Security : What Ministers of The Interior Dare Not Say

Control : Newly appointed Interior Minister, Christophe Castaner, at the Centre de coopération franco-espagnole policière et douanière in Perthus (Pyrénées-Orientales), 12th November

Sécurité, ce que les ministres de l’Intérieur n’osent pas dire
Le Point, 15th November 2018.
Mafias, gang violence, Islamists, drug-traffickers… Revelations from police records on the state of security in France…

17559877-17559874-g-jpg_5725047A throw-away line delivered in the courtyard of the Hotel de Beauvau [Interior Ministry] on a cold autumn morning, was enough to set off a volley of questions about security in France. When handing over to Edouard Philippe [PM] on 3rd October, Gérard Collomb, then still Interior Minister for a few minutes [before his resignation took effect], did not fail to express his concern. “I went (…) from the suburbs of Marseille to the Mirail district of Toulouse, to the outskirts of Paris, Corbeil, Aulnay, Sevran (…) The situation is very bad, and the expression ‘republican reconquest’ is applicable in all of its senses to these districts. Because, yes, today, it is a case of ‘might is right’, with drug traffickers, radical Islamists, (…) We need an overall vision for re-establishing social diversity, because today we live side-by-side and, as I always say, I fear that tomorrow we shall be living face to face.” Carefully chosen words that offer a glimpse of the worst. These remarks are all the more arresting, because ministers of the Interior rarely express themselves so frankly.

“We need an overall vision for re-establishing social diversity in the degraded suburbs, because today we live side-by-side and, as I always say, I fear that tomorrow we shall be living face to face.” — Gérard Collomb, outgoing Minister of the Interior

Strategic documents. “Everything that touches on security is by nature sensitive”, explains a ministerial cabinet insider. “Ministers of the Interior are limited in what they can reveal publicly, and every word must be carefully weighed. Gérard Collomb has sometimes gone quite far in his statements: after a terrorist attack, for example.” Is the situation in the banlieues so degraded? Is violence more frequent, like that between gangs of youths that results in multiple fatalities? Is religious radicalism prising communities apart, as Gérard Collomb believes? From a reading of the records and confidential documents, many considered strategic, written by analysts of the Directorate General of The National Police (DGPN), the situation in the neighbourhoods does not seem to be improving. On the contrary. “Criminal gangs from countries to the East are increasingly active throughout France”, says a specialist in organized crime. “Again, drug traffickers are extending their control over more and more territory. Several medium-density cities are now prey to them.”


Bullet-proof : Gérard Collomb, then Minister of the Interior, with the Brigade anti-criminalité (BAC) in Juvisy-sur-Orge, 8th October 2017

An assessment has been given by Laurent Nuñez, Secretary of State assisting the successor to Gérard Collomb at the Interior Ministry, Christophe Castaner. “Yes, drug trafficking has grown, undeniably” he told Le Point. “It’s like a gangrene eating away at a number of neighbourhoods, and not only in the big cities. The fight against narco-banditry is a priority for the police services. The results obtained by the police and the gendarmerie are good, the dismantling of criminal networks accelerates from year to year. But we have to do even better.” 

Appearances. Several tools have been developed to curb the petty and organized crime that continues to expand its reach: patrols by the Police de sécurité du quotidien (PSQ), and the identification of districts in need of ‘Republican reconquest’. But for field officers of all ranks, the deployment of these new measures is far from obvious. “It’s just a case of instant PR”, said a commissioner stationed in the Paris suburbs. “There is nothing new in the PSQ concept”, adds another police officer stationed in the provinces. “It encompasses everything we were already doing. We need to bring in other ministries, such as those of National Education, and Justice. And it is not the relationship between police and citizens that is the problem in this country. It’s quite simply that the police cannot meet all expectations.” These officers were even more disillusioned when they learned of the suicide of Maggy Biskupski, spokeswoman for the pressure-group Policiers en colère [“Angry Cops”], when faced with the added burden of yet more new offences. “Having to record offences like frequenting a prostitute, or making a sexist or degrading remark is simply unworkable”, continues the commissioner. “We already have so much business to deal with. Whenever there’s a public outcry over something, new laws are created to give the impression that problems are being responded to. It’s just appearances, PR. The reality is that we cannot tell people that we do not have the wherewithal to operate in certain neighbourhoods.”

“If we are calling for a policy of generosity and welcome towards refugees, we must at the same time adopt a firm policy on deportations.” — Christophe Castaner, Minister of the Interior

Firmness. Admissions of failure are common.  “For example, smugglers from Guyana bring hundreds of kilograms of cocaine into France every year. Nobody wants to tackle the problem head on”, complains a senior official. “It is above all a question of will.”  When he left office, Gérard Collomb also brought up the question of the reception of migrants. On this point, Christophe Castaner wants to be very pragmatic. “If we are calling for a policy of generosity and welcome towards refugees, we must at the same time adopt a firm policy on deportations. I say this bluntly: those who are denied asylum must be returned to the frontier, or if need arises, placed in detention centres to avoid any risk of absconding.” 

In addition to these interviews, Le Point went looking in the confidential documents for statistics and some sense of the reality playing out in the banlieues. Narco-gang violence, ghetto mentality, mafiosi from the Balkans, gang wars, clandestine immigration … This is the sort of thing that Interior Ministers do not dare mention. Le Point