Taxonomy of Paris Police?

Apr 7th, 2006, 06:45 AM
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Taxonomy of Paris Police?

Could someone knowledgeable differentiate among the various types of police one encounters in Paris? I reported to one kind with a friend when her pocket was picked only to be sent to another at the local Mairie. A second type searched me as I went to the parade on the Champs Elysee on November 11, and I have seen others in armored busses near the President's house and other public buildings. Some wear light blue shirts and dark trousers, others dress in dark blue, others in black IIRC. Thanks.
Ackislander is offline  
Apr 8th, 2006, 02:53 AM
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The ones in light blue shirts are the normal municipal police. The ones in dark blue or black are CRS, who specialize in controlling public demonstrations, large crowds, public events, etc.; they are part of the police, too, but a special division.

People wearing round hats (képis) are usually Gendarmerie, which is a part of the regular army, although they serve as local law enforcement in areas without a municipal police force. They are relatively rare in Paris, but you'll see them in the Luxembourg Gardens (which are owned by the French Senate, and thus not under Paris city jurisdiction) and in some other locations.

People dressed in camouflage are regular army, deployed for anti-terrorist duty (and mostly for looks). You'll see them around famous monuments, particularly the Eiffel Tower.

Some people dressed in black are occasionally GIGN, which is like a SWAT team, but they usually only intervene in critical situations, such as hostage situations and the like. You're unlikely to encounter them.

On public transport you may also see RATP (transit authority) police and agents. They have authority only in public transportation systems.

In some areas (such as places where tickets are being checked in the Métro, and in the crowds during demonstrations) there are lots of police officers in plainclothes, just in case.

Keep in mind that there is always a strong police presence in Paris, in part because it's the capital city of France, and in part because it's one of the largest cities in Europe, and one that is particularly attractive to demonstrators and activists from around the world. If you've never lived in a city like this, it can be a bit disconcerting at first, but you get used to it. Better to have cops around than to be surrounded by hoodlums, no?
AnthonyGA is offline  
Apr 8th, 2006, 06:32 AM
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Paris does not have a municipal police force as such, unlike other French cities. The Préfecture de Police which provides most municipal police services is directly controlled by the Interior Ministry of the national government, and the chief, the Préfet de Police, is appointed by the President. The city is, however, required to pay for part of the costs of police services provided by the Préfeture. Paris has always been deemed too important nationally for the police to be locally controlled.

laverendrye is offline  
Apr 8th, 2006, 06:45 AM
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Anthony GA, my compliments to you on an excellent precis of a complex policing husband is in international policing and I showed this to him-he was much impressed!
LJ is offline  
Apr 8th, 2006, 10:14 AM
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Some precisions :

There isn't much in the way of municipal police in France. When there is one in some town or another, its powers are very limited.They generally won't wear a firearm, for instance, and rarely have the power to arrest you. Police in France is national, and police officers just happen to be stationned in some town or another.

An example of municipal police in Paris are the oficers with a yellow-checkered hat who regulate traffic. There aren't many of them.

Quite often, police officers can be told apart by their hats. National police usually wear a "casquette", CRS a "calot" and gendarmerie a "kepi". But apart from the kepi, only worn by gendarmerie officers, it's not always true and besides I don't know how to describe each kind of hat, nor do I intend to track down pictures on the net.

As mentionned by Anthony, police in Paris (apart from the people regulating traffic or handing parking tickets, who aren't "real" police officers) normally belong to three categories :

-The most common, national police, headed as mentionned by the "prefet de police (the headquartes are on the "Ile de la Cite", near Notre-Dame cathedral, maybe some people have noticed the building due to the huge number of police vehicles around it. It's called the "Quai des Orfevres" after the name of the street, like "Scotland Yard" in the UK). They have general police duties, like you would expect for any local police force, ranging from members of anti-terrorism "brigade" to the officers staffing the local police station.

-The CRS are the anti-riot police. however, "companies" of CRS are rotated in Paris for general surveillance duty. They won't investigate crimes, but will for instance patrol the metro or the streets, so you'll see a number of them in the city.

