Paris Police Facing Scrutiny over Doctored Crime Numbers

The Préfecture de Police headquarters in Paris. Photo: MathTeacherGuy for flickr.

The Préfecture de Police headquarters in Paris. Photo: MathTeacherGuy for flickr.

Parisian police have been systematically underreporting crime for years, according to a government audit. The scheme was apparently meant to maintain the French capital’s safe, tourist-friendly image, and to give the impression that government anti-crime policies were working.

Municipal authorities in Paris apparently started purposefully downplaying crime a decade ago. However, the cover-up hit new heights in 2008, a year after Nicolas Sarkozy of the center-right Union pour un mouvement populaire (UMP) was elected president. Michel Gaudin, Paris’ police chief during those years, was a staunch Sarkozy ally.

While neither Gaudin nor anyone else has been formally charged with any legal wrongdoing yet, the audit clearly states that the cover-up was “masterminded” at the highest levels of the Paris police force.

Commentators have speculated that politicians may have been involved in encouraging police to underreport crime. Emmanuel Roux, secretary-general of the French police union, told AFP that politics was likely at the root of the cover-up, saying, “police chiefs rarely act of their own initiative.”

As part of the “organized, systematic “ whitewashing program, police cooked the books in creative ways. Serious crimes such as thefts were filed as “vandalism.” Sometimes, police delayed the reporting of crimes. Other times, they struck crimes from the records altogether.

In 2011, 16,000 crimes vanished from official logs. A further 13,000 were erased in 2012.

One senior policeman listed all attempted burglaries that crossed his desk as “vandalism,” to help conceal troubling crime figures.

This news may help to explain why Paris crime figures released last month showed a 26% rise in burglaries from 2012 to 2013. At the time, Prefect of Police Bernard Boucault primarily blamed the spike on Eastern European gang activity, but admitted that police in previous years had “played down [crime] statistics.”

If the figures for the past year reflect reality, Paris—not including its economically depressed suburbs—witnessed 18,607 “thefts with violence” in 2013, giving it a per-capita violent theft rate more than twice that of Greater London.

The rise in reported burglaries was not limited to Paris, however. Burglary numbers rose across France in 2013. While crime in cities like Marseilles drew heavy news, rural regions also saw their crime numbers shoot up, with break-ins at rural holiday homes rising by 17.7% from 2012.

Rural crime has been in the news in France lately, with farming equipment and livestock frequently reported stolen. In Magnac-Lavallette, a hamlet in southwestern France, Mayor Didier Jobit has even proposed issuing all residents tear gas after a town councilor was shot in his home.

It is not clear just how extensive the problem has been outside of Paris. However, the numbers suggest that while Paris is probably a bad offender in data altering, it is far from the only French jurisdiction that tried to conceal its crime problems. An audit last year found that between 2007 and 2012, 130,000 crimes had “vanished” on a nationwide level from police logbooks.

Police whitewashing is not a phenomenon limited to France. In Detroit, it was reported in 2009 that the police department had routinely underreported homicides.

Interior Minister Manuel Valls of the ruling Parti socialiste (PS) ordered the audit. Valls has long accused UMP officials of exaggerating their success against crime and called for greater transparency in policing.

Valls is one of the few popular PS officials left in President François Hollande’s government. His publicly hardline stance on law-and-order issues has at times put him at odds with his own party, but it has been well received in a country where crime and illegal immigration are perennially political hot-button issues. French and international media outlets have speculated that he may have presidential ambitions of his own.

If Valls were to win the presidency, he would be following in the footsteps of none other than Nicolas Sarkozy. Much of Sarkozy’s electoral success rested on his public persona as a strict, technocratic “top cop.”

Trackbacks

  1. […] Paris Police facing scrutiny over doctored crime numbers. Parisian police have been systematically underreporting crime for years, according to a government audit. The scheme was apparently meant to maintain the French capital’s safe, tourist-friendly image, and to give the impression that government anti-crime policies were working. Municipal authorities in Paris apparently started purposefully downplaying crime a decade ago. However, the cover-up hit new heights in 2008, a year after Nicolas Sarkozy of the center-right Union pour un mouvement populaire (UMP) was elected president. Michel Gaudin, Paris’ police chief during those years, was a staunch Sarkozy ally. […]

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