Unions and French interior minister thrash out agenda on future of policing

·3-min read

Police trade unions met the French interior minister Gérald Darmanin on Monday to discuss the agenda for crucial talks on the future of policing - to be known as the 'Beauvau de la Securité'.

Named after Place Beauvau, - the address of the interior ministry - the series of discussions will start on 1 February with the aim of addressing a crisis of confidence among law enforcement officers.

Thousands have staged several symbolic rallies in recent years to highlight what they say is a lack of support as security services attempt to counter terrorism and violent elements in protest movements.

Accusations of racism and disproportionate use of violence on occasions, have been levelled at officers some of whom are under investigation or have been convicted in connection with such allegations.

Police worry that activists are deliberately trying to vilify all police officers when they say relatively few are guilty of professional misconduct or criminal behaviour.

Training, supervision, equipment, monitoring

Two of the three main police unions had threatened to boycott the programme of discussions but in the end decided to take part in Monday's virtual conference setting out the framework.

The idea of the Beauvau is to hold high-level discussion sessions every two weeks until May, involving representatives of the police and Gendarme services, as well as security experts from France and elsewhere, elected politicians, local officials and ordinary citizens.

The talks are expected to focus on eight subjects including police training.

It used to take a year to train a police officer but that initiation has been reduced to eight months. Specialists have called for the period to be extended to allow trainees more time to master the skills of a very testing job.

There is also a feeling that junior police officers need more supervision and clearer guidelines on the ground, while the issue of staffing and equipment levels is also considered to be important.

Participants in the Beauvau will consider the controversial issue of filming police officers, the subject of major demonstrations at the end of 2020.

The IGPN, which monitors the police and investigates complaints against individual officers, will be in the spotlight amid allegations that it is not fully independent from the law enforcement agencies it investigates.

The links between the police and the general public as well as the relationship between the police services and judicial authorities will also be on the table.

"Police officers today are disillusioned and demoralized," said Grégory Joron of the SGP police trade union on France Info radio.

"When, in a society, those responsible for the liberty and security of their fellow citizens hide the fact that they work in the police force, ask their children not to tell anyone at school that mum or dad is a police officer – there is a real problem,” he said.

Concrete action

Police trade unions have expressed hope that the Beauvau and smaller such meetings at local level will produce clear recommendations and concrete reforms.

"I don’t want the debate to last too long and then for us to be told that no reform is possible because of the election calendar," warned David Le Bars, whose union represents senior police officers. “I expect debates but also decisions and action," he told France Info.

Among ideas outlined by trade unions is a demand for a threshold of minimum sentences for those convicted of attacks on police officers

The conclusions from the series of exchanges will form the basis of new security laws, expected in 2022.