When it comes to public safety, France is an “anomaly”. This is the observation of several specialists, who have been concerned about the increase in fatal shootings by French police in recent years. The issue came back to the centre of public debate after the death of Nahel, a 17-year-old teenager shot by police on 27 June in the Paris suburbs, after refusing requests to stop his car.
This case is not isolated. French police have killed at least fifteen people since the start of 2022, due to the victims’ failure to comply with an order to stop – far more than their European neighbours. According to French police researcher Sébastian Roché, Germany has only recorded one fatal shooting at a moving vehicle in ten years.
His calculations show that between 2011 and 2020, the police and gendarmerie in France killed almost 50% more than the German police, and over three-and-a-half times more than the British. The victim is typically a man under the age of 27, with an African or North African-sounding name, living in a working-class neighbourhood close to major cities.
There are several possible reasons for this “French anomaly”. Researchers and MPs have pointed the finger at the reform of a law in 2017, which relaxed the use of firearms by police officers and led to a five-fold increase in killings of people in moving vehicles compared to 2012-2016, according to a recent study. The report also deplores shortcomings in the quality of candidates who serve in uniform officer training: almost one in five applicants is now admitted to the police ranks, compared to one in fifty ten years ago.
The increase in fatal police shootings has serious social consequences. They risk deepening the rift that divides French society into two rival camps: those who place order above all else, and those who denounce the racism and discrimination behind the deaths caused by the police.