The French society : institutions, etc... (#5)

See also :

The various forms of French cops....   Security in France This section is still under construction....

Not only France has more cops than most other countries (1 for 265 inhabitants (1 for 119 in Paris), compared to 1 for 380 in UK, 1 for 296 in Germany) but they belong to many different species. To name but a few :

  • the cops in blue uniform you see in the streets of Paris are “Police Nationale” : civil servants reporting to the Prefect i.e. to the Minister of Interior
  • in smaller cities, there can be either "Police Nationale" or “Police Municipale” (hired by the city and reporting to the Mayor)
  • outside Paris, beware of the “Gendarmerie Nationale” : the “gendarmes” are highly respected (and feared), they belong to the Army and report to the Minister of Defense ; they live in small brigades, scattered all over the country, including overseas territories, and are re-assigned to a different place every few years
  • in case of a "soft" demonstration, the anti-riot squad will be the “CRS” (Compagnie Républicaine de Sécurité) who are civil servants or, if it’s a tough case, the “Gendarmes Mobiles” : you can joke with a CRS (he will only knock you on your head) but don’t joke with a Gendarme Mobile !
  • for State security, the “DST” (Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire) now DGSI is roughly the equivalent of the FBI
  • the elite corps GIGN (for the gendarmerie) and RAID (for the police) are very popular and they are the valiant units who attack the terrorists and liberate the hostages.

Useful tips :

  • for “everyday police” (for instance reporting a theft or a burglary), you go to the “Commissariat de Police” (in towns) or to the “Gendarmerie” (in the country) to make a formal declaration ; if you want to declare something formally, but without starting a case, there is the “main courante” which is a simple register in which you write whatever you think you might be able to refer to in the future (your neighbor made too much noise : if you sue him six months from now, you can establish that he was already noisy six months before or if he says he’ll kill you, your heirs will have proof that he did threaten you!)
  • when speaking to a cop (in uniform) you say “Monsieur l’Agent" (and not : "officer")
  • the nicknames for "cop" in French are "flic" (pronounced fleek) or "poulet" (chicken) : don't use them!
  • In France, the police can keep you in custody for 24 hours (extendable to 48) to investigate a case in which the police think you might be involved. It is the "garde à vue" : more in irksome France.
  • Entrapment is illegal! Contrary to the USA, French legislation prohibits all forms of provocation from police (like offering a bribe or a policewoman pretending to be a prostitute) : any indictment grounded on it would be illegal and voided. There are only (very few) exceptions for custom officers.
  • To call the Police, dial 17
  • Read why there are so many cops in the streets of Paris.
  • more to come.....

Regarding security, France is not very different from the other European countries, with a crime rate relatively moderate (compared to many other non-European countries) and a significant Islamic terrorist threat. Due to the severity of rencent terrorist attacks, Frnce does not rank well in the Safety and Security Index of the World Economic Forum 2019 : 51th country out of 140.

Crime :

  • The homicide rate per 100,000 inhabitants is 1.4 in 2016, a little higher than most other European countries (Germany and UK = 1.2, Italy =0.7, Spain=0.6), but lower than Eastern European countries (between 2 an 3) and much lower than the USA (5.4).
  • More to come...


Terrorism :

  • Islamic terrorism has hit France very severely in the past decades : in the 1990s, (the Algerian GIA placed bombs in metros, trains and street dust bins (11 attacks, 10 to 20 killed and over 300 wounded) and since 2015 with Al Qaeda (more than 200 killed and several hundred wounded, the most spectacular murders being : the killing of the journalists of Charlie Hebdo, the Bataclan concert Hall in Paris, the Jewish school in Toulouse and the Promenade des Anglais in Nice). Over 60 significant attempts have been thwarted.
  • Read about the controversy : freedom of expression vs. caricatures of Mahomet and the attack on Charlie-Hebdo.
  • The perpetrators were members of the Muslim community in France, most of them French citizens with families originating from immigration from Maghreb and Western Africa. Read more about Islam in France. Since 1978, the government has implemented an anti-terrorist organization called "Plan Vigipirate" (see its site), strenghthened in 2016.
  • It includes political and administrative procedures and the very visible presence of Army troops at hundreds of "sensitive spots".

Useful tips :

  • In case of emergency, call #17 (police), #15 (SAMU : medical emergency) or #18 (fire brigade)
  • You may subscribe to the government's alert system : twitter@beauvau_alerte
  • More to come...

The various forms of French judges....    

Regarding the organization of justice, the differences between France and the US are HUGE !

  • The key difference between the US and France (and other Latin countries) is that France is not a country of common law but a country of Roman law : the judge decides according to the (written) law. The jurisprudence plays a role in the evolution of the law but no significant role in the judgment itself. As an image, it is often said that an Anglo-saxon courts judges a crime when a French court judges a man.

  • Judges are never elected : they are public servants (magistrats du Siège) and their independence is guaranteed by the Constitution ; their career is managed by an independent body, the Conseil Supérieur de la Magistrature) which ensures their independence. The is a popular jury only for the criminal court.

  • The prosecutors (procureurs) are not independent : they represent the State and report to the Minister of Justice. They are civil servants and belong to a different body (magistrats du Parquet).

  • When the case arrives in court, the investigation is supposed to be finished so that the court can decide on the culpability and the level of the penalty if found guilty. According to the case, the investigation is carried out by the police or by a "juge d'instruction", a magistrate with full power to investigate, with the help of police forces.

  • There are two separate categories of jurisdictions : judiciary and administrative (the latter is when the State or public authorities are involved). Above the courts, there is an appeal court and above it a last resort court (Cour de Cassation for Judiciary courts and Conseil d'Etat for Administrative courts).
To related pages : more about French society(#1), religion(#2), women in French society (#3), French profiles(#4), French attitudes, French values,French issues, etc...

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Harriet Welty Rochefort writes articles and books about France and the French. Order her books:

  • "Joie de Vivre", Secrets of Wining, Dining and Romancing like the French, St.Martin's Press, New York, 2012
  • "French Toast, An American in Paris Celebrates The Maddening Mysteries of the French", St.Martin's Press, New York, 1999
  • "French Fried, The Culinary Capers of An American in Paris", St.Martin's Press, New York, 2001

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