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Ministry of Interior unveils "hotspot" policy to tackle "rooted delinquency"

In a note released on 30 July 2012, the French Interior Minister Manuel Valls announced the launch of a new security policy targeting newly identified "priority security areas" (Zone prioritaires de sécurité, ZPS). [1] The project will be launched in 15 pilot cities in September 2012.

Areas characterised by "structural" delinquency

The identification of the first 15 ZPSs results from a detailed mapping of delinquency hotspots by the General Directorate of the national police force, and the General Directorate of the gendarmerie. This identification was done "unusually at a central [i.e. national] level: local gendarmerie and police forces, together with local authorities and stakeholders, will then be involved in the identification of 40 to 60 new areas by the summer of 2013.

The aim is to provide "appropriate answers to local issues … in territories where delinquency and anti-social acts are structurally rooted". Objectives in each ZPS are to be limited in numbers (two to three) to "avoid any resource dispersal". A non-exhaustive list details the acts the new strategy should endeavour to tackle: "the shadow economy, drugs and arms trafficking, acquisitive crime, burglary, gatherings in common areas of residential buildings, misbehaviour on the public highway (nuisance), and other uncivil acts".

Two units will be established to ensure operational coordination among interior security forces (reaction capacity) and among the strategy's "partners" (prevention strategy) which may include actors not affiliated to the Ministry of Interior, such as the judiciary, schools and social services.

The promotion of a new security policy under a new government

This is the first official document about delinquency and security since the appointment of the Socialist government in May 2012. The note is often critical of the previous strategy adopted by the different governments under Nicolas Sarkozy's presidency: Valls promotes a strategy "beyond raids [operations coups de poing] or spectacular initiatives" considered as being "modi operandi with no strategy … which prove inefficient in the long term". Moreover, it was announced that the new security strategy will not be evaluated and monitored on the basis of "quantitative criteria" such as the "figures-based" policy of the precedent administrations. [2]

Coordination among the police, the gendarmerie and the judiciary, but also between several ministries (urban and social development, justice) is promoted so as to address the structural causes of insecurity in both rural and urban areas.

In 2003, Sarkozy, then Interior Minister, had withdrawn police forces from "sensitive areas", i.e. ghettoised suburban areas, as he argued that police officers were not paid "for playing football with youngsters". [3] This decision resulted in limiting the role of the police force to a sanctioning body when officers were deployed in reaction to criminal acts. About 12,000 police jobs were lost between 2007 and 2012. [4]

The 2011 LOPPSI law (Loi de Programmation pour la Performance de la Sécurité Intérieure, Orientation and Planning law for the Performance of Interior Security) re-established the role of the police in sensitive urban areas without, however , re-establishing the initial link between the local police force and other institutions (social services, judiciary, town hall, health services).
The emphasis on coordination, as well as on the independence on the Judiciary, including during judicial investigation in criminal affairs, further juxtaposes the new security strategy in opposition to the heavily criticised intrusion of the Executive in judicial affairs under the former government. [5]


Although the new programme aims to promote a more coherent approach to security, Valls' strategy is inspired by the concept of "territorial competence mapping" which was developed in the 2010-2011 White Paper on Public Security. [6] The White Paper was commissioned by the Interior Ministry and written by Michel Gaudin, the Paris Police Prefect, and Alain Bauer, a criminologist who is the President of the National Observatory on Delinquency and Penal Sanctions established by Sarkozy in 2003. Bauer, a former advisor to Sarkozy and known to be close to Valls, praised the adoption of a "more pragmatic approach" in line with the "hot spot" strategy adopted in the 1990s in Canada and the United-States (where resources are allocated to specific prioritised areas). [7]

However, several aspects in the Valls plan have been criticised.

First, this ambitious plan will not be accompanied by the necessary resources: the time necessary to train new staff makes it impossible for the Ministry to facilitate the implementation of the new strategy. Only 1,000 new public officers will be deployed for the first phase of the project with some of them being employed at the Ministry of Justice.

This technical element has been criticised by the police trade-union Alliance which expressed its concern at the absence of a concerted approach involving representatives of the police and gendarmerie forces and the lack of information regarding the reasons for the identification of the ZSPs or the means to be allocated for the implementation of the strategy.

This new security plan thus seems to have prioritised the political benefits of the post-electoral period (whereby public opinion remains largely favourable to the government) over feasibility: the note not only shows the government to be pro-active in implementing the new President's pledges (ZSPs were part of his manifesto), but the new Interior Minister has gained growing popularity among the French population [9], an element which will facilitate the accomplishment of a new security strategy.


[1] French Ministry of Interior, Circulaire relative à la mise en oeuvre des zones prioritaires de sécurité, 30 July 2012

[2] 'La note à l'origine de la politique du chiffre', OWNI, 5 October 2011

[3] 'Sarkozy, le président qui change d'avis', L'Express, 24 November 2011

[4] 'Francois Hollande oublie les gendarmes', OWNI, 10 April 2012

[5] Lettre ouverte à Nicolas Sarkozy sur l'état de la justice après Nicolas Sarkozy, Syndicat de la Magistrature, 2 May 2012

[6] Bauer and Gaudin (2012) Livre Blanc sur la Sécurité Publique, Rapport au ministre de l'Intérieur, de l'Outre-Mer, des Collectivités territoriales et de l'Immigration

[7] 'Sécurité : la liste des villes que l'Etat veut sécuriser', Le Parisien, 4 August 2012

[8] Zones de Sécurité Prioritaires: pas de concertation, ALLIANCE, 6 August 2012

[9] TNS Sofres (2012) Cote de popularité des personnalités politiques

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