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French security services ‘on the verge of implosion’, Senators warn

Zakaria Abdelkafi, AFP | Security forces take up position at a protest in Paris on May 22.

A Senate report released last week found France’s security services to be at crisis point and called on the presidency to act quickly. "We are on the verge of implosion," warned one of the authors.

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Two French senators are sounding the alarm – warning of a “crisis”, a “general malaise” and a “loss of meaning” – in a report submitted to the Senate on July 3. The survey painted a particularly bleak portrait of the state of law enforcement and called on the government to take urgent action.

Commissioned shortly after a wave of suicides among security forces in the autumn of 2017, the report describes a host of ills that are well known to all those who serve in the police and gendarmerie, where escalating violence and chronic underfunding are the order of the day.

Many police officers “are at the breaking point”, Senator François Grosdidier of Les Républicains party told FRANCE 24.

In response to the crisis, Grosdidier and Senator Michel Boutant of the Socialist Party have submitted 32 proposals for consideration before the government adopts a budget that could cap security spending for the next several years.

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FRANCE 24: You spent several weeks investigating the state of law enforcement in France.The report is very alarming.

François Grosdidier: We are on the verge of implosion. The police and the gendarmerie have never been in such a dire state. First of all, there is a terrible lack of investment in equipment. Police buildings are old and often substandard. The average age of the gendarmerie’s vehicles is eight years and almost seven for the police, whereas this should be the maximum age for a law enforcement vehicle. Our security forces also lack basic supplies and technology. As for human resources, while there are no chronic understaffing issues like can be seen in neighbouring countries, two-thirds of the police and gendarmes’ working hours are devoted to judicial proceedings.

You also point out that the police suicide rate is 36percent higher than the national average. Does a lack of investment affect the mind?

Grosdidier: Very clearly. We are running the risk of seeing the security services becoming inoperable. Many of them are at the breaking point. The police are being forced to operate with fewer resources in the face of ever more violent threats – demonstrations that are more and more difficult to manage, with the emergence of the Black Blocs (fringe groups known as "les casseurs" who incite violence at protests) and a growing anti-police hostility among the citizenry.

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In addition to the problem of underinvestment, there is also today’s terrorist threat. Members of the police have been and still are being targeted. The Magnanville stabbing sparked real fear by targeting members of the police in their private capacity. (The June 2016 murder of a couple in Magnanville, Jean-Baptiste Salvaing and Jessica Schneider, who were both police officers, was claimed by the Islamic State group.)

Police today are looking for recognition and meaning. When they take significant risks and then find that the response is nil or inadequate in their eyes, it discourages them. At many other government agencies, officials would have just walked away. A large majority of them still have a strong will to serve the citizens because it is a calling. But some have finally let go, by either resigning or ending their lives. As for the number of suicides, we note these rates remain high even though risk-prevention measures have been put in place and new orders have been given to administration officials in recent years. These numbers would probably have been even more catastrophic without these initiatives.

What do you recommend going forward?

Grosdidier: In our report we recommend the drafting of a white paper on homeland security, as is done for the army, that would allow us to rethink and evolve certain approaches to security as well as increase the budget … We must increase investment from €2 to €3 billion over five years. And we must stop investing in the police and the gendarmerie based on the whims of each successive presidential administration.

The ball is now in the government's court: We can no longer say that we have not been warned.

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This article was translated from the original in French.

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