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There are three main categories of law enforcement in France: the National Police, the Gendarmerie, and local municipal police forces.  Members of the National Police and the Gendarmerie have access to a similar array of weapons, which includes handguns and various non-lethal weapons.  Gendarmes, who are officially a branch of the French military, appear to have access to a wider array of weapons and equipment, including armored vehicles.  Municipal police forces are not always armed, and there are strict restrictions on the types of weapons that they are allowed to carry.  Law enforcement officers may only use their weapons under certain circumstances, and any death as a result of the use of lethal force by law enforcement automatically triggers an investigation.

I.  Introduction

There are three main categories of law enforcement forces in France:  the National Police (Police nationale), the Gendarmerie (Gendarmerie nationale), and local municipal police forces (polices municipales).[1]

The National Police and the Gendarmerie are both highly centralized national structures,[2] but they stem from different origins.  The National Police is a civilian force that was created in 1966[3] to replace several older law enforcement agencies.[4]  The Gendarmerie is a military institution, part of the French armed forces since the days of the Revolution.[5]  Traditionally, the National Police is in charge of law enforcement in urban areas, while the Gendarmerie operates in rural areas.[6]  This distinction is very blurred, however, and there is considerable overlap between the two forces’ areas of operation.[7]  There have been efforts to bring the two organizations closer together in order to avoid institutional friction and duplication of resources and efforts.[8]  Although the Gendarmerie remains a military institution, it was placed under the direction of the Ministry of the Interior (which already controlled the National Police) in 2002.[9]

In addition to the National Police and Gendarmerie, some French towns and cities have municipal police forces, which are under the mayor’s authority.[10]  These local forces have far fewer powers than the two main national law enforcement bodies, and are mainly there to “provide a uniformed presence in the streets, enforce local bylaws, and deal with quality of life issues.”[11]  Nonetheless, a significant number of municipal police officers are armed.[12]

Since January 1, 2014, a single organization has been in charge of procurement for both the Gendarmerie and the National Police: the Service de l’achat, des équipements et de la logistique de la sécurité intérieure (SAELSI, Interior Security Purchase, Equipment and Logistics Service).[13]  Municipal police forces are funded and equipped by the city or town that employs them.[14]

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II.  Police Weapons and Equipment

A.    Police Nationale and Gendarmerie

The standard equipment for members of the National Police usually includes a handgun, which officers are required to carry whenever they are on duty.[15]  The current standard handgun of the National Police is the Sig Sauer SP2022.[16]  Police officers may also carry other weapons as may be necessary for, and proportional to, their specific mission: handcuffs, a baton, incapacitating spray, a Flash-Ball (a handheld weapon that fires a large rubber ball), or a Taser device.[17]  The National Police may also use pump-action shotguns if necessary.[18]

Gendarmes generally have the same equipment as the National Police: they have the same standard handgun,[19] and access to the same array of nonlethal weapons.[20]  Gendarmes, being members of the military, also have access to the French armed forces’ standard assault rifle, the FAMAS.[21]  Furthermore, they appear to have access to H&K submachine guns and pump-action shotguns.[22]

B.     Special Units

1.      Elite Special Operations Units

Both the National Police and the Gendarmerie have a number of specialized units for tasks such as crowd control, antiterrorism operations, etc.  Among those is the Force d’intervention de la police nationale (FIPN, National Police Intervention Force), which is an elite special operations unit to deal with terrorist attacks, hostage situations, and similar emergencies.[23]  The Gendarmerie has a similar unit called the Groupe d’intervention de la Gendarmerie nationale (GIGN, National Gendarmerie Intervention Group).[24]  It is unclear what means the FIPN has at its disposal, but the GIGN can use a wide array of weapons and equipment including helicopters, armored vehicles, heavy weaponry, and CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear) protection equipment.[25]

2.      Crowd Control and Anti-Riot Units

The Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité (CRS, Republican Security Companies) and Gendarmerie mobile (mobile Gendarmerie) are another noteworthy type of police unit, specialized in crowd control and riot suppression.[26]  CRS units belong to the National Police, while the Mobile Gendarmerie units, as their name indicates, belong to the Gendarmerie.[27]

Photographs show CRS officers carrying shields and wearing body protection and helmets as they faced recent protests.[28]  CRS units can also use special trucks equipped with water cannons to disperse a crowd.[29]

Mobile gendarmes appear to be similarly equipped.[30]  The Mobile Gendarmerie also has eighty-six armored vehicles called Véhicules blindés à roues de la gendarmerie (VBRG, Armored Wheeled Vehicle of the Gendarmerie), which can each carry a combat team and can be configured to carry a machine gun in a small turret.[31]

C.    Municipal Police

The mayor of a city or town that employs municipal police officers has the option of arming them, although he/she must first obtain the authorization of the central government’s representative, the prefect.[32]  As of 2013, only 43% of France’s municipal police forces were armed.[33]

