PARIS, France, Feb 9 – France is to introduce a “new approach” to community policing that aims to combat anti-social behaviour and lower tensions in many high-crime areas of the country, Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said Thursday.
President Emmanuel Macron promised a new local police force during his election campaign last year, part of a plan to add 10,000 officers to the police ranks during his five-year term.
Tensions over alleged police brutality and heavy-handed tactics were a theme of the 2017 election after the alleged assault of a man during his arrest north of Paris which left him with severe anal injuries.
Collomb ruled out creating a separate force to patrol the streets in France’s poorest neighbourhoods, but he announced new resources for 30 priority areas and measures to enable police to spend more time on the beat.
Several rough suburbs outside Paris will be granted 15 to 30 extra officers, including Aulnay-sous-Bois, where there were protests against alleged police brutality last February.
Young men in neighbourhoods with large immigrant communities in particular accuse police of repeatedly targeting them in aggressive stop-and-search operations and of using excessive force during arrests.
But officers say they are often drawn into cat-and-mouse games with delinquents and drug dealers operating out of housing estates in low-income areas and are frequently subjected to violence.
“Above all it’s about a new way of working, a new attitude across the police forces” who would now have “a greater on-the-ground presence”, Collomb told French daily Le Monde on Thursday.
Many counter-terror experts say local policing is also essential for intelligence gathering, a priority for France which has been hit by a series of Islamist attacks since 2015.
The government will also quadruple the number of officers wearing body cameras to 10,000 by 2019, mainly in areas where tensions between police and residents run highest, Collomb told Le Point magazine in a separate interview.
And tens of thousands of officers will be equipped with tablet computers and smartphones for quickly checking if a person has a criminal record.
Previous government proposals to tackle anti-social behaviour include new on-the-spot fines for crimes such as smoking cannabis, and restraining orders that will enable judges to ban delinquents from trouble spots.
Some police were sceptical about the response.
“Eighty percent of their stuff is just publicity,” one unnamed policeman was quoted as saying by Le Monde.
“Old wine in a new bottle,” said another sceptic in the BAC police force in Paris, which is deployed for arrests and raids and is often accused of using rough tactics.