The long-unreformed French police force is under the microscope after a shooting.

The long-unreformed French police force is under the microscope after a shooting.
The long-unreformed French police force is under the microscope after a shooting.

In Paris, according to Reuters, The recent incident involving the death of a teenager at the hands of a police officer has brought to the forefront enduring concerns regarding the condition of the French police force and the challenges faced by successive governments in implementing necessary reforms within an organization influenced by influential unions.

In a nation plagued by frequent episodes of social unrest, which frequently prompt demands for stricter measures against individuals causing trouble, it becomes challenging to criticize a strained and understaffed security force.

According to experts, the authorities must address the allegations made by human rights organizations regarding widespread racism within law enforcement. These allegations include excessive use of force, racial profiling, and concerns regarding recruitment, training, and police practices.

According to historian Cedric Mas on Twitter, a persistent issue in the current situation is the political powers’ consistent failure to take action regarding one of the contributing factors to this volatile situation, namely the police.

The occurrence of riots in the United States and Britain during the 1960s and 1980s prompted significant reforms within the police forces of both nations. Is the location in question France? He states that no meaningful development or progress has occurred in the last four decades.

Numerous Western governments, including Britain in 2011 and the United States with the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2013, have confronted instances of race riots directed at law enforcement agencies in recent decades. However, France, officially recognized as a color-blind society, has consistently denied the presence of any racial factor in this matter.

According to Olivier Cahn, a law professor at Cergy University, France, has implemented approximately 30 legislative measures related to law and order in the last 20 years. However, none of these measures have included a comprehensive restructuring of the police forces since a reform in 1995. This reform granted extensive co-management powers to unions.

According to the individual interviewed by Reuters, unions have been actively engaged in all aspects of co-management, including human resources administration. A tangible outcome emerged in subsequent years as unions negotiated with various interior ministers.

The extensive authority granted to union leaders has resulted in disproportionate influence over government ministers, as it guarantees the allegiance of police officers who rely on their union membership for career progression.

According to Cahn, the primary concern revolves around the potential loss of control over the police forces.


Government ministers who have attempted to enact police reform and enhance the autonomy of its oversight body have done so at considerable risk.

In June 2020, Christophe Castaner, the former interior minister under Macron’s administration and a member of the Socialist Party, presented a comprehensive outline for police reform. The measures encompassed a prohibition on the contentious application of chokeholds in the context of arrests, restructuring of the IGPN police oversight body, and implementing a policy of absolute intolerance towards racism within the police force.

Following a significant backlash from police unions, the individual in question was subsequently substituted with Gerald Darmanin, a former conservative, during a subsequent reshuffling one month later.

According to Franck Louvrier, a former communications adviser to ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy during his tenure as interior minister, individuals must choose between supporting the police or facing potential difficulties.

The interior ministry focuses on the human element, specifically the emotional connection one may develop towards police officers who face daily threats and attacks.

This year, the police’s investigative branch was dissatisfied due to a proposal made by Darmanin to reform it. This led to a series of strikes by the police, which coincided with public demonstrations against pension rule changes, causing discomfort for the government.


The riots affecting racially diverse, working-class neighborhoods in French cities are primarily driven by persistent allegations from rights organizations regarding systemic racism within the police force.

On Friday, the United Nations rights office expressed concern regarding France’s situation. It issued a call to action for the government to address the issue of racial discrimination.

According to spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani, this presents an opportune time for the nation to earnestly confront the profound matters of racism and racial discrimination within law enforcement.

The police unions, along with the interior minister, assert that incidents of racism are limited in scope and reject the notion that it is a pervasive issue.

According to Anthony Caille, a representative of the CGT Police Union, it is acknowledged that there are individuals who hold racist beliefs. However, I am unfamiliar with the meaning of the term “systemic.”

Due to France’s official stance on color blindness and restrictions on using ethnic statistics, it becomes challenging to substantiate the prevalent sentiment among racial minorities regarding their perceived over-targeting by law enforcement and experiences of discrimination.

However, anecdotal evidence is prevalent.

The Paris Court of Appeal made an important decision in 2021, concluding that the police’s identity checks of three high school students at a Paris train station in 2017 were motivated by discrimination. The students were French nationals with Moroccan, Malian, and Comorian backgrounds.

According to the court, 1,500 euros was awarded to each individual as compensation, in addition to the reimbursement of legal expenses.

However, instances of these fines are infrequent, and according to rights groups, police officers frequently receive lenient sentences, thereby contributing to a prevailing sense of impunity.

According to sociologist Sebastian Roche, editor of the Policing and Society journal, it is observed that magistrates face challenges when it comes to imposing prison sentences on police officers. This issue is not unique to France, as similar difficulties are encountered in the United States and Nordic countries.

Following the Yellow Vest crisis from 2018 to 2019, characterized by a prolonged period of intense protests and subsequent law enforcement measures, there was a resurgence of criticism directed toward police doctrine and tactics.

The increase in fatal police shootings observed in recent years has been attributed to a legislative reform enacted in 2017. This reform expanded the range of situations where law enforcement officers are authorized to employ firearms.

Implemented in response to the 2016 Islamist attack in Nice, the legislation grants police officers the authority to discharge their firearms when they perceive that the driver poses a potential threat to individuals. According to critics, the provision has been identified as a potential source of ambiguity.

According to Caille, a representative of the left-wing CGT police union, the statement is characterized by a lack of clarity. It promotes a greater degree of freedom in the shooting.

He expressed the opinion that the law enacted in 2017 should be repealed.

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