French police to get new cars and uniforms as Emmanuel Macron unveils 'radical' reform of force

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French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech during his visit at the police academy of Roubaix, France - Shutterstock
French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech during his visit at the police academy of Roubaix, France - Shutterstock

Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday pledged to rebrand France’s embattled police with a fleet of new cars and stylish uniforms and caps conceived by top design schools in a bid to boost flagging pride in the force and increase its “attractiveness” to new recruits.

The French president unveiled the measures as part of a “radical” overhaul of the police after seven months of in-house discussions on security and how to improve relations with the population, amid claims by some leading experts that the force is facing their “worst moral crisis in modern history”.

France came last in a recent EU poll on satisfaction levels of those who underwent a police check.

The measures were unveiled as Amnesty International released a report slamming the disproportionate use of force by French police using tear gas and dispersion grenades to end a party gathering about 1,500 people in Redon, in western France, in June. The violent operation led to one young man getting his hand torn off.

The raft of new measures would help build “trust between the nation and its security forces”, insisted Mr Macron.

Among them was a pledge of new cars and uniforms.

“Complaints have emerged about the image (of the force), about the uniform being out of fashion, inappropriate,” he told police representatives and local politicians at the National Police School in Roubaix, northern France.

“I don’t take this lightly because it’s a question of pride and respect that also goes for buildings and cars. I saw the pride in the eyes of officers when we deployed new vehicles…they go faster, they’re more comfortable but above all, they are recognised and respected about town.”

“The same goes for the uniform,” he went on, saying that French fashion design schools had been invited in Spring 2021 to propose a modernisation of the police uniform and that a “prototype including a cap to replace the (previous) peaked one” had been agreed upon.

Available early next year, the new kit would help embody the “renewal of the French police and the consideration that we owe you”.

Last year, a string of violent incidents in which officers were accused of misconduct, brutality and racism, led to calls for an overhaul of the force. There was particular outrage when four officers were filmed beating and racially insulting Michel Zecler, a black music producer for over ten minutes in his studio in central Paris.

Viewed tens of millions of times online, Mr Macron was forced to condemn an "unacceptable attack” which “shames us”.

On Tuesday, he said that while complaints against the police only made up a tiny proportion of those handed to France’s rights ombudsman, more could be done.

Insisting French police had “nothing to fear from transparency”, Mr Macron promised to set up a parliamentary oversight body to tackle claims of police brutality that have plagued the force in recent months.

France’s “police of police”, the National Police Inspectorate General (IGPN), is seen by many as toothless compared to HM Inspectorate of Constabulary in the UK and insufficiently impartial as its boss is directly nominated by the interior minister, the hardline Gérald Darmanin. It currently has no equivalent to the Independent Office of Police conduct.

The French president promised to double the number of officers and gendarmes on the beat by 2030, saying: “We need more blue in the streets.”

He also pledged at least one body cam per police patrol this autumn and to equip all police and cars with cameras by 2023. The French interior ministry would see its budget increase by €1.5 billion next year.

Police training would be extended and a special police academy set up in Paris to train officers in dealing with demonstrations such as during the “yellow vest” revolt in which dozens of protesters were maimed by stun grenades.

The President also promised to drastically simplify police procedures and introduce an online complaint system next year.

Eminent criminologist Sebastien Roché at the Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CRNS) called the proposals “very timid compared to what is in place in Great Britain”.

“But while there is an ongoing denial of problems of racism and violence, more than 20 years after the UK and 30 years after Germany, we are perhaps at the beginning of a new cycle. Macron is playing down the problems but at least he is acknowledging them. It’s a start.”

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