In France, police officers can use their weapons, only if, they are faced with a direct personal threat, on the basis of “necessity and proportionality.” On Wednesday, the French cabinet had full intentions of hastening a proposed law that would broaden police officers’ ability to use their side arms in self-defense.
French police officers are allowed to fire their guns only if they are directly assaulted by armed individuals, to defend an area they have occupied or if repeated demands to stand down have been ignored. Because of this, the police rarely use their guns because they are afraid of breaking the rules, which can lead to their immediate suspension pending an inquiry.
In October, four French police officers were attacked with Molotov cocktails while they were in their cars but none drew their weapons because they weren’t being “shot at.” The rules in place are “identical to civilian rules governing self-defense.” Criminals are aware of them and conscious of officers’ fear of getting into trouble.
“It’s a Catch-22,” Versailles police officer Nicolas said. “When someone is holding a petrol bomb and is ready to throw it, if you use your weapon you are in big trouble. If the petrol bomb lands on you before you can use your weapon, you are also in big trouble because you are being burned. So what’s the point of being armed?”
The French police offers say they are “fed up after decades of neglect by changing governments that have eroded our ability to function properly in a job we love”. Nicolas’s colleague Alexandre Langlois said, “We work in filthy, run-down police stations, we have to provide much of our own equipment – business cards and even pens. We don’t have up-to-date communications or radio equipment and we are expected to rely almost completely on our private mobile phones. Above all, none of us feels we can defend ourselves properly.”
The proposed law in question would strengthen a law passed in June 2016 that allowed officers to shoot if it would “prevent loss of life in the immediate aftermath of an act of murder.” It would also allow officers to fire at vehicles that are bearing down on them. In addition, it includes doubling sanctions for insulting police, easing conditions to wear hoods to better protect the identity of police officers and €250 million to buy new equipment. Parliament will see the bill in January 2017.