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Friday, June 26, 2009



Tuesday 05/12/2009 Article by Stephanie Varet

Yannick Landurain, 28 years old, is a police officer assigned to the Rapid Intervention Group in Bobigny [Suburb of Paris]. [In France, most police functions are carried out by a national police force; municipal police agencies have limited police powers. The gendarmerie has jurisdiction over rural areas. It is a dependency of the French Army]

He is a police union rep. with Force Ouvriere [Worker’s Force]. He shares with us an intensely vivid testimony on his and his colleagues’ working conditions. The numbers policy is ravaging “the job”, the Projects rule, the brass could care less about the rank and file, depression is commonplace and suicides are on the rise.

What is your job description?

Our mission is essentially to combat street crimes, we respond when there are riots such as in 2005, or when things get iffy in the projects. Sometimes we lend support to the Criminal Investigations Divisions, when they are serving warrants in a home or we help the neighborhood patrol guys when they stop someone in the projects where things could go wrong. Otherwise, we patrol, drive around looking for crimes in progress.

What are the difficulties you are faced with?

We mainly provide back up for colleagues, often in the heart of the projects. Calls there are almost always tense. There is a lack of officers assigned to those areas. It’s commonplace for us to drive through the projects and receive all kinds of projectiles thrown at our vehicles; in broad daylight. Things get worse at night, when they throw Molotov cocktails at our cruisers. I have to say that those who do that have crossed a certain line. I was transferred to this section seven years and a half ago; then we received rotten vegetables or eggs, it still was not so bad. Since the 2005 riots, things have gotten worse. We drive through the project and stones are thrown at us for no reason. We are not always coming to deal with some youths. We have even been shot at with flashballs. The projects belong to them. It’s more and more serious, they seek contact with us. It’s commonplace for colleagues to be wounded.

Where do these events take place?

It happens just about everywhere, the worst is at the La Courneuve 4000 homes project, the Aulnay-sous-bois 3000 homes project, at the Clos Saint-Lazare projects in Stains, and all the largest projects in the Province of Seine Saint Denis [a suburb of Paris]. Some of our attackers are armed; they carry flashballs among other things, that’s supposedly a law enforcement less than lethal weapon. Lately, some colleagues who were searching some basements in the 4000 homes project were shot at with flashballs, they take some of the same weapons we use. We find them with assault weapons as well, some AKs, we think that there’s a black market smuggling ring from Eastern Europe.

Are those problems specific to the Province of Seine-Saint-Denis?

There is a high turn-over within the Police in Seine-Saint-Denis: Most of the officers want to be transferred outside of the Paris metropolitan area, In Drancy, there were about 30 officers. When they disbanded the community policing units, the colleagues who were transferred out of the area were not replaced. When I got there in 2002, there were 30 officers assigned there. Now, there are maybe six or seven. In Aulnay-Sous-Bois, where there are two, no more than three cruisers on patrol for a population of 80,000.00 to 90, 0000.00. It’s not enough. To be transferred [out of the Paris Metro Area] to Northern France, you have to have at least three to four years on the job. An officer being transferred out of Paris Metro after three to four years is replaced by a rookie fresh out of the academy. A young officer needs to be directed. Now, we throw them out there, just like that.

So what happens then?

At the academy, you are taught all about theory, I mean the legal stuff, the legal parameters of the job. [the national police academy is 52 weeks long, mostly law and theory oriented] But when you respond within the projects, if there are ten people in front of us, we won’t make an arrest. There is a whole psychological aspect to these project youths that we are not taught to handle. Moreover, there is a blinding lack of leadership in Seine-Saint-Denis. They are trying to bring back the community policing units, they call them proximity policing units now, but it’s all the same. Those are called the Neighborhood Policing Units. There are very few of them in the projects. For example, in the Franc-Moisin project in Saint Denis, there are maybe ten. Six or Seven of them are on patrol on any given day. The police van drops them off in the projects and they walk around the projects.

What type of situations do they encounter?

It’s summertime now. The weather is nice and the scooters and mopeds are out and about. We are prohibited from chasing them when they violate traffic laws or noise ordinances. They are always waiting for us in the projects. I recently was in Bobigny at the Abreuvoir projects, there was a teenager driving around without a helmet, he was trying to lure us deep into the projects instead of trying to escape. When you’re got some experience under your belt, you can tell and you don’t go, but when they are dealing with 20 year old rookies, they go and they don’t know what’s waiting for them. Since the 2005 riots, ambushes are more and more frequent. The entire police fore is increasingly fed up. The Province of Seine Saint Denis is pathetic. We have vehicle with over 200,000.00 miles, our equipment and human resources are not at all up to the tasks we are asked to accomplish. When you are waiting 10 to 15 minutes for your back up to arrive, when things are going south quick, that’s a heck of a long time to wait.

And the government demands results…

The number’s game has exploded. There are written numbers requirements. Each police officer receives his set. If you don’t make the numbers, you are reprimanded. For example, let’s look at my own case: Two years ago, I had to make four arrests. I only had made two. I had to go to the Captain’s office and sign a written warning because I had not met the quota. I have to tell you that a written warning remains in your personnel file. Before, we could exercise our discretion in the field. Now, the figures are precise, we have to make numbers. Sometimes, we go after illegal aliens. They’ll tell you “this month you have to arrest more undocumented aliens”. There again, the officers are fed up, they have lost any possible discretion. You have to arrest everything that moves. The population’s perception of us is getting worse and worse, the brass pressures us more and more to meet the quotas. The officers are between a rock and a hard place. It’s not easy for them.

How does the average officer deal with this pressure?

