Do Police Stop and Search Practices in France Amount to Illegal Ethnic Profiling?


In April of 2012 thirteen cases were brought before the Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris, against the state of France, for police racial profiling during identity checks. Those cases were recently rejected by the Paris court on October 2, 2013. Intent to appeal, as far as the European Court of Human Rights, has been voiced by plaintiffs’ lawyers.

The judgment stated that, “a person who considers an identity check abusive must prove the action was a gravely serious offense”. The court concluded that these identity checks were not against the law. Under the French criminal procedure code, police stop and search powers are broad. There is not often record of these stops however, because written reports of identity checks by police officers are not mandatory and in “none of these 13 cases, did the police stop result in any criminal proceedings.” (open society foundation)

Anti-racism groups, like the Open Society Foundation, claim that routine discrimination in France doesn’t stop with the police force. Judith Sunderland of Human Rights Watch said, “The court was, de facto, affirming that France can ignore international norms.” (apnews). A priority question of constitutionality challenge is being made to the Conseil Constitutionnel involving ethnic profiling practice violations under the French constitution and the European Convention of Human Rights.

Public complaints of racial profiling by police forces are not limited to France, as similar criticisms are being heard in the United States and Germany. Specifically, The New York Police Department has received attention for its controversial stop and frisk policies. Should France hold its police department to stricter stop and search practices? Do you believe racial profiling exists to the extent claims suggest? Or are statistics, showing a higher stop pattern of minorities, correctly reflective of the groups of people responsible for crimes?


Open Society Foundation


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  1. I definitely see parallels to New York’s Stop and Frisk Policies with these cases, especially in its procedural posture. However, there seems to be more abuses in France in that there are no data collection mechanisms or any requirement of reasonable suspicion.

    It seems like the court’s ruling was only based on the fact that the identity checks did not prove to be a gravely serious offense and completely ignored the discriminatory angle of the cases. The “graveness” standard seems particular difficult to meet. Because of the lack of record keeping, there was no way the court could obtain information on these stops to determine the reasoning behind it. The individual officers should be ordered to produce evidence that their stop was not based on any discriminatory motive.

    France should definitely revaluate their stop and search policies to include a reasonable belief of suspicion standard. Data collections should also indicate if their searches have resulted in any criminal finding.

  2. I think the first step in solving this problem is for French Police to begin documenting these checks. In doing so, it will provide the courts with more information regarding the nature of each stop and any trends, if any, that arise. The fact that there are no collection procedures probably leads to more abuses in France.
    The standard set forth by French criminal procedures seems to be very strict and hard to fulfill. The tough standard combined with the fact that no evidence is taken at the time of each search, leads to the problem before us. France should think about changing the standard so it is not as difficult to meet. However, changing the law will not do any good without documentation of each stop by the French Police. That is the only way in which one could determine the Police’s motive and reasoning for stopping a certain person. More evidence will indicate whether or not the police are lawfully searching people, or whether they are conducting ethnic profiling.

  3. I believe it’s very ignorant to assume that the color of one’s skin or the way a person looks automatically determines their culpability for a crime. Not only should France, but all countries that have controversial stop and frisk policies, should revaluate these policies and really determine their rational and impact on the community. A balancing test may to determine the utility of these policies and seems like the best course of action. But, more practically, we need to determine if these policies are eliciting the proper result. How many actual perpetrators are caught because of these policies versus how many people are stopped and frisked? If there seems to be a lot of criminals being caught, then these policies may be beneficial to the community as a whole and protect the proliferation of drugs and violence. However, if only small percentages are being incarcerated, then the policy would be completely pointless.

    I believe another problem is accounting procedures. Require police officers to account for their stop and risk activities, either through video camera or written documentation, and allow the public to scrutinize them. The possibility of sanctions from their activities might elicit enough embarrassment from the police officers that will stop themselves from profiling and actually stop people who are actually suspicious.

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