France needs to ‘rethink the relationship’ between the police and citizens

Policiers Manifestations

Policiers Manifestations

As despair mounts among France’s overworked police force, FRANCE 24 speaks to criminologist Mathieu Zagrodzki about the frustration that has seen law enforcement take to the streets in protest against an increasing work load and extra hours.

French President François Hollande meets with representatives of police unions on Wednesday after more than a week of demonstrations that saw disgruntled police officers take to the streets to protest against their work conditions.

Over the past 10 days, Parisians have witnessed the unusual spectacle of law enforcement officials on the streets of the French capital looking very much like the protesters they are meant to police. Wearing arm bands, holding flags and linking arms, police officers – some with their faces partially covered – have been marching from the Champs de Mars near the Eiffel Tower to the Champs Elysées. Their message: Enough is enough.

Since the January 2015 Charlie Hebdo attacks, French security services and police have been on a heightened state of alert. For the police force, the nationwide state of emergency put in place after theNovember 13, 2015 Paris attacks has meant an increased work load that has called for extra hours on increasingly dangerous beats. Police officers have complained of a lack of resources, outdated equipment and sheer exhaustion after months of tackling terror threats as well as waves of demonstrations that have often descended into violence.

The catalyst for the latest police protests was an October 8 confrontation in the impoverished southern Parisian suburb of Viry-Chatillon, when a group of youths attacked two surveillance cars with rocks, metal bars and Molotov cocktails, severely injuring two officers.

Shortly after the incident in Viry-Chatillon spontaneous police protests broke out across the country, with officers voicing little confidence in the politicians that oversee them, the unions that represent them and above all their chief, National Police Commissioner Jean-Marc Falcone. The police chief’s statement to the press that it was “unacceptable” for protesting officers to demonstrate in uniforms and use police cars further incensed the force’s rank and file, with protesters frequently chanting “Falcone, resign!”

As the discontent mounts with a new round of protests set for Wednesday, FRANCE 24 spoke to Mathieu Zagrodzki from the Scientific Observatory for Crime and Justice (OSCJ) at the Paris-based Sciences-Po university.