Macron wants more transparency about police wrongdoings

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French President Emmanuel Macron speaks during his visit at the police academy of Roubaix, northern France, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021. (Ludovic Marin, Pool via AP)

PARIS (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron announced measures to make the police more transparent about wrongdoings, including the publication of internal investigation reports and the creation of a parliamentary monitoring body, in efforts to improve public confidence eroded by scandals in recent years.

Macron’s speech Tuesday in a police school in Roubaix, in northern France, comes after a months-long national consultation about needed changes to the police, following allegations of violence and racism.

“When there are misconducts, they must lead to sanctions. When there are problems, they must get a response,” Macron said. “We have nothing to fear from a greater transparency.”

Macron said international investigation reports about allegations of police abuse and misconduct will now be made public. They must lead to “clear decisions” about officers and organization issues, he added.

In addition, a new body composed of lawmakers from the National Assembly and the Senate will be in charge of assessing police actions, Macron said. A similar body exists for intelligence services.

In his speech, Macron also sought to respond to demands from police unions for action in areas including improving the training of officers, reducing the amount of paperwork and increasing their presence on the ground.

He said the budget of the Interior Ministry, which is supervising the police, will improve next year by 1.5 billion euros ($1.8 billion).

The deputy secretary-general of union Unite SGP Police, Jerome Moisant, praised on France Info radio the “quite extraordinary budget” to be released and the increase by 50% of the time dedicated to training officers throughout their careers.

The national consultation on police was notably prompted by the publication at the end of last year of videos showing a Black man beaten up by several police officers, using a truncheon and tear gas for no apparent reason.

At the time, Macron said he felt “ashamed” and “shocked” by the violent beating of music producer Michel Zecler, although he denied that racism or violence were systemic in the force. A judicial investigation has been opened into police actions in that case.

The French government in February launched an online tool to enable people to identify and denounce all kinds of discrimination issues.

Macron stressed that only 4% of the reports concern police forces so far and they had led to internal investigations.

Amid plans detailed by Macron, some run largely after next year despite the presidential election scheduled in April.

Macron, who hasn’t yet announced his reelection bid but is expected to do so, notably said a major law to modernize police, including via digital technology, will be debated at Parliament next year. He also wants to enable victims to file a formal complaint online starting from 2023. The same year, cameras will be deployed in police cars, he added.

Security issues are widely seen as a main theme in the upcoming campaign. Polls at the moment forecast a duel between Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen, with Macron expected to win, as it was during France’s last presidential election in 2017.

Macron’s speech also comes after a security law extending police powers entered into force earlier this year despite weeks of protests called by civil right activists who feared it would threaten efforts to denounce abuses.

Last year, thousands of French people took part in the global Black Lives Matter protests sparked by the death of George Floyd.

Amnesty International on Tuesday released a report denouncing the disproportionate use of force by police using tear gas and dispersion grenades to end a party gathering about 1,500 people in Redon, in western France, in June.

The violent operation led to one young man getting his hand torn off. Several other people were injured.

Anne-Sophie Simpere, advocacy officer at Amnesty International, expressed skepticism at Macron’s announcements, saying that his government didn’t show the will to reform police in depth, including during the national consultation. She deplored that in recent years “there have been clear recommendations to improve respect for human rights and they have not been implemented.”

Simpere notably regretted Macron didn’t take measures to quickly decrease the level of violence during police intervention in protests and gatherings, like banning dispersion grenades and high-velocity rubber ball launchers that are causing serious injuries.

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