Lined up in corridor number five, Quentin, 26, wearing a bulletproof vest, loads his weapon, a Sig Sauer, the usual police pistol. 20 meters from his target, he concentrates, readjusts his glasses, puts on his helmet – supposed to cover the loud detonations – and pulls the trigger. Opposed to his comrade in lane number two, he fired shots in different positions: lying on his side, one knee bent, then two, then standing… Fourteen cartridges in all. “Come on, end of the exercise,” thunders Virginie, shooting trainer. Now, two cartridges kneeling, two standing, two dorsal, six in total in eight seconds. » After this second salvo, Quentin moves towards the target. “Fourteen out of twenty on target for both, almost at the same time, that’s good,” notes Cyril, the trainer. The student policeman leaves the stand satisfied: “It’s been a long time since we last did one, for a month and a half, because I was on training… So yes, I’m happy. » And Cyril recalls: “They are reaching the end of their training, they finish in October. Now they are good, the shooting techniques are assimilated. »
This former military barracks in Sens (Yonne) currently accommodates 120 students. It is the oldest of the nine national police schools. These establishments are now recruiting massively. Because since the attacks of 2015, and after years of declining numbers, the trend has been reversed. Instruction is now given, as Cyril says, to “produce blue”, police officers, against the risk of terrorism, but above all for the maintenance of order during demonstrations where violent excesses are increasingly evident. common.
And to better staff the police stations, you have to move quickly: just one year of training to assimilate subjects as numerous as administrative and criminal law, the code of criminal procedure, ethics, real-life situations, shooting… Not to mention that the duration of the instruction continues to vary. In 2020, it was reduced to eight months, still with the aim of increasing the number of agents… before the Minister of the Interior, Gérald Darmanin, returned to one year in April 2021, contradicting his predecessor Christophe Castaner. Final change this fall: “We find ourselves under pressure again,” Cyril is alarmed. Due to the Olympics, this year’s graduating classes will only study for ten months instead of one year. » Like an air of “it goes away and it comes back…”
In the courtyard of the Sens school, a new exercise is proposed. This time it involves intervening in a semi-confined environment: a building lobby transformed into a drug trafficking zone. A recruit, wearing a red bib, plays the role of the suspect. We must question him and certain members of his gang. Two student police patrols were formed. They intervene quickly but find themselves attacked by the gang… “Stop! interrupts Cyril who immediately debriefs the exercise. Both groups burst into the area at the same time, in front of the glass door, so you were a potential target. And then, you didn’t consult sufficiently beforehand. No surprise effect. Let’s start again. »
Drop in student level
As an aside, the trainer says: “Even after a year, it can happen… We need more simulations and more field training. » In ten years, he noted an “obvious decline in level on the physical and intellectual levels, and in the values of mutual aid and exchange with the population. Some people don’t respect the rules imposed on them. We are obliged to put them back on the right track, otherwise how can they claim, in the future, to uphold the law? » He also regrets the time of the notes assigned to each person. “Today, we just consider learning acquired or not acquired. That’s all. It doesn’t encourage them to surpass themselves. »
The drop in level is partly explained by a less drastic selection. Because while police schools need to recruit as hard as they can, there are fewer applicants. “Previously, we selected one person in twelve candidates, today it is one in five,” calculates Commander François Poisson, deputy director of the establishment. The level is affected, particularly in French. And this impacts the quality of the minutes. “Sometimes, the PV is so poorly written that it has little chance of giving rise to prosecution in court: the complainant would be crushed by the defense lawyer,” explains Olivier Cahn, professor of criminal law and researcher. at Cesdip (Center for sociological research on law and penal institutions). Hence the classifications without follow-up which irritate part of the police institution. To the point that Fabien Vanhemelryck, the general secretary of the Alliance union, came close to the red line of the separation of powers by declaring, during a demonstration in May 2021: “The problem of the police is justice. »
A police force in crisis of meaning
In Sens, the new recruits insist: criticism against the agents because of police violence remains in the minority in public opinion and it does not affect the morale of the troops. The malaise of the profession is, however, undeniable. After this summer’s urban riots and the placement in pre-trial detention of an agent from the Marseille anti-crime brigade for suspicion of violence, a significant number of police officers showed their anger by placing themselves on sick leave.
