Breaking the Vicious Cycle: Youth-Police Conflict in Parisian Banlieues

I. Context

Since the late 1970’s, social tensions between jeunes de banlieue and the Parisian police have been escalating, periodically erupting when routine verbal exchanges and expressions of physical violence incite riots among the youth. Police violence was criticized by the European Commission Against Racism in 2005, as well as the annual reports of the National Commission on Ethics in the Security Services and Amnesty International reports from 2004 and 2008, respectively. These occurrences point to a pattern of social inequity and discrimination resulting from underlying flaws in the French Republican model for integration.
Also since the 1970s, Article 78-2 of the Code of Criminal Procedure has permitted identity checks to be conducted without justification,  a policy for which France is the exception in Europe. During the 1990s, in the political and media discourse, there was a highlighting of the “immigrant threat” and other threats to national security. Nicolas Sarkozy, Minister of the Interior from 2002 to 2007, acted as a major force of change in acting to tighten internal security policies.
80% of the police force in the Ile-de-France region is recruited from rural areas.  Their lack of training in cultural diversity is exacerbated by a high personnel turnover rate.  Studies have suggested that police officers gradually internalize racist attitudes through professional socialization.  Little is known about discriminatory practices in police recruitment process,  though complaints have surfaced in court regarding the interview exam for the National Police. An esprit de corps (spirit of police solidarity) encourages officers to cover up for colleagues.  Sarkozy's “politics of numbers” creates psychological stress for officers, who in turn receive little to no psychological assistance.  In general, officers have experienced an increasing degree of institutional control, with a rise in the number of dismissals and disciplinary measures. 
Complaints of race-based profiling on the part of police are supported by the fact that Arabs in Paris are nearly 8 times more likely to be identity-checked than whites, and blacks 6 times more likely.  Individuals wearing "youth culture" clothing (hip-hop, goth, or punk), while representing only 10% of the population, comprised nearly half of the stop & search group in one study.  Meanwhile, two-thirds of “youth culture” subjects were identified as ethnic minorities. These numbers suggest that youth of color are targeted by Parisian police at rates disproportionate to their prevalence in the general population. In any case, stop and search has proven ineffective in preventing crime, as only 20% of S&S leads to the detection of a crime . Yet, at the same time, this policy seems to serve as a focal point for youth-police tensions. Police spokeswoman Marie Lajus makes the counterargument that police are charged not to conduct representative polls of the population, but to prevent crime using empirical criteria such as appearance, age, sex, or origin. 

II. New initiatives and results: Successes and failures.

Unlike the national police, the municipal police is charged with the task of conducting community-based interaction, routine inspections, and mediation work. During the last 25 years, the Ile-de-France municipal police force has tripled in size.  However, the professionalization and competitive recruitment of this force has led to these community functions giving way to the more reactive policing model followed at the national level.  
The 1999 pilot program for police de proximité (equivalent of community policing) was designed to create ties between policemen and residents through local implementation, preventive measures and community dialogue, instead of resorting to reactive, punitive methods. In 2002, Sarkozy’s administration declared this program inefficient and dismantled it, shifting to a more repressive policy which led to deteriorating relations with suburban youth . 
The first three units of a new initiative titled Les Unités Territoriales de Quartier (UTeQ),  or Local Territorial Units, began operating in 2008 in Seine-Saint-Denis, Clichy-Montfermeil, and La Courneuve. These units are comprised of voluntary officers who have received cultural and religious sensitivity training. 
In the 1980s, the government launched Opération prévention été (OPE), or Summer Prevention Operation, to revitalize marginalized areas and prevent juvenile delinquency.  This program organized school holidays, cultural events and sporting events as a way of helping youth to build mutual understanding and trust. However, the program has been disbanded.  There have been a number of other initiatives. In 2000, officers of Missions de Prévention et de Communication (MPC), or Prevention and Communication Missions, delivered 2,204 youth development lectures on the topics of violence, citizenship, and drugs to 54,534 students in Paris.   In 1997, Prime-Minister L. Jospin created adjoints de sécurité (ADS), or security assistants, as part of the National Police force, which had been encountering problems associated with additional training and follow up of the younger (16-25) people employed under this contract . In 2004, Sarkozy created “Cadets of the Republic” to assist high school drop-outs in passing the police entry exam, with a 70% success rate.  Since 2005, Le Memorial de la Shoah has conducted training sessions for new police officers that teach them about the history of the Shoah, and the limits of obedience to authority. 
Mediators work to restore dialogue between community inhabitants, youth, and police by organizing joint activities, such as football tournaments, a radio program, or running an auto repair shop. These activities provide a public and productive space in which youth can channel their frustrations. The mediators, usually between 25 and 30 years old, have emerged from circumstances similar to those faced by the youth they work with, and act as role models.  Evaluations of this mediation process are necessary in order to determine its true effectiveness in facilitating youth development and reducing violence and delinquency. 
Another innovative approach to youth development is the Red Hook Community Justice Center’s Youth Court  in New York, which arbitrates cases involving youth that have been cited for low-level offenses. The youths are tried before a jury of their peers from local schools and community organizations, while also participating in ongoing leadership development, critical thinking, and team-building activities. In 2005, over 91% of these youths completed their sentences, which included community service or participation in skill-building workshops on conflict resolution. 

III. Recommendations.

Revitalization of community policing, with increased monitoring and evaluation: 
Suburban inhabitants and police should jointly identify community safety priorities, and then determine and allocate resources to create safe neighborhoods. The role of local police should focus on chronic trends in crime, rather than reactive policing or emergency intervention.. 
Deployment strategies should be community-based, involving smaller area of command for officers, the use of foot patrols to communicate with local residents, and the establishment of neighborhood crime prevention councils to solicit community feedback. 
No longitudinal evaluation of police de proximité or UTeQ, has yet been carried out that would measure efficiency in reducing violent encounters. In this light, any new community policing program must incorporate a rigorous system of monitoring and evaluation in order to determine the effect on overall community safety, actual and perceived trends in the incidence of violence, and attitudes towards police personnel. The evaluations must be undertaken by stakeholder focus groups (i.e., residents, including youth, local elected officials, and leaders of civil society organizations).
Psychological support: 
The stress of working in antagonistic or even violent situations can impact police officers' mental health, decision making, and ability to act and react in a culturally competent manner. Improving the accessibility of psychological counseling and holding resilience-building workshops for both national and municipal police forces will improve their quality of life, and allowing them to react to challenging situations. 
Youth Court:  
A Youth Court model based on the one established at the Red Hook Community Justice Center should be employed in cooperation with police offices around Paris, to deal with youth who have committed minor offenses. 

References

Interviews

Fabien Jobard, sociologist, Center of Sociological Studies on Law and Penal Institutions at National Center of Scientific Research. June 30, 2009.
Rachel Neild, Senior Advisor, Open Society Justice Initiative. June 30, 2009.
Philippe Boukara, Historian. Training Department, Mémorial de la Shoah. Phone interview, July 1, 2009.
Jean-Claude Tchicaya, activist, youth worker and academic. July 1, 2009.
Toufik El Ouardani, 2007 Senior HIA Fellow who grew up in Argentueil (Seine Saint-Denis department). July 1, 2009.
Nabil Berbour, 2009 HIA Fellow who grew up in Aubervilliers (Seine Saint-Denis department), July 1, 2009.

Literature

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"Respect", n°20, October-December 2008.

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