Depression has never been so prevalent among the ranks before the past few years, the numbers are exploding. I’m not even talking about the suicides which are constantly rising. Where I work, last January there were three officer suicides in three weeks in the Seine-Saint-Denis Province. There were probably some family issues compounding the situation, but this constant pressure to make numbers, added to the insults from the public, to which the brass forbids us to answer…so when the family unit implodes, it becomes harder and harder. A police officer in Stains committed suicide in January because he failed his driver’s license test. You have to have a driver’s license in the police.

Can you expand on that?

This particular police officer had to get his license before February 2009, it was an administrative injunction. He passed his test in March 2009. The management would never grant him a two week grace period. His job was his only escape from family issues. He committed suicide behind a closed door in his office while his colleagues were on the other side of the door. They were more than shocked. In those cases, a psychologist comes for half a day, and then there is no support. There is only one psychologist for the entire Paris Metro Area. They tell us “if you have a problem, here is the psychologist’s number”. It’s very difficult to land a consultation. It’s bullshit in other words. It’s just so they can say that there are psychologists on hand, but reality says otherwise. Moreover, we are scared, since if you go see the shrink, the police chief can take your weapon away at any time if he or she feels that you are not well. And of course this will be annotated in your personnel file. That creates a chilling effect. This explains why we don’t go see those infamous shrinks.

Why isn’t the general public aware of the current state of the police force?

I can talk to you because I’m a union rep. You have to know that a police officer is prohibited from talking to the press. Everything stays within the family, everything is kept quiet. We are told to “make collars”. The problem is that in case of any even minor mishap within the projects, you are not backed up by your superiors.
They send you to IA (Internal Affairs) to humor the press who could create pressure; we throw the police officer under the bus. It’s more and more common. There had never been as many dismissals and disciplinary actions in the police before the past four or five years. Before, you had one or two disciplinary actions a month. Now, it’s every Wednesday.

What’s your personal experience with reference to this?

Three weeks ago, a scooter charged me while I had a flash ball in hand. I shot at the scooter. The individual wasn’t hit. I only hit the body of the bike. He fell from the scooter and wasn’t hurt. We arrested him, nothing happened. I was given a written warning for shooting at the scooter with the flashball, when in my opinion; this was clear case of self-defense. At least if there had been an investigation determining this wasn’t self-defense, I could deal with that. In this case, the District Attorney told me that this was not a case of self defense. They don’t want police officers to make a habit of shooting at scooters with flashballs thus causing riots in the projects. I had to swallow being punished for something I was justified in doing. Furthermore, in Seine-Saint-Denis, if your scratch a hubcap on a cruiser, you’re immediately punished. It’s excessive punishment. I compare the police to a pea factory. We beat the workers into collecting as many peas as possible, but if there is the slightest issue, the so-called guilty party is thrown out.

Do you feel that you are treated as children?

Let me give you an example: The street crimes unit had collared a guy who had three kilos of cocaine on his person. The Captain told his officers that he was very happy with their catch, “My sense is, I’d rather your caught 3000 guys with one gram of coke”. When your chief tells you that, when you think you did your job to the best of your ability, you can’t find motivation there. They’d rather we catch two youths smoking a joint rather than one youth who stole a car. We don’t investigate anything anymore. It’s just about checking all the right boxes. This way, they can claim that crime is down; even if it’s 5000 potheads…Violence is on the rise. We don’t do quality work anymore since 2004-2005. The unions keep clamoring that. We make flyers…but there is such a media frenzy around this, the numbers have to be there by year’s end.

In summary, the numbers are the enemy.

You’d have to know where those figures come from. Some fellow officers who work in the administration offices tell us that the numbers are cooked. A colleague told me that a person had torched three cars, three cars end up being three different reports, to inflate the numbers, this happens all the time. Before, the police officer loved his job. That’s over with now. The number of leave request from officers has never been so high. About 80% of all police officers joined the force by vocation. After three, four or five years in Seine-Saint-Denis, vocation disappears. We all have been sent before IA for nothing. I arrested a person twice in two years. One day, he was driving without an operator’s license. Another day, it was for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. He said that I was harassing him. I was sent to IA without knowing why. When you go before IA, they take your credentials away. Thus, for a time, you are no longer a police officer. I remember I asked to go to the bathroom. I was told “No, NO, you can’t move about freely. Just like if I was a criminal, I was accompanied to the bathroom. If a rookie chases a scooter in the projects and the scooter crashes, that officer’s career is over.

According to what you say, the line the government is feeding is that they are tough on crime, but in reality it’s rather lax?

To be incarcerated in Seine Saint Denis, you really have to be a multi-recidivist and even then, you have to have done something really serious. I had been in Drancy for three weeks when a colleague was stabbed in the heart. Thankfully, he only suffered a broken rib as his ballistic vest helped; I had been knocked unconscious with a chair. We arrested the guy at the scene. He was sentenced to two months in jail and a 1000.00 Euro fine he’ll never pay while he tried to kill an officer. Anybody could tell you that this was an attempted homicide perpetrated against a law enforcement officer. This was pled down to a simple assault. There really is a two track system in Seine-Saint-Denis. The judges who make mistakes are never reprimanded, but if we scratch a vehicle, we’re good for it. So now, we don’t file charges any more, it’s useless.

What’s so strange about all his is that your management does not address the issues you are describing. Why?

The management was smart about this one by giving out bonuses. One of my friends just graduated from the Captain’s School, for him, it’s all about management now. You have to make the business “profitable”. Some Captains rebel. It does not last long. When you’re looking at 15,000.00 to 20,000.00 Euro bonuses by the end of the year, you’ve got an incentive to shut up.

Statements compiled by Stéphanie Varet