In the aftermath of the recent terrorist attacks on Paris, Christophe Gadenne, a former French police officer and currently a security consultant, shares some insights into the battle against criminals from the perspective of local law enforcement officers.
Can we trust the French police to protect us from criminals?
I can assure you that I have never worked with a police officer who does not immediately take action as soon as he spots a crime or receives a dispatch. And the more dangerous the crime, the more they are motivated, because all they want to do is stop criminals and protect innocent people. There has never been a lack of motivation or dedication among the French police force. They have always been determined to protect us, even at the risk of their own lives.
What is being done by the security forces to keep us safe?
The French government and the police commissioner of Paris have taken a series of strong measures in order to keep us safe. They have established a “state of emergency” which allows policemen to arrest criminals and search their homes, have increased border checks and suspicious left-baggage safety procedures, increased foot patrols, mobilized all off-duty police officers, intensified cooperation with other European police, requested budget modifications to allow for more CCTV cameras and for hiring additional officers, and have proposed to review the current unrealistic self-defense law. (Today, it is difficult for a police officer who has used his firearm on a potential criminal to prove that he was in a situation of self-defense. Instead, the officer is considered guilty until proven innocent).
How should someone respond if they are confronted by an active shooter?
First of all, let’s remember that France is still much safer than most countries. There is one murder per 10,000 people in France, versus four murders per 10,000 people in the US. Nevertheless, if you want to know how to best react if confronted by an active shooter, you can follow the expert advice of the FBI. In three words it’s: RUN, HIDE, FIGHT (see video below, but note that 911 is valid in the US only; call 17 for the Police in France). If you can, run immediately to a safer place, and call the police. Only if you cannot escape, hide. As a last resort, if you cannot run or hide, and you know that the shooter is going to try to kill you, fight him, no matter what – even with improvised weapons (chair, fire extinguisher, etc.)
Surviving an Active Shooter Event: FBI Video
(NOTE to video watchers: In France, dial 17 for the Police, not 911)
Police officers are dedicated to protecting us. How can we help them?
Police officers are often frustrated because their goal is to protect us, but budget cuts prevent them from obtaining the materials they need to do so – even for silly things like pencils. While criminals are driving Mercedes and BMWs, the police are driving around in ridiculous cargo vehicles instead of decent patrol cars.
For example, there’s not even enough money to buy sufficient cartridges for shooting practice. I was given one practice session at the shooting range every three months. In reality, one would need to go once a week in order to be able to fire safely and accurately.
Police officers are also frustrated because they receive symbolic support whenever there is a high-profile terrorist attack, but during their daily fight against “regular” criminals, they have almost zero support from the general public. When someone is robbed or assaulted, they are happy to be able to call the police to arrest the perpetrator. But when they are not personally involved, people tend to view any police intervention as a suspicious, abusive use of force.
On top of that, French officers are regularly put down by the very own people for whom they risk their lives. In the days just before the recent terrorist attacks, spitting on police officers had become a game. A university professor proudly announced that societal violence does not come from criminals, but from police aggression. And a judge sentenced an officer to pay damages to a criminal because he used force to arrest him. Incidents like these, in addition to a judiciary system that is more anti-police than anti-criminal, are the main reasons many policemen took to the streets to protest last month.
My former colleagues deal with two million thefts and 500,000 assaults every year. One of the best things we can do to help is to encourage the government to give them the tools they need to do their jobs. People also tend to forget that every police officer is somebody’s father, husband, brother or son (or mother, wife, sister or daughter), and they risk their lives protecting us. So, we can also encourage others to give them the respect and support they deserve on a daily basis, not just during major incidents like last Friday.