French law strictly restricts the types of weapons that may be carried by members of the municipal police.  With regard to firearms, the options are limited to 38 Special caliber revolvers or to 7.65 mm caliber handguns.[34]  With regard to nonlethal weapons, municipal police forces are allowed to use Flash-Ball devices, Tasers, incapacitating aerosols (such as pepper spray), and batons.[35]

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III.  Rules on the Use of Firearms

The normal rules of “legitimate defense” (légitime défense) apply to the use of weapons by members of the National Police,[36] and members of municipal police forces.[37]  They may only use their weapons to defend themselves or someone else, or to stop a crime, and the amount of force used must be proportional to the threat.[38]  Lethal force may only be used to protect a person, however, and may not be used to protect an object.[39]  A French police officer may not shoot a firearm to stop a shoplifter, for example.

Gendarmes appear to have somewhat more leeway than National Police or municipal police officers.  Indeed, Gendarmes are specifically authorized to use their weapons—even lethal force—when necessary to defend a position, or to stop a person who refuses to obey a clear order to stop.[40]  A gendarme may thus fire upon a vehicle that has forced passage through a checkpoint, even if that vehicle is moving away and is no longer an immediate threat to the gendarme.[41]

Any police shooting incident resulting in a death automatically triggers a judicial investigation.[42]

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IV.  Recent Controversy

In 2010, the French Ministry of the Interior decided to change the standard ammunition used by police officers in their Sig Sauer pistols.[43]  Prior to that, police officers used full metal jacket bullets as their standard ammunition, but these had a tendency to pierce through their intended targets, sometimes causing injuries or deaths to bystanders.  Following several incidents, the Ministry of the Interior ordered that full metal jacket bullets be replaced by hollow-point ammunition, which has lower velocity and higher stopping power.[44]

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Nicolas Boring
Foreign Law Consultant
September 2014


[1] Benoît Dupont, The French Police System, in Comparative Policing 255 (M.R. Haberfeld & Ibrahim Cerrah eds., 2008).

[2] Id. at 256–57.

[3] Loi n° 66-492 du 9 juillet 1966 portant organisation de la police nationale [Law No. 66-492 of July 9, 1966, Organizing the National Police] (July 9, 1966), http://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/jopdf/common/jo_pdf.jsp?numJO= 0&dateJO=19660710&numTexte=&pageDebut=05899&pageFin.

[4] Histoire (History), Police nationale [National Police], Ministère de l’Intérieur [Ministry of the Interior], http://www.police-nationale.interieur.gouv.fr/Presentation-generale/Histoire (last visited Sept. 3, 2014).

[5] Malcolm Anderson, In Thrall to Political Change: Police and Gendarmerie in France 180 (2011).

[6] Dupont, supra note 1, at 255.

[7] Anderson, supra note 5, at 180.

[8] Dupont, supra note 1, at 258–59.

[9] Id.; Décret n° 2002-889 du 15 mai 2002 relatif aux attributions du ministre de l'intérieur, de la sécurité intérieure et des libertés locales [Decree No. 2002-889 of May 15, 2002, Regarding the Assigned Authority of the Minister of the Interior, Interior Security, and Local Liberties] art. 3 (May 15, 2002), http://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/affich Texte.do?cidTexte=LEGITEXT000005633083&dateTexte=20100603.

[10] Dupont, supra note 1, at 255; Code général des collectivités territoriales [General Code of Territorial Communities] art. L2212-1, http://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/affichCode.do;jsessionid=B6AE708B7BD 0677C4E026A69FBE3B543.tpdjo11v_3?idSectionTA=LEGISCTA000006164555&cidTexte=LEGITEXT000006070633&dateTexte=20140903.

[11] Dupont, supra note 1, at 256; Code général des collectivités territoriales art. L2212-2; Code de la sécurité intérieure [Interior Security Code] art. L511-1,http://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/affichCode.do;jsession id=92FA15C93EFB768468D3943C91B9BF9D.tpdjo01v_1?cidTexte=LEGITEXT000025503132&dateTexte=20140905.

[12] Dupont, supra note 1, at 256.

[13] Service de l’achat, des équipements et de la logistique de la sécurité intérieure – SAELSI, Ministère de l’Intérieur (Mar. 11, 2014), http://www.interieur.gouv.fr/Le-ministere/Organisation/Service-de-l-achat-des-equipements-et-de-la-logistique-de-la-securite-interieure.

[14] Code général des collectivités territoriales art. L1611-2.

[15] Arrêté du 6 juin 2006 portant règlement général d’emploi de la police nationale [Executive Decision of June 6, 2006, Establishing the General Employment Regulations of the National Police] art. 114-4 (June 6, 2006), http://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/affichTexte.do?cidTexte=LEGITEXT000006054100.

[16] Georges Moréas, Le pistolet Sig Sauer est-il adapte a la police? [Is the Sig Sauer Pistol Adapted to Police Use?], Le Monde (Feb. 28, 2007), http://moreas.blog.lemonde.fr/2007/02/28/le-pistolet-sig-sauer-est-il-adapte-a-la-police/; Laurent-Franck Lienard, Force à la loi [Force to Law] 51 (2009).

