New Data Reveals Paris Police Discriminate Against Minorities

PARIS—Police officers in Paris consistently stop people on the basis of ethnicity and dress rather than on the basis of suspicious individual behavior, according to a report released today by the Open Society Justice Initiative.

A joint effort with René Lévy and Fabien Jobard of the Paris-based Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Profiling Minorities: A Study of Stop-and-Search Practices in Paris documents over 500 police stops over a one-year period and across five locations in and around the Gare du Nord train station and Châtelet-Les Halles commuter rail station.

"This study marks the first time that ethnic profiling by French police has been statistically proven, confirming decades of anecdotal reports," said Rachel Neild of the Open Society Justice Initiative.

Ethnic profiling occurs most often in police decisions about whom to stop, question, search, and, at times, arrest. Yet there is no evidence that ethnic profiling actually lowers crime rates.

The data show that blacks were between 3.3 and 11.5 times more likely than whites to be stopped; while Arabs were stopped between 1.8 and 14.8 more times than whites. The study also found a strong relationship between people's ethnicity, particular styles of clothing worn by young people, and the likelihood that they would be stopped.

"French youth of immigrant origin feel singled out and stigmatized by constant police stops. Not only does our study question the effectiveness of these police stops, it also makes clear that these practices underlie the increasingly frequent and often violent altercations between young people and the police," said Neild.

The report recommends a number of reforms to identity check practices in Paris, including reform of law and policies that allow ethnic profiling; an explicit ban on discrimination by police officials; stronger criteria for the "reasonable suspicion" required to stop persons; and enhanced record keeping and review of stops to assess their impact and promote better practice.

"This statistical evidence of profiling should spur French authorities and police to put an end to discriminatory profiling practices, improve police-community relations, and increase the effectiveness of stop practices," said Neild.


The Open Society Justice Initiative, an operational program of the Open Society Institute, pursues law reform activities grounded in the protection of human rights, and contributes to the development of legal capacity for open societies worldwide. The Justice Initiative combines litigation, legal advocacy, technical assistance, and the dissemination of knowledge to secure advances in the following priority areas: anticorruption, equality and citizenship, freedom of information and expression, international justice, and national criminal justice. Its offices are in Abuja, Budapest, London, New York, and Washington DC.