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French approach to security policy ‘archaic’ says expert

French daily ‘Libération’ has allegedly exposed government pressure on police chiefs to massage crime figures. spoke to an expert criminologist about the issue to take a closer look at the problem.


French daily 'Libération' recently revisited the controversy surrounding quotas for the number of arrests allegedly set by the government and enforced by police chiefs.

Libération argues that the added pressure on the police force comes as the government tries to bolster its image by playing on public fears. In practice, the alleged quotas are resulting in more action on petty crimes to massage overall arrest statistics, resulting in the fight against crime being reduced to a numbers game. spoke to Philippe Robert, founder and former director of the Centre for Sociological Research on Law and Penal Institutions (Criminology), to look at how France’s approach compares with the rest of Europe.

FRANCE 24: Is French security policy unique?

Philippe Robert: After 9/11, France, like the rest of Europe, was gripped by fears about terrorism that spread to questions of everyday security. A large number of rules, justified by the threat, had consequences on the lives of French citizens. We can see it most notably in the increase in the number of files kept on people. It’s a purely punitive approach that skips preventative measures. In France, this practice was even more widespread after the 2002 presidential election. In order to appeal to far right National Front voters [whose leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen, had made it to the second round of voting], the government reinforced this punitive policy. France is one of the countries at the forefront of this kind of practice.

F24: In what way does France go further than other countries? Is the “numbers game” denounced by “Libération” part of this?

P.R.: In France, there’s a tendency to want to quantify security policy through police statistics, which highlights the punitive aspect of the work done by security teams. One forgets that the police also have a social role. In France, it is indeed fair to say that we have a fixation on results and numbers that goes very far and is more archaic than other places in Europe.

F24: Do other European countries give quota targets to their police forces?

P.R.: One must differentiate between decentralised countries, like Germany or Italy, and those that are less so, like France and the United Kingdom. In the first case, daily security – what we’re talking about here – is managed on a regional level, enabling the establishment of more diversified and less global policies. In the more centralised countries, one finds a greater reliance on numbers and data. Every year in the United Kingdom, for example, the authorities publish the “British Crime Survey,” which tallies the crimes committed and the arrests made. (The survey includes crimes which are not reported to the police, so it is an important alternative to police records.) Nevertheless, the study is carried out in part with the participation of the British population. The opposite is true in France, where we’re satisfied with collecting administrative data. An administration that monitors itself is a bit like a dog chasing its own tail…

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