French Police: Friend or Foe?

Local Police Logo

On Friday it was the fourth International Champagne Day, and the group of Terres et Vins de Champagne Vignerons had organized a small event in the Glue Pot in Reims to let people discover their wines for a small fee. It was a magical evening, with lots of laughs and great wines and I cherished the opportunity to catch up with friends. However, for me the evening would end rather traumatically.

When I wanted to leave I realized my wallet was stolen… After I had double checked with the management of the Glue Pot to see if nothing had been handed in I decided to go to the police station to declare the theft and do the necessary to block my bank cards. Little did I know that this would be the worst thing to do…

Police at the Reims station drinking coffee early Saturday morning

Police at the Reims station drinking coffee early Saturday morning

When I arrived at the police station I first waited for about 5 minutes before a police officer drinking coffee appeared. He promptly refused to take my complaint because I had consumed alcohol and told me to come back in the morning. When I told him I wanted at least to cancel my cards I was given a phone number which I called from the Reims police station.

This is when things escalated a bit – the American lady who was cancelling my visa card told me to go to the police office – when I told her I was at the police office but that they did not want to help me she asked to speak to the police officer. The police officer refused and became abusive calling me all kind of names. Once I had finished the phone call I retaliated and told him that as a police officer he is supposed to protect the weak rather than insult them. He really did not like this and came out from behind the desk to hit me across the face. I fell to the ground, got up and tried to take a picture of him which further enraged him. He hit me again, I fell again, and another police officer tried to get my phone off me by nearly breaking my hand. After that they pushed me behind a door and a woman took me in a headlock trying to force me to release my phone.

8 cm by 4 cm bruise on the inside of my right arm

All of this made me panic and I had an asthma attack. The fact that I was coughing violently did not stop the other police officers from beating me. When I begged for ventolin they refused and continued to drag me across the floor. My asthma got worse and worse till I lost consciousness. I remember them shaking me telling me to get up but could not move and after that everything went black. When I came by, still coughing, 4 police officers were putting me into a van to take me to the hospital and one of them finally gave me some ventolin.

At the hospital they saw my blood pressure was too low, as was my blood sugar level so I was made to drink a very sweet drink before they gave me the nebulizer. I waited about 1 hour for the doctor who checked my blood sugar level again and listened to my lungs. She told me to keep the ventolin on me at all time as well as some sugar and told the police officers they same. When I got back to the station just before 8 am I was thrown in a cell – without ventolin nor sugar – and told I had to stay there for 6 hours. At 11.30 ( a mere 3,5 hours later) I started to cough violently again so the officer on duty let me out and told me I was free to go…

The experience was horrifying and totally futile. I have a 2 page doctor’s report listing all the bruises on my body and a prescription for an x-ray of my hand. According to the doctor, the gravity of the injuries I received justify me prosecuting at the police court. After talking to the Gendarmerie this morning I was told I can press charges but that the police would probably argue they had to lock me up for being drunk & disorderly which means my charges would not go very far and would more than likely result in further abuse from the police. The Gendarme did admit that as the police officers never took an alcohol test (which they should have done to be able to lock me up) they would have difficulty to really prove I had been drunk. Needless to say I have decided not to press charges as I am still aching everywhere from the previous abuse.

Whilst I admit I probably should not have visited the police in an inebriated state, I was the victim of an assault (ie my wallet was stolen) and was entitled to some respect and to the claim being registered. The latter was again refused by the police officer (same as I had seen in the night) the next morning on the basis that they could not take a claim without my account numbers – which is not accurate according to the Gendarmerie.

This is not the first time that I have been victim of a crime in France. In the 23 months that I have lived here I had my car broken into, had my number plates stolen, two guests of mine have had their car broken into and a friend had a bag stolen. Quite a few incidents for such a short time living in a rural area… None of these crimes have ever resolved – in fact I have had no follow up on any of them. Which makes me wonder why the police does not concentrate their efforts on crime prevention rather than beating up innocent people??

The Place d’Erlon in Reims is a pretty touristy place and seems to be a hub for pick pockets. My friend ‘s bag was stolen here in December last year and I overheard the police officers say that there is about 1 wallet an hour stolen here. Yet I did not see one police officer out patrolling here… I arrived at 9.40 pm, went to collect some Champagne around 11.30 pm and of my time at the Glue Pot I must have spend half the time outside so I had a lot of opportunity to see the police if they would be out there. However, as it rained heavily for most of the night it seemed they preferred to remain at their headquarters – a mere 500 metres from the Place d’Erlon… There was enough staff on duty as I saw at least 10 different officers when I arrived at the police station.

Furthermore, when I was escorted to the hospital I went with four officers – all of which stood around doing nothing whilst I was been seen to. Four people to go with an asthmatic who has fainted to me is more than a little overkill especially if no-one is out patrolling known crime areas…

When one looks up the main raison d’etre of the local police force the definition is as following:” la police municipale a pour objet d’assurer le bon ordre, la sûreté, la sécurité et la salubrité publiques.” which translates as The local police force main role is to maintain law and order, security and public safety. One of the points detailing exactly what this entail states that the police should prevent known incidents by taking all necessary precautions. Surely this means they should have at least a little focus on deterring pickpockets at the Place d’Erlon??

My experience made me believe that the French police really does not care about catching the bad guys – they just want an easy life and a few people to vent their frustrations on. In a climate like this crime obviously flourishes and citizens are left to fear not only an increasing amount of criminals, but an also increasingly more corrupt police force…

About Caroline

Caroline is a certified Sommelier (by the CMS) and WSET diploma student. In order to specialize in the wines of Champagne she moved to the region and currently works as a wine consultant, wine educator and wine writer. She is a member of the Circle of Wine Writers and writes for several international publications including Palate Press, Snooth, Wine-Searcher, Decanter and Vinogusto; further activities include teaching Champagne related courses at Reims Management School and organizing personalized tasting experiences at http://www.tastingswithatwist.wordpress.com as well as being a regular judge at international wine competitions.
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  • LizEnFrance

    OMG, Caroline, that is unbelievably horrible! I am very, very sorry to hear that. Is there any way you can get your story into the French media or complain to the U.S. Embassy? Do you think that might make any difference, or would it just lead to more trouble? Regardless, I’m so sorry for everything you went through! There’s no excuse for how they treated you. (I’m a fellow expat in Nice — no police interactions yet, thankfully, though the pickpocket problem here is very bad and a number of my classmates have been victimized on the bus.)