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France begins consultation on increasing public confidence in police

The French government begins a public consultation exercise on Monday aimed at devising ways to increase public confidence in the police that has been eroded by repeated scandals over racism and brutality.

France begins consultation on increasing public confidence in police
Illustration photo: AFP

The initiative was proposed by President Emmanuel Macron in December in order to diffuse criticism of French security forces which are regularly accused of discrimination and using excessive force.

In November, video of Paris police beating and abusing a black music producer inside his studio shocked the country, but other recent incidents include the violent clearing of a migrant camp in the centre of the capital.

During months of anti-government demonstrations by so-called “yellow vest” protesters in 2018-19, around 20 people lost an eye and dozens were seriously injured by police rubber bullets and stun grenades.

“We need to act urgently,” Macron wrote on December 8th when announcing the consultation to “consolidate” the link between the police and the French population, which is expected to last until May.

“I want to advance quickly and concretely to improve the working conditions for the noble and essential job of keeping the peace,” he added. “France hangs together through its police and gendarmes.”

Pitching the idea as both a listening exercise and a way of improving working conditions for officers is a sign of the delicate balancing act faced by the head of state.

Despite wide-ranging demands for better community relations, Macron is aware that officers are on the frontlines of often violent streets protests, as well as anti-terror operations.

He angered police unions when he acknowledged in December that identity checks carried out by security forces targeted ethnic minorities disproportionately – a common complaint from residents in high-immigration areas.

“When you have a skin colour that is not white, you are stopped much more. You are identified as a problem factor. And that cannot be justified,” he told the Brut video website.

Yves Lefebvre, a trade union leader, wrote to him afterwards to complain, saying that the fault lay in “decades of urbanisation policies that have piled up immigrant populations in the same areas”.

The consultations will see police union leaders, former officers and local mayors invited to give their opinions in a process overseen by hardline Interior Minister Gérald Darminin.

Darmanin is also set to tour the country to meet local officers, but it remains unclear how much civil society groups and academics will be asked to contribute.

The conclusions are set to inform a new draft security law which will be brought before parliament before France holds a presidential election in the first half of 2022.

A previous draft sparked protests in November and December over a clause that would have criminalised publishing images identifying on-duty officers.

Long-standing proposals for improving confidence in French security forces include more local policing focused on problem-solving, rather than simply repression, and a truly independent police complaints process.

Critics have dismissed the latest consultations as a PR exercise.

Interior Minister Darmanin made his views on police brutality clear in July last year in the wake of the killing in the United States of George Floyd, a black man who choked to death while being arrested.

“When I hear the words police violence, personally it makes me choke,” Darmanin told a parliamentary hearing.

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POLITICS

UK police arrest man over 2021 deaths of 27 people in Channel tragedy

UK police on Tuesday arrested a man suspected of playing a "key role" in the deaths of at least 27 people who drowned attempting to cross the Channel in a dinghy last November.

UK police arrest man over 2021 deaths of 27 people in Channel tragedy

The National Crime Agency (NCA) said 32-year-old Harem Ahmed Abwbaker was arrested at an address near Cheltenham, southwest England.

He is suspected of being “a member of the organised crime group who conspired to transport the migrants to the UK in a small boat”.

NCA investigators are working with the French authorities to track down those responsible for the tragedy.

French prosecutors have so far charged 10 people for their alleged role in the disaster on November 24 last year.

It was the worst accident in the Channel since the narrow strait became a key route for people from Africa, the Middle East and Asia attempting to reach England from France.

The vessel sank after leaving the French coast, leading to the death of all but two of those aboard. Four people remain missing.

The suspect will appear before London’s Westminster Magistrates Court on Wednesday, where extradition proceedings to France will commence.

READ ALSO What is France doing to prevent small-boat crossings of the Channel?

Charges faced there include the French equivalent of manslaughter and facilitating illegal immigration.

“This is a significant arrest and comes as part of extensive inquiries into the events leading to these tragic deaths in the Channel,” said NCA deputy director Craig Turner.

“The individual detained today is suspected of having played a key role in the manslaughter of those who died.

“Working closely with our French partners we are determined to do all we can to get justice for the families of those whose lives were lost,” he added.

Among the 27 – aged seven to 47 – were 16 Iraqi Kurds, four Afghans, three Ethiopians, one Somali, one Egyptian and one Vietnamese.

Tributes and demonstrations took place on Thursday for the 27 victims of the tragedy that France’s interior minister admitted should have been prevented.

Several boats packed with rescuers and local elected figures took to sea off the coast of Dunkirk to mark the anniversary.

“It’s a tragedy that we were expecting and there will probably be others,” said the head of the local branch of the SNSM lifeboat service, Alain Ledaguenel.

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