Violence on rise across France, but not Marseille

Levels of violence committed against individuals has risen across France, according to new statistics revealed this week and in particular in Paris where 100 attacks a day have been recorded in recent months.

Violence on rise across France, but not Marseille
Violence against individuals is on the rise throughout France, new stats suggest, but not in crime-ridden Marseille. Photo: Alain Jocard/AFP

Levels of wanton violence have seen a concerning rise in France in recent months, according to figures from a national crime observatory that were published on Monday.

The number of gratuitious attacks of violence in the streets, described in French as (violences gratuites) rose 8 percent in the first four months of 2014 compared to the same period last year.

On the whole, all kinds of violence, from beatings to murders and from armed robbery to rape, rose 5.5 percent across the country.

The figures, from the ONDRP observatory, that were published in right-leaning Le Figaro, showed that 76 out of France’s 96 departments, or four out of five, saw a rise in violence against individuals.

Le Figaro says France's new Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, who replaced Manuel Valls, cannot ignore the stats.

It is “irrefutable data that shows that France is suffering” the newspaper wrote.

The biggest jumps were in the south west Gironde department (22 percent), in the Sarthe in the centre (22 percent) and 16 percent in the department of Oise.

In the French capital Paris the statistics, that were taken from crimes reported to the police or the Gendarmes, revealed there were one hundred acts of aggression each day against people, which reflects a rise of 4 percent on the same period last year.

The figures also reveal that many of the 125,000 attacks in France in the first trimestre of 2014 (compared to 118,000 in the 2013) are carried out by minors.

One police officer suggested the situation might be a lot worse than these statistics reveal.

“Violence has become so trivialized that a lot of people do not even report it to police,” the officer told Le Figaro. However his view was rejected by criminology professor Alain Bauer, who told Le Parisien that he believed more and more people were coming forward to report crimes.

However with any release of statistics, there are other factors to take into account that make comparisons difficult.

The ONDRP crime observatory points out that since 2012 the gendarmerie, which polices France’s rural regions as opposed to the police which have authority over towns, has used a different system to record data since 2012, that prevents any fiddling of the figures.

Cooking the books has been a major problem in France. The Local reported in March how police in Paris wiped 16,000 crimes from their records in just one year, as part of a decade long effort to make the capital seem safer than it was.

There was also some positive news from the release of the stats this week.

In Marseille, the Mediterranean city plagued with violent crime and high murder rates, the level of violence fell by 16.4 percent.

The main reason given was the deployment of reinforcements, including 320 more police, as well as a unit of 80 officers on mountain bikes and 20 on scooters.

The number of acts of violence used in robbery has decreased by 2 percent compared to last year. However overall the trend looks bad. There are 20,000 acts of violence related to theft each month in France, compared to 10,000 ten years ago.

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French police track forest fire-starters by air and land

On the ground, two officers from a special mobile brigade of France's paramilitary gendarmerie speed along a forest track.

French police track forest fire-starters by air and land

Above them, a helicopter scans the landscape to warn them of any fires or anyone who might be looking to start one.

These are the members of a newly created police team who have just started patrolling in southwest France to seek out and arrest the fire-starters devastating the region’s forests.

In the last week, no less than 20 fires have broken out in the forest bordering the seaside resort of Soulac-sur-Mer in the La Gironde department of southwest France, says the local gendarmerie.

While some have burned for just a 100 square metres (322 square feet), the largest devoured 30 hectares (74 acres) of forest.

Scorched trees and charred trunks line the paths and cycle paths that criss-cross the woods.

To stop the devastation, local officials have sent in the new unit, the Forest Vigilance Platoon (PVF) made up of 15 reservist gendarmes, a senior police officer and two motorcyclists from the mobile brigade, backed up by the

Spread across three zones, the PVF patrol the forest on motorbikes, all-terrain bicycles or in cars, where possible, on the hunt for fire-starters.

Set up just last week they started patrolling on Thursday.

The idea is that the PVF will free up firefighters who have been stretched thin battling blazes that since Tuesday have burned up 7,400 hectares of pine forests at the southern end of Gironde.

“After the major fires in July, we observed a rise in the number of arson cases,” said Martin Guespereau, deputy prefect for defence and security in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region, which covers the Gironde.

“There are around twenty fires of unknown origin a day in Gironde.”

 According to France’s National Forests Office (ONF) nine out of 10 fires were started by people — and three out of 10 were started deliberately.

Forest off-limits

“The Forest Vigilance Platoon is a support division, whose aim is to prevent, detect and possible to arrest,” said Captain Christophe Roque, who was given the job of putting the team together.

Red-and-white signs at the edge of the Soulac-sur-Mer forest inform walkers that due to the “very severe” risk of fire, the forest is off-limits to the public until further notice — and has been since August 11.

A few cyclists were nevertheless out on the trails on Saturday, and were quickly intercepted by the gendarmes of the PVF.

“As soon as we come across someone, we get their identity,” said one member of the team, Bruno Kechtoff. “Because if we come across the same person several times, then that becomes suspicious.”

A message comes over the radio: two outbreaks of fire barely 500 metres (yards) apart, near Bazas, south of Bordeaux, the regional capital. A local has reported seeing someone on a moped wearing “yellow-trimmed” trousers”.

The LVF’s helicopter veers off towards Bazas, 130 kilometres away (80 miles) away.

Where they are sent next depends on where the next fires break out, says Constable Jeremy Hernandez. “We have been called here urgently but we can move if other areas are concerned.”

Then they are in their car and driving off, siren wailing, on the look-out for a quad reported in the woods.