French national police chief says officers under investigation ‘have no place in prison’

Akash Arjun
Akash Arjun

Global Courant

PARIS (AP) — France’s national police chief has said law enforcement officers under investigation should not be jailed like ordinary citizens, amid a walkout by numerous Marseille police officers over the detention of a colleague for his actions during riots nationwide.

Frederic Veaux’s seemingly unprecedented comments in a weekend interview — which was endorsed by the Paris police prefect — quickly sparked a debate and raised fundamental questions about whether French law enforcement is above the law.

“Knowing that (the officer) is in prison, I can’t sleep,” Veaux said in an interview with Le Parisien, after traveling to Marseille on Saturday to deliver a statement of support to police from himself and Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin. But he went further, saying he thinks “in anticipation of any trial, a police officer has no place in prison, even though he may have made mistakes or serious mistakes in his job.”

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While police officers must be held accountable for their actions, “including in court,” they should not be treated as “criminals and thugs,” Veaux said.

French police are often accused of brutality and racism at work for singlesing out black people or people of North African roots for identity checks or detention, while unions say officers feel themselves maligned.

“No one is above the law,” President Emmanuel Macron said in an interview Monday from New Caledonia, the starting point of his Indo-Pacific journey. But he declined to comment directly on Veaux’s comments about jailing law enforcement officers while legal proceedings are underway.

Macron pushed for a response, saying that “we have to respect democratically voted laws and of course they (police) are governed by the law.”

He noted that 28 police conduct investigations have been opened since the riots that erupted after the June 27 murder of Nahel M., a young man with North African roots, during a traffic stop.

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Above all, the president praised the police in the face of “an unprecedented wave of violence” during the riots, which left 900 law enforcement officers injured, saying that he “understands the emotions of our officers … and that must be heard with respect for the rule of law for all.”

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In a spontaneous move, police officers in Marseille have called in sick since Thursday’s arrest of a member of the BAC, an elite police team mainly active in Marseille, known for delinquency and drug trafficking. It was not known how many police officers were absent from the job, but the action worried authorities in Paris.

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The detained suspect is being investigated for group violence and using or threatening to use a weapon. Three suspected colleagues are also under strict house arrest. The four are under investigation for beating up a young man, reportedly of North African descent, when the port city was attacked by rioters in early July.

A well-known police expert, Sebastian Roche, tweeted his concern about what is at stake.

“Equality before the law threatens to tear,” Roche tweeted. “Although it is a cardinal principle of a rule of law.”

Neither the Interior Minister nor the Justice Minister has responded to Veaux’s comments.

French national police chief says officers under investigation ‘have no place in prison’

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