Frédéric Péchenard, the former chief of France’s national police, and candidate for mayor of the 17th arrondissement of Paris, has caused controversy with comments comparing crime in the French capital with that of the New York borough of the Bronx, with its reputation – outdated according to some – of being a hotbed of violent crime.
With the campaign to succeed Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoë heating up before next May’s election, the city’s crime rate has come into sharp focus in recent days.
Responding to a recent series of high-profile crimes, especially including armed robberies, the Socialist mayor last week announced the deployment of 300 extra police to the city.
Deputy mayor for safety, Myriam El-Khomri said the reinforcements would be sent, in particular, to boost security on the streets of the 10th, 18th, 19th and 20th arrondissements.
A dedicated nighttime unit is planned for the 17th arrondissement, 25 more officers are set to walk a beat in the Gare du Nord district, and the Saint-Blaisé neighbourhood near Place de la Nation, in the 20th arrondissement, will soon be officially designated a Priority Safety Zone (ZSP).
Noting that the French capital had lost 1500 police officers between 2009 and 2012, Delanoë, for his part, said: “Our mission is to respond to the needs of Parisians, among them safety.
“There are problems in Paris, but this isn’t the Bronx,” he added, referring to the historically crime-stricken New York borough.
However former chief of the country’s Police Nationale and centre-right UMP candidate Péchenard, begged to differ.
In an interview with the Journal du Dimanche on Sunday, he gave his own take on how bad crime rates had become in Paris.
“The mayor says that ‘Paris is not the Bronx.’ Nonetheless, in certain parts it is seriously beginning to resemble it,” said Péchenard.
“Crime figures in Paris for the first 10 months of 2013 are really bad, and much higher than the rest of France,” he added.
“A 7.5-percent increase in violence motivated by financial gain, a 10.5-percent rise in attacks on property…31 percent more break-ins and 44 percent more burglaries on homes. It’s worrying,” Péchenard warned.
Crime figures published by the New York Daily News in September showed murders and shooting incidents continued to fall in the Bronx in 2013, continuing a trend that has persisted for two decades.
For example, shooting incidents in the notorious borough were 76 percent down on 20 years ago, the paper reported.
For New Yorker Sebastian Marx, who lives in Paris, the reference to the Bronx isn't so much a careful analysis, but a conversational habit among the French.
"They often use 'the Bronx' as a bye-word for 'a bad neighbourhood,'", the stand-up comic and writer told The Local on Monday. "They don't know what the Bronx looks like, and it's not really based on any information, but it's not malicious, either," he added.
Author Thomas Chatterton Williams, another former New Yorker now living in the French capital, admits he does feeler safer in Paris than in New York, and in France in general more than in the United States, citing in particular the greater prevalence of guns on the streets of his home country.
"Crime rates are at a record low in New York City, though," he told The Local. "New York is actually a pretty safe place, and I think invoking the Bronx as a metaphor for the nightmarish urban environment is no longer spot on," he added.
"Actually, today that would more like parts of Chicago, but saying 'parts of Paris are starting to resemble the south side of Chicago' doesn't have the same ring to it in France."
Crime in the City of Light has been hitting the headlines recently. Over the weekend, Paris police announced they had enlisted the help of 10 of their Romanian counterparts in tackling Roma gangs during this year’s festive season.
Just last week, a gang of thieves brandishing handguns made off with €800,000 ($1 million) worth of luxury watches from a jewellery store near Place Vendôme in the capital.
The up-market Parisian neighbourhood was also the scene of a robbery in September, when thieves ramraided a jewellery store, stealing a €2 million ($2.6 million) booty, and another in October, when a gang wielding axes and sledgehammers stole hundreds of thousands of euros worth of watches.
On the tourist front there was some good news however with figures released in October showing there had been a fall in the number of crimes committed against visitors to the City of Light.
French sociologist and crime specialist Veronique le Goaziou has played down any comparisons between Paris and the Bronx.
"Politicians, especially in the run-up to elections often use these comparisons when talking about crime in France. It used to be Chicago or the Gaza Strip. I don't know how things are in the Bronx right now but I don't think areas of Paris are becoming like that," she told The Local. "Although the question of security in France is becoming a more and more significant issue."
Are parts of Paris really becoming like the Bronx? Let us know in the comments section below.