the Romanian National Police but also representatives of Romani, Hungarian, and Russian organizations. American participants acted as mediators and focus-group leaders.


The first task of the conference was to identify problems in police/minority relations as seen from both police and minority perspectives. Small focus groups were then formed containing equal numbers of police and ethnic minorities and chaired by an American participant. Each group was provided with a subset of the problems that had been identified and asked to develop proposals for solutions. Finally, the groups negotiated compromises among the proposals and came up with a number of broadly applicable recommendations, which were ratified at the final session of the conference. These recommendations, with some refinements from the American participants, were as follows:


1.        Development of more effective and more immediate responses to social conflicts, especially in geographically or socially isolated regions


2.        Development of strategies, involving both the police and minority organizations, for improving police/minority relations


Use designated police representatives, trained in media relations, to publicize accomplishments and successes.


Produce and give wide distribution to an annual report on the activities of the national police that would include crime statistics and information on police activities and new programs and directions.


Use police officers as “guest instructors” for programs in elementary and secondary schools as a means of introducing officers to children in a “non-official” and “non-confrontational” role. The officers would provide instruction on the workings of the criminal justice system in Romania and the newly emerging democratic model of policing. Sponsorship of youth athletic teams and the use of police officers as coaches for these teams would achieve a similar purpose.


Designate in each county police and minority representatives to function as “community contacts” during incidents of social conflict. Among other activities, these representatives would organize joint press conferences following incidents of social conflict as a means of influencing the media reporting of such incidents.


Use information on minorities in Romania collected and analyzed by academic scholars and minority specialists as the basis of material to be included in the curriculum of police pre-service training and educational programs.


Determine what types of information regarding the characteristics of an individual suspected of a crime are and are not necessary for public dissemination. In particular, the ethnicity of a suspect should be emphasized only when it is related to the need for a prompt and complete investigation, prosecution, or conviction, or when the offender poses an extreme threat to public safety and information about his or her ethnicity will result in greater public protection and a more timely arrest.


Police officers should participate actively in community organizations as a means of promoting more positive relations with the community.


Conduct an in-depth analysis of the relationship between ethnicity and criminal activity, with participation by police, academic scholars, and minority specialists.


Actively recruit minority individuals as members of the national police.


Develop mechanisms to address the exodus of talented and qualified individuals from the national police as the result of the opportunities and higher salaries available in other segments of the public sector and in the free-market economy.


Increase the emphasis on professional ethics in police pre-service and in-service training and develop mechanisms for publicizing official government reactions to police corruption, police crime, and police abuse of civilians. Police officials should institute, within their respective departments, a climate that is intolerant of the appearance or actuality of unethical police behavior.



Proceeding from observations made during these meetings, PER next sponsored, in conjunction with the Department of Justice Administration, the development and conduct of a series of police-management educational seminars in Romania. The first of these was held in Brasov in October 1996, supported in various ways by the Ministry of the Interior, the Romanian National Police, and the Brasov Police Department. Two subsequent seminars, held in Bucharest in January 1997 and Brasov in September 1997, were funded by a grant from the U. S. State Department and were supported by PER, the U.S. embassy in Romania, the Romanian National Police, the Ministry of the Interior, the Southern Police Institute, and the Foundation for Human Resources (a Romanian NGO).


These seminars were designed for leaders of the Romanian National Police at levels comparable to American police chiefs and deputy chiefs. The instructors were American police commanders with prior training in or affiliation with the Southern Police Institute. The seminars consisted of six modules presented in sets of two for each of three weeks, dealing with public accountability by the police, police professional ethics, police/community relations and partnerships, and modern police management techniques. The Romanian participants were responsive to this training; in their post-seminar evaluations, they described it as useful and applicable to their daily professional responsibilities.


In May 1997, representatives of the Department of Justice Administration made an assessment visit to Romania as part of an effort to gain support for future projects to be funded by the U.S. State Department. During this visit, a proposal was drafted, together with representatives of PER and the Council of Europe, for a long-term strategic plan for the Romanian National Police. The central themes of this plan were the adoption of community-based policing, development of strong police/community partnerships, enhancement of police/minority relations, and adoption of strong professional standards of police behavior and public accountability.


Upon initial acceptance of this plan by the Romanian National Police, it was discussed with representatives of Romani organizations. During these discussions, the new leaders of the national police sought direction, advice, and support for the plan initiatives. The Romani representatives were cautious but generally supportive, and they described instances in which the police in several jurisdictions had formed community partnerships to the betterment of police/minority relations. One example was in Sibiu, where police and majority and minority representatives were meeting regularly to discuss community issues and problems and to negotiate methods for problem resolution.


The following month, a contingent of 22 Romanians, primarily police commanders but also including prosecutors and prison officials, participated in a two-week educational program at the Southern Police Institute in Louisville, Kentucky. This program was funded by a grant from the U.S. State Department and received additional support from the Ministry of the Interior, the Romanian National Police, PER, the Foundation for Human Resources, and the police departments of Louisville and of Jefferson County, Kentucky.


The agenda for this program consisted of both classroom instruction and participatory activities such as ride-alongs with police officers while on duty, tours of police training facilities, demonstrations of various types of police equipment and strategies, and informal conversations with police leaders and officers.


