'Cop': The violent degeneracy of the French police

Author Valentin Gendrot witnessed racism and sexism in the French police that horrified him.

Cop, a journalist infiltrates the police
By Valentin Gendrot
Scribe, 2021, 240 pp., $29.99
On sale September 28. Preorder through Scribe Publications.

French journalist Valentin Gendrot has made a career from undercover reporting, first on a Toyota production line and later in a major supermarket chain. On this occasion he has gone a big step further.

He spent two years infiltrating the French police force to see with his own eyes the life of a front-line cop. Their lives are horrible and the havoc they wreak on the lives of the poor is even more horrible.

The book was printed in secret in Slovenia and delivered to French bookshops without telling them the details. Gendrot has reason to fear the reaction of his ex-colleagues.

There are several different sections of the French police force, each with its own jurisdiction. Gendrot chose the simplest option, the so-called adjoint de sécurité (security assistant, or ADS). The ADS receive far less training than other police and have fewer powers.

However, ADS cops can carry guns, make arrests and in every way make the lives of the people they encounter miserable. From very early in his undercover career, Gendrot witnessed racism and sexism that horrified him.

He was first assigned to a psychiatric hospital administered by the police that only handles people the police bring in. So, police decide who on the streets is showing signs of mental illness and the compliant hospital staff simply load them up with tranquillisers and physical restraints.

It is a picture of medieval torture that reads like something out of a dystopian novel.

Gendrot then got himself transferred to one of the troubled Parisian banlieues (suburbs) populated by migrant groups targeted by the police. Almost from the first day, he witnessed violent, racist behaviour by his colleagues.

It was nothing for a cop to bash a suspect in the back of the van. Sometimes the victim would just be dumped in an area far from where they lived, other times they would be loaded up with charges.

If a victim laid a complaint, the cops conspired to get their story straight and their supervisors went along with it.

As Gendrot explains, such behaviour is to be expected. ADS recruits receive just 12 weeks' training before being let loose. All their equipment is second rate, their vehicles are battered, unroadworthy heaps, their shifts are mind-deadening and they are paid a pittance.

ADS cops earn about the equivalent of A$550 a week, in one of the world’s most expensive cities. Little wonder they take it out on the populace and little wonder French police are killing themselves at a rate far above the national average.

Les Misérables, a 2019 hit French film, is a stunning drama about police violence in the Clichy-Montfermeil banlieue on the outskirts of Paris. Gerdot quotes the director, Ladj Ly, who said: “The police are no better off than the people they’re policing. When you look into what their lives are like [the police], you realise it’s a tragedy. They live in low-rent housing, they have shitty salaries, they’re permanently depressed.”

The cops themselves are victims of the crisis-ridden system they protect, but they don’t see it that way. Their minds are infested with hideous attitudes towards ordinary people.

That the French rulers depend on such a rickety structure to defend their system is astonishing and it is hard to see how it can last much longer.