U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

NCJRS Virtual Library

The Virtual Library houses over 235,000 criminal justice resources, including all known OJP works.
Click here to search the NCJRS Virtual Library

To Democratize Rather Than To Control

NCJ Number
Deviance et societe Volume: 3 Issue: 4 Dated: (December 1979) Pages: 355-361
J J Gleizal
Date Published
7 pages
The excessive de facto discretionary powers of the French police must be curbed without imparing its ability to protect society: the solution to this dilemma lies in the democratization, rather than outside control of the police.
In addition to the built-in controls of its hierarchy, the French police is nominally subject to many jurisdictional and direct controls. While the administrative police, in charge of maintaining public order, has essentially bureaucratic controls, the criminal police appears to be restrained and monitored at every step by judicial authorities. In addition, individual police officers are liable to prosecution by a criminal judge. Despite this formidable control apparatus, police brutality is seldom prosecuted, and the officers involved are almost never convicted and sentenced. Endless court delays and a tacit policy of coverup at all hierarchical levels ensures virtual impunity for those responsible. Judges feel an obligation to protect members of the police, because without the police the criminal justice system could not exist. Ultimately, the police is under the control of the law in using its power, but the law is not a concrete counterpower, only an abstract idea which must be recognized to be effective. In recent years France has, however, experienced instances of impartial application of the law in cases of police misconduct by a new breed of young magistrates who are willing to challenge the deliberate inertia of their older, more conservative colleagues. On the other hand, in France as in the rest of Western Europe, police reform and democratization is endangered by a revival of security-at-all-costs attitudes, following the German model that emerged as a consequence of terrorist activities. True democratization of the police, which is ultimately the only effective control, must come from within through a change of police attitudes and the realization of the political dimensions of the police function, which must play a role in the class struggle and the shaping of a future society. Eight references are appended.