A journalist who infiltrated a Paris police force says he witnessed almost daily violence and a culture of racism among officers who felt they were above the law.
Valentin Gendrot, 32, spent almost six months at a station in a rough northern district of the capital, where tensions between authorities and locals were high.
He says he saw officers assaulting youngsters and migrants on an almost daily basis and was ‘shocked’ by ‘racist, homophobic and macho’ comments from colleagues, which were ‘tolerated or ignored by others’.
In his book, Flic (Cop), published yesterday, the undercover reporter says he was given a gun and a uniform three months after training at a police academy in Brittany.
He was posted to a police psychiatric unit for 15 months before moving to the station in Paris’s 19th arrondissement, overseeing an area rife with antisocial behaviour, drugs and prostitution.
Gendrot told the Guardian: ‘It really shocked me to hear police officers, who are representatives of the state, calling people who were black, Arab or migrants “bastards”, but everyone did it. It was only a minority of officers who were violent, but they were always violent.’
The journalist describes a ‘clannish’ culture in the force means officers stick together to cover up their misdeeds, leading to a sense of impunity.
In his first two weeks at the station he says he saw a colleague beat up a teenage migrant in the back of a police van. He says the incident was never written up, adding: ‘What happens in the van, stays in the van.’
In his book, Gendrot writes: ‘What astonishes me … is at what point they feel untouchable, as if there’s no superior, no surveillance by the hierarchy, as if a police officer can choose – according to his free will or how he is feeling at that particular moment – to be violent or not.’
He says he was once asked to help falsify evidence against a teenager who was beaten up by an officer.
Him and colleagues were called to reports of young people playing music from a speaker when the youngster was attacked for talking back.
After the teen lodged an official complaint, Gendrot said he would have blown his cover if he didn’t sign a false statement when asked by comrades.
The reporter said his book was published in Slovenia and published in ‘extreme secrecy’, with French bookshops ordering copies without knowing details.
Only the Guardian and two French publications were allowed to read the manuscript in the offices of the publishers’ lawyer.
Gendrot remarked that in France, people either ‘like the police or detest them’, and says he wanted his book to be a more nuanced and ‘factual account of the day-to-day life of a police officer in a difficult district of Paris’.
He says there were high levels of depression within the force, as officers were overwhelmed with paperwork and random ‘targets’ while working in decapitated offices and driving beaten up cars.
Inadequate funding meant officers resorted to buying their own essential equipment.
Last year 59 police officers in France committed suicide, up 60% from the year before.
Following the publication of Flic, Paris police chief Didier Lallement ordered an investigation into allegations in the book and also referred the mater to the city’s prosecutors office.
A statement by police headquarters noted that ‘at this stage’ neither the identities of the officers described with pseudonyms in the book nor the veracity of the accounts are known.
It said the investigation will also determine why the prosecutors office was not immediately made aware of the alleged acts cited in the book, an apparent reference to an unofficial code of silence among French police forces.
Last year Metro.co.uk spoke to British aid workers who said they were subjected to frequent racism, harassment and violence from police as they tried to distribute food to refugees.
Josh Man-Saif, field manager for Help Refugees, says non-white volunteers complained about being singled out by over-zealous officers.
He mentioned one person who said they were subject to 14 incidents of aggression by police over period of six months.
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