How to reconcile the police and the population?

Jacques de Maillard

Director of the Center for Sociological Research on Law and Penal Institutions

The recent attacks, in Champigny-sur-Marne or Herblay, are they a gradation in violence against the police?

Jacques de Maillard: None of this is new, but these various facts attract attention by their spectacular nature, especially when they accumulate, and because they are filmed, which accentuates their resonance. But that police officers are put in danger in the exercise of their functions, it is unfortunately frequent, and some die regularly. Tensions between the police and young people from minorities in certain neighborhoods, which are the subject of repeated checks, are not unprecedented either. We can remember equally serious facts, at the end of 2016 in Viry-Châtillon where the police were attacked in their vehicle, or in 2017 in Aulnay-sous-Bois with the Théo affair.

How is confidence in the police changing in the general population?

J. de M .: The level of confidence in the police remains rather stable in the general population, according to the available surveys. But to more specific questions like “Do you think the police are violent? “, the responses show a clearer deterioration in the perception of police action. And at European level, when we ask “Do you think the police are respectful? “,” That she explains her action? ” or “That she treat the rich and the poor alike”, the French police are judged with more severity than the English or German police for example.

Added to this is a survey by the defender of rights on the experience of the last police check: 8.5% of those questioned consider that the police were brutal and 16.5% recounted having been touched upon. There is therefore a general issue in the management of interactions by the police, beyond certain neighborhoods. It focuses on the ability of police officers to justify their actions and to establish a peaceful relationship with the public.

Does the movement of yellow vests mark a break?

J. de M.: It caused a phenomenon of displacement. The majority of the yellow vests came from the white middle and popular classes, a population not used to interactions with the police and rather legitimist. In the context of protests that escalated, she was confronted with the use of force, sometimes disproportionate. Part of this population has changed their outlook on the police and anti-police hatred has even become a slogan in some gatherings.

However, this did not translate into a reversal in general opinion. Many French people considered that the responsibility for the violence was shared between the police and the yellow vests. But again, if there is no marked deterioration in trust, relations between the police and the population are not satisfactory.

What would be the pledges to give to restore this battered confidence?

J. de M.: We would have to move away from short-term logic and the quantitative. The countries where relations have improved between the police and the population have, on the contrary, pursued long-term strategies, giving priority to the quality of the relationship with the citizens. We can cite the United Kingdom, Quebec, Germany, or the Netherlands. It involves thinking in terms of the ability to inspire trust, to manage strained relationships.

The police are a force in the service of the public. It has these two components, and the second, just as central as the first, must be at the heart of the training. It is about preparing the young police officers to go into territories with which, at best, they are unfamiliar, and to which, at worst, they are hostile. And to allow them not to give in to cynicism.

And sometimes to racism?

J. de M.: The two often go together. On this subject, there are two positions to avoid: claiming that the police are racist, conversely claiming that the phenomenon only concerns a few individuals sanctioned by their administration. The rights defender underlined systemic discrimination in certain places. There may be excesses in city A, absent in city B. But the question citizens must ask themselves is that of their control. On this question as on the others, the Ministry of the Interior would gain by getting out of the inter-self, by consulting local elected officials, academics, magistrates and users of the police services. When will the police meet?


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