Murders in France fall to ‘lowest ever level’

Murder rates in France have dropped to their lowest level in history, Interior Minister Manuel Valls declared on Friday.

Murders in France fall to 'lowest ever level'
French Interior Minister Manuel Valls, being transported by members of France's gendarmerie in December 2012. Photo: Jacques Demarthon/AFP

Revealing figures gathered by the French national supervisory body on crime and punishment (ONDRP), Valls said that the number of homicides recorded in the country for the year 2012 represented "the lowest ever".

Within France's urban 'police zone', the observatory recorded 430 murders, a 2.3 percent drop from 2011 and in the more rural 'gendarmerie zone,' 235 murders were recorded – a 22.4 percent drop compared to last year. 

By contrast, the number of burglaries recorded in 2012 was up by 14.7 percent in the cities, and by 4.7 percent in the rest of France. 

Speaking at a press conference on French TV channel TF1, Valls declared, "I am going to take on these figures, and confront the reality of crime."  

Crime figures have been a recent source of controversy in France. In December 2012, the right-leaning Le Figaro published a series of articles attacking President Francois Hollande's Socialist government for its ability to tackle crime after figures for the month of November revealed a steep rise in violent offenses. Valls hit back however claiming the figures had been manipulated and were not a true reflection of the level of crime in France.

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‘Drunks, drug-dealers and pickpockets’ – French police crackdown at Paris Gare du Nord

Police in the capital are planning a massive operation to clean up Paris' chaotic and grotty Gare du Nord station - described by the local police commander as "full of drunks, crack dealers and pickpockets".

'Drunks, drug-dealers and pickpockets' - French police crackdown at Paris Gare du Nord

Gare du Nord serves not only as one of the major rail hubs for the capital, but also the arrival point for the Eurostar and shuttles from Paris’ two main airports – meaning that it is often the first part of the city that tourists see.

And it doesn’t give a good impression – the station is dark, confusingly laid out and its infrastructure is crumbling, so it’s far from uncommon to see buckets placed to catch water from the leaking rook.

But it’s the security aspect that worries the police – as the station has also become a hotspot for pickpockets, unlicensed taxi drivers, illegal street vendors and drug dealers, as well as a hangout for homeless people, many of whom have mental health problems.

Although the biggest security problem is undoubtedly pickpocketing – especially of confused, newly arrived tourists – there are occasionally more serious incidents, such as the attack on January 11th when a man randomly assaulted seven members of the public with a sharpened chisel.

A year previously, another knife-wielding man, later revealed to be homeless and with mental health problems who frequented the station, was shot by police.

Police presence in the station has now been massively stepped up, with dozens of officers patrolling at all hours of the day and night, in addition to the soldiers from Operation Sentinelle who make regular patrols of Gare du Nord (and other sites that have the potential to be terror attack targets).

The commander of the unit based at Gare du Nord told Le Parisien: “Unlicensed cigarette sellers, crack cocaine dealers, pickpocketing, drunk people – these are all problems that characterise Gare du Nord.

However, she added that things have improved in recent years, saying: “There is no longer a war between rival gangs, who used to come here regularly to fight in front of the [now-defunct] Foot Locker store. Many new stores have moved in. The light is soothing. It’s not an anxiety-provoking place at all.”

The station Рthrough which 700,000 people pass every day Рhas long been a sore point for city authorities, who are well aware of the poor impression it gives to new arrivals.

However in 2021, an ambitious plan to completely redevelop it and add a huge new shopping mall was rejected. Instead, it was decided to simply give the existing station a revamp in time for the 2024 Olympics.