French interior minister outlines proposals for police reform amid outcry
Amid a wave of anger and street protests in France over police violence, Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin outlined proposals for police reform before a National Assembly committee on Monday evening.
President Emmanuel Macron's ruling LREM (La République En Marche) party earlier agreed to rewrite a draft law that would have curbed the right to film police officers in action after large protests over the weekend drew 133,000 people nationwide and 46,000 in Paris alone, according to the official count.
The rallies followed the publication of video footage of the brutal beating of a Black man by three police officers last week, an incident that Macron branded as "shameful" for France. Four officers were charged over the beating on Monday.
A provision in the draft law known as Article 24, a key measure in Macron's plans to court right-wing voters by being tougher on law and order ahead of his likely 2022 re-election bid, had sparked outrage in the media and on the left flank of his own party.
Article 24 did not completely ban sharing images of the police, but made it a crime – punishable by a year in prison and a €45,000 fine – to share them with an "obvious intention to harm", such as calling for violence or retribution. A new version of Article 24 will be submitted at a later date, officials said.
The stated aim of the broader "general security" bill is to provide better protection for French police officers, whom unions said were under heavy strain after months of violent "Yellow Vest" protests and the heightened state of alert after a spate of terrorist attacks across France in recent years.
'Seven deadly sins'
On Monday evening, Interior Minister Darmanin spoke for more than two hours before the National Assembly. The tough-talking former conservative acknowledged that "perhaps" there were "structural problems" within the police force and listed what he called the institution's "seven deadly sins". Among them were matters pertaining to equipment, supervision and internal affairs oversight.
Darmanin's proposals were meant to respond to Macron's request on Friday to "quickly" suggest ways to "reaffirm the confidence that should naturally exist between the French and those who protect them and to effectively fight discrimination".
Macron had made the same request of Darmanin's predecessor, Christophe Castaner, who presented a plan for the purpose in June. But amid the resulting outcry from law enforcement, Castaner was shuffled out of the government in a cabinet reshuffle a month later.
The first "deadly sin" for Darmanin pertained to basic police training, which he said should be lengthened. In order to meet recruitment needs after a series of deadly terrorist attacks in 2015, the length of the training period in police academies was reduced from 12 months to eight. Darmanin also emphasised the importance of training throughout an officer's career. "We owe" police officers "more hours of training", he said.
Darmanin's second point concerned supervising staff. "One of the difficulties is that there aren't enough leaders in charge, seconds-in-command, present on the streets," Darmanin said. "We must rebuild an intermediate group of supervisors on the ground ... Being on the ground is the most noble of duties," he added.
Darmanin also said the police need more resources. His ministry obtained €1 billion ($1.2 billion) in the current coronavirus-era stimulus plan, providing for upgrades like renovating police stations and replacing the vehicle fleet. But he believes more is needed, including for the wider use of wearable cameras for police on patrol.
In addition, the minister spoke of a possible reform of the IGPN (L'inspection générale de la Police nationale) – the French police disciplinary body or "police of the police" – which he noted is charged with both conducting inspections and conducting inquiries.
Darmanin said he "really does not share" the notion of "a divorce between the police and the population". He proposed increasing police reserves to 30,000, the same number of reserves the country's force of gendarmes maintains.
After submitting a white paper on interior security in mid-November, Darmanin said that discussions would continue through the first half of 2021 with the objective drafting legislation for 2022. That official report, which required a full year to draw up, consists of some 200 proposals pertaining to police recruitment, training and career paths, as well as an updated territorial distribution of personnel between police, gendarmes and facilities shared between the forces. Several of the white paper's proposals have already been applied or are already envisaged in the "general security" bill currently on the table.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)
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