France’s Interior Minister, Gerard Collomb, has raised the alarm after eight members of the police and the gendarmerie, France’s military police service, committed suicide last week.
Collomb asked the general directors of the national police, gendarmerie and internal security for “an evaluation of the measures implemented to prevent suicides among the armed forces” and announced that he wanted to meet urgently with representatives of all groups to “discuss existing prevention measures and their effectiveness”.
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These eight cases form part of a larger trend — a total of 46 police officers and 16 gendarmes have committed suicide in 2017, a record number, according to the Ministry of the Interior.
The most high profile case come on 12 November, when Antoine Boutonnet, the former head of the national division against hooliganism was found dead in his office, suspected to have ended his life using his service weapon.
The tragedy continued as another suicide by a policewoman was reported from the region of Perpignan later the same day.
The problem is not a new one, however.
The suicide rate in the police is traditionally three times higher than that of the general population.
Suicide affects all ranks and ages, but mostly men. The Ile-de-France region is the most affected and service firearms are used as the method of suicide in 50 percent of all cases.
Despite record numbers, Yves Lefebvre, General Secretary of the union Unité SGP Police-Force Ouvrière believes that Collomb is “burying his head in the sand”.
According to Lefebvre: “the cops are on their knees…there is serious unrest in the ranks and we have to catch it”.
Imagine a cop faced with human misery from morning to night, who is entitled to one weekend every 6 weeks to see their partner…my divorced colleagues are being denied shared custody because they have shitty schedules.
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Louis-Guy Dubois, a national delegate for working conditions said:
Unité SGP Police-Force Ouvrière, the second biggest police union, have been campaigning for years for the introduction of a work schedule that better respects the personal lives of the public servants.
According to Dubois, most police work five weekends out of six but “it is necessary to have one weekends rest out of two”.
However, administration is slow to grant more days of rest as it “poses major organisational problems during a period when the police are in high demand”.
The number of overtime hours has rocketed in recent years, from 16m to 20m according to the UNSA Police (the largest police union) and the police are under greater pressure than ever.
The trend did began to decline in 2015, and 2016 saw the lowest number of police suicides since 2010.
This decline was said to be due to the prevention plan presented in January 2015 by Bernard Cazeneuve.
Cazeneuve’s plan included the recruitment of several psychologists within the operational psychological support service, the creation of six clinical psychologist positions to accompany police students during their training, a restructuring of work cycles and the introduction of lockers for officers to leave their weapons in at the end of service.
However, many speculated that the attacks and the state of emergency that arose in 2015 complicated the implementation of the prevention plan.
The decrease was also said to be a consequence of “the operational whirlwind the police have been in for two years, faced with an unprecedented terrorist threat”, according to FranceInfo.