During this program, the head of the Romanian National Police and the police chiefs of Bucharest and Sibiu were especially impressed with the methods of narcotics investigation used by the Louisville police, and they requested further training for the Romanian National Police in this area. The request was met with funds from the U.S. State Department and support from the University of Louisville, the U.S. embassy in Romania, the Ministry of the Interior, the Romanian National Police, and the Squad for the Combat of Narcotics and Corruption, which had recently been formed in Romania.


This training program was conducted by the Department of Justice Administration with the help of two American narcotics investigators who had extensive experience as narcotics investigators and instructors. In contrast to previous educational programs, this seminar was designed for officers working on the “street level”--that is, officers who actually conducted or were expected to conduct drug-crime investigations. Fifty officers, primarily from the Bucharest jurisdiction and the Squad for the Combat of Narcotics and Corruption, completed the program.


Though, as in any organization, pockets of resistance are still evident, the Romanian National Police leaders have become increasingly aware of the need to promote and implement changes in their organization that not only would strengthen their operational strategies but also would lead to better relations with the community and establish the police as a community-service organization that deserved the respect and credibility of the population.


An important contribution to public credibility is the manner in which the police respond to civilian allegations of police misconduct, abuse, and corruption. Issues related to professional ethics and the manner in which police agencies enforce professional standards of conduct were introduced in the initial democratic police-management seminars. As a follow-up to these seminars, the Romanian National Police took part in a series of seminars that addressed issues of police accountability and internal affairs procedures (such as a civilian complaint process). These two-week seminars, two in 1998 and one in 1999, were funded by the U.S. State Department and were supported by the University of Louisville and the U.S. embassy in Bucharest. The topics included professional ethics, public accountability, internal professional accountability systems, and the investigation and prevention of police misconduct, abuse, and corruption.


Approximately 135 Romanian National Police commanders and commanders from the Squad for the Combat of Narcotics and Corruption completed the seminars, which were held in Bucharest and Brasov. The instructors were commanders from the Louisville police department and the Kentucky State Police and a former commander from the police department of Lexington, Kentucky. In addition, the U.S. attorney and assistant attorney of Kentucky’s Western District spoke to the participants about ethical issues and legal methods of dealing with violations of professional ethics and of civil rights in the federal court system.


During the course of these activities, it became evident that Romanians take great pride in their culture, nation, and historical traditions. There has been a genuine willingness on the part of the Romanian National Police to make the sacrifices necessary in the transition to democratic policing and a strong commitment to providing the leadership that was needed and to take advantage of the transition as an opportunity for progress and improvement for their organization, the populace, and the nation.


This commitment has been made evident throughout these projects in a number of ways. Though there has been little continuity of individual leaders of the Romanian National Police--during the past three or four years, most of the top officials have served an average of six months--there has been continuity in the support of the activities described in this report. The Romanian National Police and the Ministry of the Interior have provided logistical support, accommodations, support for participants, facilities for the programs, and other constructive contributions. The recommendations coming out of the various activities have been carefully reviewed and considered for implementation by the police leadership. Lastly, the Romanian police leadership continues to be open, communicative, accessible, and interested in new ideas and in their implementation within the cultural context of policing in Romania, and it has shared information and ideas with representatives of police organizations outside Romania. Indeed, the Romanian police have been less resistant to change than police organizations in the United States generally are; most of the legislation requiring changes in police practices in Romania has been initiated by the police themselves.


Specifically, the Romanian National Police have undertaken the following initiatives as the result of the activities that have been described:


1.        Creation of a Department of Prevention to collect valid and reliable information related to social conflicts involving minorities through the use of collaborative assessment teams, with representatives of both the Romanian National Police and the Romani communities, and to promote more positive police/minority relations.


2.        Consistent and enthusiastic support for programs and conferences, including the conference with Romani participants, that seek to improve police management and community relations.


3.        The establishment, in Sibiu and other jurisdictions, of community advisory boards with Romani representatives and the use of these boards to assist police in the identification and resolution of imminent and existing problems.


4.        The development of curriculum materials to be used in the police academy to provide police officers with basic information concerning the social and cultural traditions of minorities in Romania.


5.        The incorporation of instructional materials on ethics, police/minority relations, strategic planning, and other modern management strategies into the curriculum of in-service management training seminars for police commanders.


6.        Recognition of the need to use appropriate terminology when addressing ethnic minorities, such as the use of the term “Roma” as the proper label for this ethnic group.


7.        Participation, along with Americans and representatives of the Council of Europe, in the development of a strategic plan for further democratization and modernization of the Romanian National Police.


8.        Meeting with Romani representatives from throughout the country to introduce the newly appointed head of the national police, to provide Romani leaders with information on the proposed strategic plan, and to offer an opportunity to raise concerns and pose questions related to the new police leadership.


9.        Continued efforts to develop a police-management training academy, with a curriculum that would emphasize democratization and the enhancement of police/community relations.


10.     Increased and continued interest in demilitarizing and decentralizing the police organization.


11.     Increased willingness to participate in professional exchanges that would strengthen the services provided by and the public credibility of the Romanian police.


12.     Increased recognition of the need to develop methods of preventing crime and social disorder. This has taken such forms as discussions related to juvenile delinquency, drug abuse among Romanian youth and the promotion of strategies to prevent domestic violence, crimes against women, and child abuse.


13.     A commitment to strengthening the civilian complaint process and mechanisms for controlling police misconduct, abuse, and corruption.