Publication - Research and analysis

Coronavirus (COVID-19): international policing responses - part 2 - easing of lockdown

Published: 27 Jul 2020

This review (part 2) considers international policing approaches and responses during the easing of lockdown (up to 15 June 2020) and future considerations.

74 page PDF

1.6 MB

74 page PDF

1.6 MB

Contents
Coronavirus (COVID-19): international policing responses - part 2 - easing of lockdown
France

74 page PDF

1.6 MB

France

Main points

  • During lockdown, reports of domestic abuse have increased
  • The police had to disperse crowds gathered in public spaces on a number of occasions, and some beaches had to be closed to the public shortly after they had opened for the same reason
  • Enforcing the 100 km rule was difficult for officers, who were given vague guidance and lack the appropriate technology
  • A number of police officers have tested positive to the coronavirus and some have died
  • Police fired tear gas to disperse crowds as some Black Lives Matter protesters built burning barricades and smashed windows of shops and bus shelters, leading to 18 arrests
  • There have been particular challenges when it comes to policing Spanish-French border towns, as French citizens travel to Spanish areas to buy cheaper tobacco and alcohol products
  • Operation #RépondrePrésent devotes special attention to the protection and support of vulnerable people, including the elderly and domestic abuse victim-survivors
  • The police launched Operation Hygie to prevent and treat attacks on health system personnel
  • The police strengthened the already-established Operation Quiet Enterprise to ensure the protection of establishments and warehouses to reassure owners
  • It has been suggested that the police should learn from its procedures during lockdown and develop a system to keep track of the police's identity checks on the public
  • The police were criticised for continuing to force migrants to evacuate camps during lockdown
  • Judges recently ruled that the police can no longer use drones with cameras to aid in the coronavirus emergency
  • Since the beginning of the lockdown, there have been many accounts of the police carrying out abusive, violent, and discriminatory stop and searches

Current situation

Since 11 May, lockdown measures in France have started to gradually be relaxed. From 2 June (until 21 June), France entered its second stage of lockdown easing, with rules varying depending on the health situation of its various departments: stricter rules apply in departments where the virus is still active (orange zones) than in departments where the virus is less active (green zones).[143]

Some schools have re-opened, as have most shops; public parks and gardens may open in green zones. Bars and restaurants will not reopen until further notice, and team sports and contact sports remain prohibited; gyms, swimming pools and sport centres remain closed.

Wearing a mask is mandatory in public transport. No more than 10 people may gather in any one place at present.[144]

Key challenges

Domestic abuse

In the first two weeks of lockdown in France the number of calls reporting domestic abuse rose 32% according to the equality secretary Marlène Schiappa.[145]

Policing movement

Between 17 March and 11 May, the French needed a certificate for all journeys outside the home. A total of 20.7 million checks were carried out and 1.1 million fines distributed.[146] As restrictions on movement started easing, Parisians were banned from drinking alcohol on the banks of the Saint-Martin canal and the Seine river after police were forced to disperse the crowd on 11 May.[147] On 20 May, the police had to evacuate Esplanade des Invalides due to hundreds of people having gathered to make the most of the heat.[148] A number of beaches in green zones have now reopened, but some have had to close again after reports of people failing to respect physical distancing rules.[149]

At present, people can travel freely around France, However, until 2nd June, people were not allowed to travel over 100 km from their home, unless they had an imperative family or professional reason to do so. They had to complete a declaration for longer trips. As movement restrictions were eased, the police set up road checks to monitor people's compliance to the new 100-km-rule. Between 11 May and 19 May, more than 200,000 road checks were carried out by police, leading to 950 fines.[150] However, these checks have proven problematic, as no list of reasons has been communicated to the police, with officers having to use their own judgement on what constitutes an 'imperative reason'. Furthermore, for officers on the ground, who are not equipped with digital tools, tablets, or professional smartphones, it was very difficult to monitor the 100 km rule. In addition, police officers are not recommended, or even prohibited, to use personal smartphones for professional purposes.[151]

Police Health and Safety

A number of French police officers have tested positive to coronavirus, some recently[152],[153] with the Head of municipal police in Roissy Pays de France having recently died due to the virus.[154]

Black Lives Matter

20,000 people gathered to protest in Paris to demand justice for Adama Traoré, a 24-year-old man who died in police custody in 2016. The rally went ahead despite a ban from police, who cited limits on the size of public gatherings due to the coronavirus epidemic. After a calm that prevailed for two hours, police fired tear gas to disperse crowds as some protesters built burning barricades and smashed windows of shops and bus shelters. Police said they had arrested 18 people in the incidents that erupted following the main rally.[155]

