French police are threatening to abandon their key role enforcing their country’s Coronavirus lockdown – as complaints against their increasingly aggressive behaviour mount.
They are currently in the frontline of the ‘War’ against Covid-19, handing out £128 fines to anyone caught on the street without official documentation.
But a series of shocking videos posted online show officers breaking all basic health guidelines by grouping together and manhandling potential disease carriers as they issued half-a-million pounds worth of fines on Wednesday.
There was no social distancing among officers, very few wore masks, and all mixed freely as some used physical violence against members of the public.
Benoît Barret, national secretary of the Alliance police union, on Thursday said: ‘Alliance’s position is clear – if colleagues are not safe, they will exercise their right of withdrawal.
‘Behind each policeman, there is a father, a mother, a brother – you have the right to be a policeman and not become a spreader.
‘If tomorrow the police are sick, there will be no more people of the streets, and in this case, who can maintain peace in this democracy?’
There are currently some 100,000 police and gendarmes enforcing a lockdown that came into force at midday on Tuesday.
The prospect of a mass police walk-out will be a disaster for a country already facing economic and social chaos.
Police officers, as public service workers, retain the right to withdraw their labour under French law. They do not often go on strike, but they are entitled to.
If a significant number of French cops withdrew their service, a bigger burden would be placed on the military to maintain law and order.
The Gendarmes, howeber, are a military unit and are unable to go on strike.
Some police officers have been accused of showing discrimination towards ethnic minority communities who do not have the right paperwork in major cities such as Paris.
Around a dozen officers from the CRS (Republican Security Companies) were severely criticised on Wednesday for knocking a 17-year-old girl to the ground in front of her mother.
‘No break from racism, even during the Coronavirus crisis,’ said civil liberties and human rights campaigner Yasser Louati.
‘Watch in disgust a black woman being thrown to the ground, handcuffed by French police for not having her document to leave her house,’ said Mr Louati, adding: ‘Meanwhile white Parisians can run around the city, unchecked by this same police.’
Amar Taoualit, the video journalist who filmed the scene in a north Paris market, said: ‘Arrest of a woman by the police because she had no certificate and she refuses the fine !!’
Taha Bouhafs, another French reporter, wrote ‘National unity is doing well’ as he posted a video of a police officer kicking a man who was showing them his Coronavirus document.
Britons leaving Paris are among those who have found themselves surrounded by police threatening to fine them for venturing out.
British commuter Toby Rose, the director of the Palm Dog Awards linked to Cannes Film Festival – said he would now stop his regular London and Paris trips.
‘There are police all over Paris enforcing these fines,’ said Mr Rose, as he waited for his train at the Paris station.
‘The new measures are becoming tougher all the time, and information is not clear at all. Travel between the two countries is rapidly becoming impossible.’
As Mr Rose spoke, large patrols of police surrounded him, including armed officers from the CRS.
A French Interior Ministry spokesman confirmed that police have the right to strike, and that individual officers could sign off duty for personal reasons including ill health.
Hospitals in France are struggling to cope after admitting 3626 Coronavirus sufferers – including 931 who are in intensive care.
Among the most serious cases, half are aged ‘less than 60 years’, said Jérôme Salomon, France’s Director General of Health, who also announced a total of 264 deaths from the disease.