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French Police and Urban Riots: Is the National Police Force Part of the Solution or Part of the Problem? (From Rioting in the UK and France: A Comparative Analysis, P 173-182, 2009, David Waddington, Fabien Jobard, and Mike King, eds. - See NCJ-229457)

NCJ Number
Christian Mouhanna
Date Published
10 pages
This chapter's examination of the role of The French police in the 2005 riots in France focuses on whether police use of authority may have triggered the riots and on the lessons the police should have learned from the riots.
Although police actions were not the single cause of the tension and disorder that led up to the riots in disadvantaged neighborhoods ("banlieues") in the suburbs of large and mid-sized cities, they played a part in triggering the disorders. The French police and the gendarmerie have a long tradition of combating riots and civil disorders of all kinds. The French police strategy in combating disorders involves "space saturation" techniques. This typically consists of deploying sufficient troops to instantly make their presence felt and using frequent stop-and search practices to show the police are in full control of the area. This symbolic use of force was preferred to arresting the more dangerous riot instigators and participants or the use of negotiation, mediation, and prevention tactics. Various attempts to make the police more publicly accountable for their actions and policies had been resisted on the grounds that the police themselves were qualified to determine how they should intervene to enforce the law and conduct investigations. The police considered the public unfit to cooperate with them on matters of local security. Police officers tended to regard themselves as outsiders in the banlieues, which consist largely of foreign immigrants. Police typically referred to the residents as "them" and "these people." France, perhaps more than other countries, uses the police to impose order and stifle grievances under political appeals and mandates for ensuring "law and order." This is why conflict remains inevitable in the banlieues, where living conditions continually stir unrest and lawbreaking. 12 notes