A very Parisian police force

French capital’s new police force woos centrists, but will it enhance the left’s standing on security?

Pesky pickpockets, raucous house parties and backstreet punch-ups aren’t the only targets of plans drawn up by Anne Hidalgo, the socialist mayor of Paris, for the French capital’s very own municipal police force.

By boosting city safety, Mrs Hidalgo may have her sights on increasing the French left’s standing among security-savvy centrist and centre-right politicians, with the 2022 presidential election just one year away.

The Parisian municipal police force comes into action from September, and officers will be armed with handcuffs, pepper spray, batons and flak jackets.

The mayor’s security strategy is part of her goal to have 5,000 security officers on the city’s streets by the 2024 Olympic Games, up from 3,300 currently.

But the plan has visible political dimensions.

Issues of security, terrorism and national identity will punctuate the 2022 French presidential election, policy areas where the French left has recently been portrayed as weak (more on that here).

Having Mrs Hidalgo, one of the best-known politicians in the Parti socialiste, allocate more resources to public safety may reassure sceptical voters and improve its standing vis-à-vis centrist and centre-right politicians.

The support of the latter was crucial in getting the municipal police bill approved at the town hall last week.

Perhaps that explains the flak jackets, pepper spray and batons: protecting the police and augmenting their resources has been high on the agenda of President Macron’s centrist government.

Yet the move has upset Parisian greens and communists, who didn’t back it.

Whilst Mrs Hidalgo spoke of an “historic decision,” écologiste Fatoumata Koné said the force “will not respond to public security problems” and will lead to a less state-led crackdown on crime.

The divisions are a blow for those hoping the country’s fragmented left can be reconciled before next year’s presidential vote. 

Many believe the left only stands a chance of winning if its multiple forces can come together, instead of, or alongside, moving into ground occupied by centrists.

Nevertheless, the creation of the municipal force is not insignificant, with French regional and departmental elections taking place at the end of the month. 

The elections, for France’s 13 regional and 95 departmental authorities but not its town halls, will allow for pre-presidential posturing as candidates eye up the Elysée.

However, whilst some centrist and centre-right politicians have welcomed Mrs Hidalgo’s decision, others don’t believe she has gone far enough.

According to French political magazine Marianne, Brigitte Kuster of the centre-right grouping Les Républicains says municipal police officers need more resources: “A police officer without a firearm is a target.”

Centrist Nicolas Jeanneté appears to agree: “They will just have the word ‘police’ on their back”.

And so, whilst the municipal police force fits easily into France’s security context, will it convince the allies of centrist Mr Macron, as well as the centre-right voters he attracts, in a massively broad political landscape also shared by Marine Le Pen?

Photo Alf van Beem, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

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