French police are going through the “worst moral crisis in modern history”, according to one of the country’s leading law enforcement experts, following a string of violent incidents in which officers have been accused of misconduct, brutality and racism. Decades of refusal by successive French governments to introduce UK-style independent oversight and systemic reform have brought its police to a perilous breaking point with swathes of an already sceptical population, according to eminent criminologist Sebastien Roché at the Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CRNS. The French have long felt ambivalent about their force, which has come a long way since the dark days of 1961 in which officers under the command of police chief Maurice Papon, later convicted of crimes against humanity, massacred an estimated 200 Algerian protesters. “You’ll be covered,” he notoriously told his men. Hailed as heroes in the wake of terror attacks, they have been equally vilified as heavy-handed and trigger-happy in recent mass demonstrations, notably during the “yellow vests” revolt where intensive use of stun grenades and rubber bullets maimed dozens. However, in the past two weeks, the image of the French force has taken a battering of rare intensity, bringing to the fore long-held accusations of discrimination towards minorities, violence and a sense of impunity.