Eight Groups Urge French Leaders to Honor Promise on Police Ethnic Profiling

The French government should respect President François Hollande’s commitment during his election campaign to “fight against ethnic profiling and abusive practices during identity checks,” eight national and international organizations said in a document sent on October 5, 2012 to the president, the government, members of parliament, and the Defender of Rights. The document, citing campaign promise #30 to establish a “procedure respectful of citizens,” outlines the key reforms necessary to prevent and respond to abusive identity checks.

Recent regrettable statements by Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and Interior Minister Manuel Valls should not eclipse the reality of arbitrary and abusive identity checks, the groups said. This reform is urgently needed, realistic, and could improve police efficiency, they said.

The groups are: GISTI, Grains of France (Graines de France), Human Rights Watch, Human Rights League (France) (Ligue des Droits de l’Homme), House for Equitable Development (Maison pour un Développement Solidaire), Open Society Justice Initiative, Lawyers Union of France (Syndicat des Avocats de France), and the Magistrates Union (Syndicat de la Magistrature).

Drawing on best practices but grounded in the French context, the document envisions a series of measures designed to prevent abuse and improve security:

  • Reform article 78-2 of the Code of Criminal Procedure to allow the use of identity checks only when necessary to secure public order and prevent and combat crime. Identity checks should be performed only on the basis of reasonable suspicion, in keeping with European Court of Human Rights jurisprudence in the case of Gillan and Quinton v. the United Kingdom.
  • Incorporate into law specific rules for the use of physical pat-downs, which have been the cause of humiliation and interference with the right to privacy.
  • Provide “stop forms,” to serve as a record of the stop and a safeguard for the police and the public, to be filled out by the police during the stop, with a copy for the police and one for the person stopped. The measure would promote accountability, help avoid interference with privacy rights, make identity checks more transparent and allow for evaluation of identity check powers.

Pilot projects should be conducted for the use of stop forms to allow for evaluation by independent experts before their use is expanded throughout the country, the eight organizations said. This approach will allow for any necessary improvements on the model and for raising awareness among law enforcement agencies and officers of the purpose for the forms and the process for using them.

  • Organize a dialogue between the police and the public about identity checks. Regular meetings between the police and gendarmerie, residents, and local officials, including review of data about the program and about the use of stop forms, will be key to ensuring a successful reform of identity check procedures.
  • Strengthen police training and ethics guidelines, both for new recruits and as part of continuing training for police officers, on appropriate use of identity check powers.
  • Adopt new criteria for evaluating police job performance and promotions, based on respect for professional ethics and ability to create ties with the public, rather than quantitative factors like meeting quotas. Experienced police officers should be encouraged and given incentives to stay in challenging neighborhoods to avoid rapid turnover of police personnel in these areas.

The support and commitment of law enforcement bodies is key to the effective implementation of these reforms, the eight organizations said. Senior officers in the National Police and Gendarmerie should ensure that identity check powers are used in an efficient and just manner, and that stops are based on behavior rather than appearance.

It is crucial for the government, in carrying out the reform, to consult and work with all of those involved – civil society organizations, experts, local representatives, judges, lawyers, and the Justice Ministry, the groups said. And political leadership at the highest level is needed to implement these reforms now, the groups said in presenting their proposals.