Police brutality is front of mind and page today, so I was surprised by the lack of attention for Flic, a new book by French undercover journalist Valentin Gendrot. I first read about it two weeks ago in The Guardian, but have heard nothing since.
The book documents Valentin’s experience as a front-line policeman in one of Paris’ most deprived and dangerous arrondissements. The story is fantastical. He signed up (under his own name), received three months of training, and was posted to the tough 19th arrondissement 15 months later.
Within days he had witnessed violent assaults by the police and was forced to make a false declaration to protect fellow officers. The book is a complete account however, and also discusses the lack of funding, widespread depression, and the spate of suicides gripping the French Police:
On one of his first patrols, he describes how a colleague beat up a teenage migrant in the back of the police van. “Two weeks in uniform and already I’m complicit in the beating up of a young migrant,” he writes. The incident was never written up. “What happened in the van, stays in the van,” he notes.
Gendrot said officers were often snowed under with form-filling and random “targets”, worked in decrepit offices, drove battered cars and often had to buy essential equipment from their own pockets, leading to high levels of depression.
In 2019, 59 police officers committed suicide, a 60% rise on the previous year. A Facebook group set up to support “distressed” officers had several thousand members in just a few days.
The secrecy is at least partly self-imposed. It was printed in Slovenia and only three publications, Le Monde, Mediapart, and The Guardian were allowed to read the manuscript. In the offices of the publisher’s lawyer.
The book is in French and about France, which probably explains its non-impact in the English speaking world. Still, a useful reminder that police brutality is not just the anomalous product of militarised US police forces.