A knife attack on the Paris police headquarters on Thursday left at least four people dead and at least one police officer injured, according police union sources.
French outlets reported the attack was an administrative officer at the Directorate of Intelligence of the Prefecture of Police.
The attacker: The attacker, who was an administrative officer employed by police, was shot dead. There is not yet any indication of motive.
Television pictures showed multiple emergency service vehicles at the location near Notre Dame Cathedral. The area was sealed off and the local metro station, Cite, closed.
The incident occured at the Ile de la Cite, the major island in the Seine in central Paris.
Police did not immediately confirm details of the incident.
French media reported that the country’s Interior Minister Christophe Castaner, who was due to travel to Turkey, and the Paris prosecutor were on their way to the scene. Prime Minister Edouard Philippe also came to the scene.
French police stage massive ‘anger march’ over working conditions, low morale and suicides
The incident comes after thousands of police officers took part in an “anger march” on Wednesday to demand better working conditions and respond to high suicide rates amongst police forces.
Police officers in the French capital hit the streets en masse on Wednesday, not to quell a “yellow vest” protest but to speak out against their own deteriorating work and living conditions.
The French force is exhausted after months of yellow vest violence which rocked major cities every weekend and saw protesters target officers, themselves accused of heavy-handed use of stun grenades that left dozens of yellow vests maimed.
Unions warn that morale is at rock bottom pointing out that the suicide rate is sky high – some 52 officers have taken their own lives since January, compare to an already high annual average of 42. The government launched a crisis plan last month to tackle the issue.
Organisers said 27,000 police of all levels and union persuasions came together at Bastille for the first time since 2001 when they took to the streets en masse in outrage at the release of an armed robber who had murdered two officers.
What are French police so angry about?
CREDIT: REUTERS/CHRISTIAN HARTMANN
It’s a cocktail of despair and anger at their degraded public image, the spike in suicides in the force (48 this year alone), worsening work conditions and their own concerns over Macron’s controversial pension reforms.
For many it’s become impossible to prevent all this stress and desperation from seeping into their private and family lives.
The poster from the Alliance union explains what the police are demanding.
An improvement in the quality of working conditions, better work benefits to help with housing, transport, childcare and health insurance, plus guarantees over pensions and a tougher criminal justice system are listed among their demands.
Why have French police become so unpopular?
French police have gone from “heroes to zeroes”, one police officer who preferred to remain anonymous told Le Parisien.
It’s a statement that sums up the public image decay of ‘le policier’ in France, badly hit by accusations of excessive violence used against “yellow vests” during their weekly street protests (45 consecutive weekends of demonstrations so far) and other marches across France where radical groups infiltrate the mostly peaceful crowds.
As a result, police are seen by many in French society as ‘the bad guys’, enough of a reason for many officers to ask their children not to tell their classmates what their parents do for a living.
“There is a deep sense of despair,” David Le Bars, secretary-general of the SCPN-Unsa police union, said.
“All of the unions know that the police are sick with worry.”
Does this explain the high suicide rate in the force?
France has grappled with the problem of police suicide for some years but the force’s drop in popularity is certainly contributing to the rise in officers taking their own lives.
A shocking study released in April 2019 found that one police officer in France takes their own life every four days.
“It’s a massacre,” Thomas Toussaint from the Unsa-Police union told the French press.
How does Macron’s pension reform affect them?
French police officers who have served at least 27 years benefit from a bonus pension contribution every five years.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner has insisted he would fight “until the end” for this special provision for the police to be kept but under Macron’s complex pension new reforms this bonus would depend on the dangers involved in the officer’s work.
“Castaner doesn’t have all the cards in his hand; he’s playing a game of poker with the president and prime minister, who control the purse strings,” Yves Lefebre, secretary-general of the Unité-SG-FO union, has said.
“We’re already thinking about what action we will take after October 2nd,” he concluded.