More profoundly, contradictory injunctions fuel a crisis of meaning: the “above all, no blunders” of the hierarchy which emerges in almost the same sentence as “above all, do not slacken”. This last instruction remains in everyone’s mind: the politics of numbers. We must challenge, challenge again… “Sometimes, these are the same individuals arrested ten, fifteen times, then released… We have the impression of emptying the ocean with a teaspoon,” sighs Olivier Cappe, CRS at Lyon.
The most chilling sign of the malaise lies in the very high number of suicides: 46 police officers ended their lives in 2022. In 2023, 24% of members of the police confided having had morbid thoughts (1). Increasingly difficult working conditions are pushing a growing number of agents to leave the profession. The Court of Auditors, in 2022, estimated that the phenomenon concerned 10,848 individuals (2) – out of 150,000 in total. An impressive figure, although it should be qualified because it includes retirements in particular.
One fact, however, is certain: never before have so many police officers requested leave of absence. Christophe B., 47 years old, in Haute-Savoie, is one of them. For three years, he has worked as a sales director in an IT company. “I earn a much better living today and I have all my weekends. » The man was also tired of nights in “transient cantonments”, sometimes dilapidated professional accommodation. Not to mention career management, this transition from grade to grade which he considers too slow… No regrets, Christophe has no intention of returning to service.
Talking about the profession when you are no longer part of it does not seem easy. Because one of the strong points of the public force is indeed this famous “esprit de corps” taught at school, which we often keep within ourselves, even once the uniform has been put away for good. “The insignia, the cap, it represents the institution, the Republic, the mission. It allows you to be spotted and respected,” projects Camille, 36, a student in Sens, proud of her future profession. He dreams of being in the judicial police. He is well aware of this: the profession sometimes receives criticism. The death of Nahel, on June 27, at the origin of eight days and nights of riots throughout France? “I don’t have all the elements, it’s up to the courts to decide. »And to recall the importance of discernment in the code of ethics. “It’s article R 434-10,” he replies, studiously. In a very short period of time, sometimes a few seconds, we must make the best possible decision with regard to the law and the protection of citizens. »
Continuing education, yes, but…
This discernment is all the more necessary as the police arsenal has increased after the urban riots of 2005 and even more so since the yellow vests in 2018-2019. However, the handling of weapons cannot be taught only in a few months of school. Continuing education plays, in theory, a fundamental role. And there too, the problem lies. “It is almost non-existent,” says Christophe Korell, ex-police officer and president of the Agora association of citizens, police and justice. The only compulsory training concerns shooting: three sessions per year, 30 cartridges each time. But not all agents complete these internships. Due to a lack of personnel on the ground, when you no longer even have enough to train a patrol, the priority is not to send someone on training. Result: agents do not improve their skills, stagnate or even regress. »
In terms of theoretical courses, continuing education is enriched this fall with an unexpected new discipline: a sociology diploma now issued by the University of Amiens, specially intended for serving police officers. Two hundred applications poured in for fifty open positions, a real success. “A very good thing,” says ex-police officer Christophe Korell, “but there should also be compulsory sociology courses in initial training, on working-class neighborhoods in particular. And then, how do you want to understand the police when the teaching of its history is limited to a single half-day at school? And psychology? Wouldn’t it be necessary to no longer greet people with our big clogs, in a tone that is not always cordial? »
Christophe Pradier, 53, a police officer in eastern Lyon, also questions the duration of the initial training: “One year is ridiculous,” he complains. We should increase the number of internships…” “Including in structures outside the police,” continues Christophe Korell, such as a court, associations helping with reintegration, supporting women victims or fighting against discrimination…” Or how to adapt training to changes in society. While preserving the core business, which young Quentin sums up in his calm and collected way: “Enforcing order in a climate of trust. »
(1) Study of mutual security forces (MGP), carried out in 2023.
(2) Report from the Court of Auditors of April 2023.
Very political unions
With a unionization rate of around 90% (the national average is 6%!), the police constitute the most highly integrated professional body. This is largely explained by a reform in 1995 which gave organizations considerable power in career management. The unions (Alliance and Unsa Police, on the right, won nearly 50% of the votes in the December 2022 elections) also play a very political role: beyond sectional interests, they take a position on legal cases which affect organization and separation of powers, and are capable of exerting strong pressure on the Ministry of the Interior in the event of discontent.
National police figures in France
- 77% French people say they have a good image of the police. Source: BVA study for RTL, July 5, 2023 (carried out after the urban riots at the beginning of the summer).
- 46 police officers ended their lives in 2022.