-The "gendarmerie" technically belonging to the army, is for the most part rural police(specialized units have an awful lot of other duties, like military police, mountain rescue, elite hostage rescue unit, etc.. even light armored units, actually). However, in Paris, you'll mostly see members of the "republican guard", who, when they aren't parading in fancy 19th century uniforms during ceremonies, are guarding official or sensitive buildings. For instance, you'll see "gendarmes" guarding Paris tribunal when you'll visit the "Sainte-Chapelle" or in front of the american embassy. The gendarmerie also has anti-riot units (with the reputation of being nastier than their police counterparts) and these might have tours of duty in Paris, like the CRS.

Anthony mentionned regular army being present in, for instance, train stations or airports in time of heightened security alert (which seems to be nearly permanent nowadays). You might notice that they're nearly always acompanied by a "gendarmerie" officer, clad in black and kepi-wearing, since he has police powers, hence can for instance arrest someone if needed, or make searches, while the soldiers can...err...well...walk around with guns to make people feel safer (Unloaded guns, by the way. It's not like they want them to do something stupid).

clairobscur is offline  
Apr 8th, 2006, 10:41 AM
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Merci beaucoup! You are all knowledgeable indeed!

I was confused about the relationship between the CRS and the Garde Republicaine,in particular. And no wonder. In following up on the various hats, I find pictures of Gendarmerie in black uniforms, complete with calots, at

We call calots "garrison caps" in the US, and they are direct copies of the French. My late father, a Lt Col in the Air Force always wore them.

Anthony, I remember seeing the Army set up checkpoints in the Cite' Metro station, complete with automatic weapons, during a bombing campaign back in the late 1990's. And it never bothers me to see lots of security. I never feel unsafe in Paris!
Ackislander is offline  
Apr 8th, 2006, 10:45 AM
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The ones with automatic weapons and such are generally for show. It's way too dangerous to have anyone around with loaded automatic weapons in urban areas outside of a war, just as it's not terribly sensible to have soldiers in green cammo walking around on gray sidewalks. But it looks reassuring, as you observe.

In the event of real trouble, real police, anti-terrorist teams, and SWAT teams can appear out of the woodwork amazingly fast. The French police are a bit casual about most matters, but if bad things, they can materialize from nowhere with astonishing rapidity. Fortunately, you're never likely to see this in Paris.
AnthonyGA is offline  
Apr 8th, 2006, 10:53 AM
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Ackislander wrote : " In following up on the various hats, I find pictures of Gendarmerie in black uniforms, complete with calots"

Yes, that's why I didn't elaborate about the hats, because indeed there's no absolute rule. Except that only "gendarmes" (and military in formal uniform) will wear kepis nowadays. In the past, police oficers also wore them, so you'll see them in older movies, for instance. It changed, IIRC, during the 80s.
clairobscur is offline  
Apr 8th, 2006, 11:15 AM
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Anthony wrote "The ones with automatic weapons and such are generally for show"

As I wrote, that's true for soldiers (in practice, they have to rip off a pocket sewed in their uniform to get their ammunitions, if nothing changed recently). However, the weapons of gendarmes guarding, for instance, the Parliament aren't. Not only that, but belonging to the army, they aren't held by the same strict rule of use the police has to follow. So, in theory at least, if they shout "stop" and you don't, they could shot you dead and be within their right, or actually have a duty to do so.

Not that it matters much for the regular tourist or even citizen, whose activity rarely involves entering forcefully a guarded building. Though there has been a controversial court case some years ago involving a gendarme who, during a car chase, used lethal force in a situation where regular police wouldn't have been allowed to do so.

So, if your travel plan usually involves being chased by the local law enforcement officers, you might want to make sure you're able to tell apart a "gendarme" and a "policier". For usual tourism activity like speeding on the highway, shoplifting souvenirs and getting drunk and causing troubles, it shouldn't make much of a difference.
clairobscur is offline  
Apr 8th, 2006, 08:04 PM
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French society and government take an extraordinarily dim view of the use of deadly force for anything but self-defense, particularly against unarmed opponents. A gendarme shooting an unarmed person attempting to enter a restricted area would have a tremendous amount of explaining to do, and might well be looking at a long stay in a small cell if the explanation were not convincing.

Like many other law-enforcement personnel in developed countries (excepting the U.S.), French LEOs do not charge into normal situations with guns blazing.
AnthonyGA is offline  
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