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"Tribune libre"

“The Police Force Has Become an Instrument for the Promotion of Those in Power”

Translated Saturday 27 November 2010, by Isabelle Métral

A former police superintendent, now councillor for civil security on Toulouse’s municipal team, Jean-Pierre Havrin analyses and attacks the president’s safety policy in a book entitled Il a détruit la police de proximité ("The local cop’s deadly enemy", Jean-Claude Gawsewitch pub.)

Jean-Pierre Havrin contributed to set up the community police units when he was recruited by Jean-Pierre Chevènement [1] , to work for him in his ministerial cabinet. He was chief of the Toulouse police board, which Nicolas Sarkozy mocked in 2003 for organizing rugby matches with the population – an event which he relates from behind the political scenes.

HUMA: What was the idea behind the community police units?

HAVRIN: The idea was that the police must be in the service of citizens and not in the service of government. Throughout my career, I noticed that people don’t much like the police in general. But they do like the bobbies in their neighbourhood. The idea was consequently to attach policemen to a specific territory, always the same policemen, so that they should consider this territory as their own, and conversely that the people in the neighbourhood should consider the policemen as their own. In the Mirail neighbourhood [2], people started talking to them, and after one year the policemen could patrol the district on foot, which was far from certain at first. And better still, it was even possible to organize rugby games between the policemen and the local youth.

HUMA: That’s precisely why, in February 2003, when Nicolas Sarkozy was home secretary, he brought the experiment to an end…

HAVRIN: A few days before his visit and his live interview on TV, one woman on his team had come to prepare the act. I was absent on that particular day. My subordinates explained to her how crime had declined in the Mirail district, how they had arrested a lot of delinquents… “The minister must balance his communication," she had answered; "so far he has insisted a lot on repression, and he’s come to Toulouse to insist on the prevention side. What do you do in that field?” And that’s how they agreed to lay the emphasis on the matches between the youth and the cops, which for us was a symbol of our success. On D day, the guy spouts all that he had been asked to say, and nothing else, leaving out repression as he had been asked to do. But before he got to the end of his speech he got put in his place: “You’re not social workers...” As if we needed telling. Besides, the local policemen did that in their spare time, which proves how dedicated they were.

That was how the neighbourhood units were delivered the death blow before the cameras. Even Sarkozy fans were offended by the way he took us on. In fact most of the mayors, including Right-wing mayors, were in favour of the neighbourhood units. Like Dominique Baudis here in Toulouse.

HUMA: Are the late territorial units (UTEQ) that succeeded them (and made way for the Special Territorial Brigades (BST) set up last summer) truly neighbourhood police units?

HAVRIN: They take off the word “neighbourhood” because it’s taboo, but put it as you will, a police force that is cut off from the population will never do. The idea of proximity in the late UTEQs was in their being attached to a neighbourhood. But they were fitted out like aircraft carriers, and shot through their districts without trying to get into contact with the population. As to the present BSTs, they will no longer belong to a district, but to an even larger territory. It’s obvious they don’t want them to develop links with the population.

Yet we’ll have to. Policemen themselves want to. Except for the Alliance Union, which is just a cog in the machine, being entirely devoted to the big boss. Policemen are the victims of those policies, since they are turned into enemies of the population. Sarkozy now talks of “waging war on the rascals”. But because the talk is of war, our adversaries go one up and retort with war weapons.

Policemen are near the point of explosion. They are set increasingly higher and unattainable objectives, which they do not understand. Their function has been completely perverted. It’s now become an instrument for the promotion of those in power. Who cares about statistics? If people feel the opposite of what figures say, not only are statistics useless, but they feed suspicion toward the government. What’s important is to know what portion of the population is satisfied: are things better with you? Has life improved for you? If a cinema or a grocery store has re-opened, if fewer cars burn, if they sleep better at night… Since the neighbourhood units have been given up in Toulouse, five times as many cars have been set on fire. That speaks volumes.

HUMA: How bad would you say the malaise has become among policemen?

HAVRIN: I am a unionist and I can tell you that it’s not the first time that policemen have felt they were ill-treated. But never so very badly. They can’t make themselves heard, they are put in unbearable situations, they become targets for certain sections of the population. Between the beginning of my career as a superintendent and the end, security has become a crucial political issue. Policemen now find themselves in a system where orders are placed with them. We used to be technicians, we knew the ropes, which were more or less satisfactory, but the idea was to make sure things got better. We were not obliged to deliver results. Now, wherever Sarkozy pokes his nose in, he demands results within the next forty-eight hours. But in matters of safety, the real solutions are those that take time.

HUMA: Wouldn’t you say that there is a gap between the official discourse about security and the cuts in the police force?

HAVRIN: When Sarkozy was home secretary, the cops were rather favourable to what he said. But policemen are pragmatists. Very quickly they perceived the gap between his hard muscle acts and the facts. Wherever there is a problem he comes down and speaks of making war on delinquents but months later there is still not a single extra cop on the round. Whenever there is a problem with old people, he sets up a special brigade for old people, but taking them from the same overall total of police posts. If someone is assaulted on a bus, he sets up a bus brigade and so on. It’s hell – policemen are disoriented and completely off their balance.

[1A former Leftist Home secretary

[2A well-known disadvantaged district in the Toulouse metropolis.

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