Borders

There have been particular challenges when it comes to policing Spanish-French border towns, as French citizens travel to Spanish areas to buy cheaper tobacco and alcohol products. As detailed by an article from El Pais: "Within the space of just a few meters, there are five different security forces in operation - the French Gendarmerie, which is in control of French customs and checks on people coming into France from Spain; the French local force, which polices the French side of Le Perthus; the Spanish National Police, which mans the Spanish border checkpoint, and the Mossos d'Esquadra and the Spanish local police, who ensure that the Spanish deescalation rules are respected in the Spanish side of Le Perthus".[156]

Examples of good and/or innovative practice

Operation #RépondrePrésent

At the end of May, the French police launched operation #RépondrePrésent, which focuses on 'listening, anticipating and accompanying'. As part of this, 3,700 police students were deployed, as well as the operational reserve, and the digital brigade was strengthened.

Working with the prefects, the judicial authority, and a set of public partners, the operation's objectives are:

  • To manage and promote the public's understanding of and compliance with current regulations
  • To prevent risks (fraud, thefts, solidarity scams, etc.) linked to the current situation
  • To combat the spread of fake news
  • To anticipate developments and threats
  • To contribute temporarily (for the duration of the crisis) to the realisation of missions further from the core business of the gendarmerie (for example, in support of the Post Office, or funerals)[157]

Through #RépondrePrésent, the French police wants to devote special attention to the protection and support of vulnerable people and actors weakened by the crisis by closely collaborating with local authorities and the municipal police. A particular focus is placed on the elderly, through 'Senior tranquillity operations', which have multiplied locally in order to preserve the police's bond with the elderly, break their isolation, answer their questions, and reassure them. Another focus of the operation is domestic abuse: in addition to the arretonslesviolences.gouv.fr platform and specialised phone lines, the police also worked on establishing contact points with potential victims in shopping centres and pharmacy, and through an SMS alert system.

Operation Hygie

French police also launched Operation Hygie, to prevent and treat attacks on health system personnel in hospitals and pharmacies. Prevention takes a central place in the system, especially for health care workers: since the beginning of the containment measures, the gendarmerie has identified 261 attacks against workers in the medical sector. Hygie also focuses its efforts on securing and safeguarding sensitive sites and transport, such as stocks and transport of masks. Hygie also operates online, focusing on shutting down sites promoting COVID-related medical scams.[158]

Strengthening Operation Quiet Enterprise

Finally, French police strengthened the already-established Operation Quiet Enterprise (OTE), in order to ensure the protection of establishments and warehouses to reassure owners. The police also focuses on establishments that have remained open and have become vulnerable as a result of their activity, such as pharmacies, and food stores. The gendarmes, are also able to provide businesses with practical advice in order to improve their security system, including cyber risks in the context of remote working.[159]

Lessons learned

Recording stop and searches

Following protests against police violence in France, the Defender of Rights, Jacques Toubon, said that trust between police and the population could be restored by tracking the police's identity checks on the public.[160] This is something which has been discussed for years in France, especially after a study was carried out proving that young men 'perceived as Black or Arab' are 20 times more likely to be stopped by the police than others. The feasibility of this proposal, according to Toubon, was demonstrated during lockdown, when the Ministry of the Interior regularly published statistics around the number of checks carried out by the police, including whether any difficulties were encountered.[161]

Human Rights and Equalities considerations

Policing migrants

French police were criticised for continuing to force migrants to evacuate camps during lockdown, with aid organisations saying that, as of the first week of May, at least 70 evacuations had taken place at the various small migrant camps in Calais since the beginning of the lockdown.[162]

Privacy rights

French judges recently ruled that the police can no longer use drones with cameras to aid in the coronavirus emergency, as they are seen as constituting 'a serious and manifestly unlawful infringement of privacy rights'. The ruling comes a few weeks after France's police launched its biggest ever procurement program for more than 650 small drones, which it had wanted to deploy next year for surveillance purposes.[163]

Discriminatory behaviour

24 local, national, and international organizations wrote an open letter to French authorities, asking for an end to discriminatory police stops. Since the beginning of the lockdown, many accounts have accused the police of carrying out abusive, violent, and discriminatory checks on the public.[164] Available official data, as well as information published in the media, also indicate a considerable concentration of police stops to enforce lockdown measures in 'quartiers populaires' - working-class neighbourhoods with a high number of visible minority residents and a fine rate three times as high as the national average in Seine-Saint-Denis, the poorest neighbourhood of Metropolitan France.[165] On top of this, Amnesty International also denounced 15 videos for unlawful use of force and discriminatory language by French law during the containment period from 18 March to the night of 24-25 April. According to Amnesty, all of these videos illustrate cases of violations of international human rights law: illegitimate, excessive or unnecessary use of force, racist or homophobic slurs.[166]


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