Negative portrayals of Gypsy-Travellers in the media make it more difficult for authorities to forge good relationships with those communities, MSPs were told.
Some reports in local newspapers would be "illegal and clearly unacceptable" if they concerned any other ethnic minority, while the language which is sometimes used when discussing Travellers can be "disturbing", Holyrood's Equal Opportunities Committee heard.
During a round-table discussion examining the accommodation available to Travellers, Gavin Buist, vice-president of the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents (ASPS), told the committee, "Personally I don't find the mainstream media portrayal of Gypsy-Travellers particularly helpful in fostering relationships between the broader community and that particular group in the community.
"It does tend to shape the views of what I will try and call the settled community, particularly if an unauthorised encampment has appeared."
Mr Buist said the police come under pressure from landowners to take action on Travellers who set up unauthorised camps on private land. He said discussions with community councils had also revealed "disturbing rhetoric" in relation to Gypsy-Travellers in the past.
"I think we have a way to go in building up a relationship of trust, but I draw some comfort from the fact that if we look back 20 years ago and the police relationship with LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people, that wasn't good," Mr Buist said.
"Twenty years on it is light years better than it ever was, so we can do it."
ASPS is urging local authorities to provide more authorised sites, which could help improve relations with the Gypsy-Traveller community.
Helen Watson, head of planning, health improvement and commissioning at NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, agreed that "proper campsites" in every local area would make it easier to provide healthcare and other services.
She backed Mr Buist's claims that negative media coverage was hindering progress in improving relations between the so-called settled community and Travellers, saying: "Some of the reports we see, particularly in some of the local papers, if it was relating to another ethnic minority, it would be quite clearly illegal, and it would be quite clearly unacceptable."