[17] Arrêté du 6 juin 2006 art. 114-5; Lienard, supra note 16, at 144–52.

[18] Georges Moréas, Le fusil à pompe dans la police: une longue histoire [The Pump-Action Shotgun in Police Service: A Long History], Le Monde (Dec. 9, 2011), http://moreas.blog.lemonde.fr/2011/12/09/le-fusil-a-pompe-dans-la-police-une-longue-histoire/.

[19] Histoire et Dictionnaire de la Gendarmerie [History and Dictionary of the Gendarmerie] 220 (Jean-Noël Luc & Frédéric Médard eds., 2013).

[20] Lienard, supra note 16, at 144–52.

[21] Histoire et Dictionnaire de la Gendarmerie, supra note 19, at 219.

[22] Id. at 220.

[23] La police se dote d’une Force d'intervention pour répondre aux crises majeures [The Police Gives Itself an Intervention Force to Respond to Major Crises], Le Monde (Nov. 30, 2009), http://www.lemonde.fr/societe/ article/2009/11/30/la-police-se-dote-d-une-force-d-intervention-pour-repondre-aux-crises-majeures_ 1274318_3224.html.

[24] Missions, GIGN, Ministère de l’Intérieur, http://www.gendarmerie.interieur.gouv.fr/gign/Decouverte/ Missions2 (last visited Sept. 4, 2014).

[25] Gendarmerie: une histoire, un avenir [Gendarmerie: A History, A Future] 165 (Pierre Aymar de Broissia ed., 2008).

[26] Direction Centrale des Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité [Central Directorate of the Republican Security Companies], Police Nationale, Ministère de l’intérieur, http://www.police-nationale.interieur.gouv. fr/Organisation/Direction-Centrale-des-Compagnies-Republicaines-de-Securite (last visited Sept. 4, 2014); La gendarmerie mobile [The Mobile Gendarmerie], Gendarmerie Nationale [National Gendarmerie], Ministère de l’intérieur, http://www.gendarmerie.interieur.gouv.fr/fre/Sites/Gendarmerie/Presentation/Gendarmerie-mobile (last visited Sept. 4, 2014).

[27] Id.

[28] Ecotaxe. La manifestation en images [Ecotax. The Protest in Pictures], Ouest France (Oct. 19, 2013), http://www.ouest-france.fr/ecotaxe-la-manifestation-en-images-1633458; Manifestations anti-Otan à Strasbourg [Anti-NATO Protests in Strasburg], 20Minutes (Apr. 6, 2009), http://www.20minutes.fr/france/diaporama-653-photo-429535-manifestations-anti-otan-a-strasbourg.

[29] Georges Moréas, Le canon à eau dans les manifs [The Water Cannon in Protests], Le Monde (Aug. 11, 2011), http://moreas.blog.lemonde.fr/2011/08/11/le-canon-a-eau-dans-les-manifs/.

[30] See second photograph on La gendarmerie mobile [The Mobile Gendarmerie], Gendarmerie Nationale, Ministère de l’intérieur, http://www.gendarmerie.interieur.gouv.fr/fre/Sites/Gendarmerie/Presentation/ Gendarmerie-mobile (last visited Sept. 4, 2014).

[31] Histoire et Dictionnaire de la Gendarmerie, supra note 19, at 481–82.

[32] Code de la sécurité intérieure art. L511-5; Christophe Cornevin, En première ligne, les policiers municipaux réclament des armes [On the Front Lines, Municipal Police Officers Ask for Weapons], Le Figaro (Mar. 31, 2013), http://www.lefigaro.fr/actualite-france/2013/05/31/01016-20130531ARTFIG00628-en-premiere-ligne-les-policiers-municipaux-reclament-des-armes.php.

[33] Cornevin, supra note 32.  It is unclear whether this number includes all types of weapons, or only firearms.

[34] Code de la sécurité intérieure art. R511-12.

[35] Id.  Hypodermic needle projectors are also on the list, but it would appear that these are for use against dangerous animals rather than humans.

[36] Arrêté du 6 juin 2006 portant règlement général d’emploi de la police nationale [Executive Decision of June 6, 2006, Establishing the General Employment Regulations of the National Police] art. 114-4 (June 6, 2006), http://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/affichTexte.do?cidTexte=LEGITEXT000006054100.

[37] Code de la sécurité intérieure art. R511-23.

[39] Id.

[41] Lienard, supra note 16, at 130.

[42] Id. at 154.

[43] Jugées trop dangereuses, la police change de munitions [The Police Replaces Ammunition Considered “Too Dangerous”], France Soir (Sept. 13, 2010), http://www.francesoir.fr/actualite/societe/jugees-trop-dangereuses-police-change-munitions-56850.html.

[44] Id.

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Last Updated: 06/09/2015