A journalist who spent almost six months undercover in a Paris police force witnessed racism, almost daily violence and a culture of impunity for officers who mistreated civilians.
Valentin Gendrot trained for three months at a police academy in Brittany, before being placed on a force in one of Paris’ northern arrondissements, where relations between residents and police officers are particularly tense.
There, he told the Guardian, he saw police officers assaulting civilians on a regular basis, and says he was once asked to help falsify evidence against a teenager who had been beaten up by one of his colleagues.
In a book about his experience, Flic (Cop), Gendrot writes: “What astonishes me … is at what point they feel untouchable, as if there’s no superior, no surveillance by the hierarchy, as if a police officer can choose – according to his free will or how he is feeling at that particular moment – to be violent or not.”
Speaking to the Guardian, he added, “It really shocked me to hear police officers, who are representatives of the state, calling people who were black, Arab or migrants ‘bastards’, but everyone did it. It was only a minority of officers who were violent, but they were always violent.
“In my commissariat there were racist, homophobic and macho comments every day. They came from certain colleagues and were tolerated or ignored by others.”
On one occasion, Gendrot writes, he and other officers responded to a call about young people playing music from a speaker, which escalated after one of the youngsters talked back. He was then beaten, arrested and charged.
“We could have confiscated the speaker and gone. Or said nothing and gone,” says Gendrot. “Instead, it escalated and he was beaten.”
Flic – which “is not anti-police”, but “a factual account of the day-to-day life of a police officer in a difficult district of Paris”, Gendrot told the Guardian – was produced in extreme secrecy. The book was printed in Slovenia and ordered by French bookshops without exact knowledge of what they would be getting. Only the Guardian and two French publications were allowed to read the manuscript before the book was published.
The book’s release follows a period of increased criticism of police in France. Officers have been condemned for using rubber bullets and tear gas against gilets jaunes demonstrators, and in the wake of George Floyd’s killing police have come under renewed scrutiny over the deaths in custody of two men, Adama Traoré and Cédric Chouviat.