The worryingly high level of suicide among French police is sparking fresh concern. Photo: AFP
It's a tragic problem that France has been struggling to solve for years.
But the issue of French police suicides is back in the headlines after a new report revealed that since January 1st 2019 the number of officers ending their own lives is even higher than in previous years.
Since the beginning of 2019, a total of 24 suicides committed by police officers, according to the latest figures released by the DGPN (Directorate General of the National Police).
At the weekend, two police officers killed themselves, one in the town of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine in the greater Paris region of Ile-de-France and the other in the town of Alès in the Occitanie region of southern France.
“A policeman kills himself every four days, it's too much,” Denis Jacob from the CFDT union.
If the suicides continue at this rate over the rest of the year, then unions say it's possible 2019 could be a record year for the number of police officers taking their own lives.
At the moment 1996, when a total of 70 officers killed themselves, holds this grim record.
However these aren't the only stand out years when it comes to suicide in the French police force.
In 2000, 54 officers committed suicide, in 2005 50 police officers took their own lives, in 2008 there were 49 and in 2014 there were 55.
“It's a massacre,” Thomas Toussaint from the Unsa-Police union told the French press, adding that in 2018 it took until August to reach the level of suicides already seen in 2019.
So, why is the suicide rate among police officers so high in France?
A report released in 2018 showed that the police force in France faces terrible working conditions including gruelling hours as it is more in demand than ever due to terror attacks and the migrant crisis.
The 2018 report stated that police have to work irregular schedules and only get one weekend out of five off.
And while a new vacation cycle which would mean police officers would only have to work every other weekend was tested, it would require an increase of between 16 and 33 percent in the number of officers, the investigation revealed.
On top of that police equipment is as worn out as the policeman themselves, with 10 percent of police vehicles or 3,400 vehicles, having carried out more than ten years of service.
This means that on some police cars basic functions such as sirens no longer work “which may compromise the safety of interventions”, according to the report.
Many police stations are dilapidated and unsafe to work in and as administrative demands increase they are forced to deal with old-fashioned computer equipment.
And they are also having to deal with a rise in attacks directly targeting French police in recent years.
“A new type of aggression appeared in recent years, clearly intended to cause physical harm to the police, even to kill,” said one of the directors of France's riot police, the CRS back in 2018.
It is believed that the stress created by this environment is partly to blame for the devastatingly high suicide rate among police which, according to a 2010 report, is 36 percent higher than the rest of the population.
At the end of 2018 there was even more pressure heaped on the police force as the “yellow vest” crisis kicked off.
But French authorities seem powerless to prevent the loss of life given that in January 2015 the government had already unveiled a plan aimed at cutting suicide numbers in the police forces.
As part of the government's measures seven extra psychologists were to be recruited for the police forces most in need. More psychologists were also to be recruited in police training schools.
Police officers were to get individual lockers where they can leave their weapon after work. This measure was aimed at stopping officers committing suicide using their service firearms in their own homes.
The then Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said he also intended to “improve the quality of life at work” by promoting a healthier work-life balance.
also said he would also consider changing working hours to allow more time for a private life.
However it is clear that this plan has failed.
Speaking to The Local at the time David-Olivier Reverdy from the police union Alliance said that there was a real crisis in the police force.
While he accepted there are always “multiple factors” behind suicides, he says the fact remains that there are fundamental problems within the French police force that is pushing many over the edge.
“Some of these suicides are clearly down to problems in their personal lives, but there is clearly a malaise among police officers,” he said.
Reverdy pointed to “archaic” management systems, working conditions, pressure from bosses, and a lack of protection from the government given the fact that “no one these days seems to be too scared to physically attack police officers”.