Tuesday, December 7, 2010
The French police system grows more confusing all the time. Maybe that's because Napoleon designed it that way. Civil law enforcement and the military police were structured separately but with semi-equal powers and conflicting arenas to avoid his being toppled. Waterloo did that. But Napoleon's structure is still in place. The little man still rules from the grave. Sarkozy for all his faults and more faults is in the process of streamlining, simplifying, centralizing and re-organizing the police and military services who tread on each other's riot boots. And they're not happy about it one little bit.
(See a similarity maybe small men, big ideas, glamorous wives that Napoleon and Sarko might have in common?)
But this mutual hostility in the forces goes back to Napoleon's time. What's new?
What will really change? Much of France falls under the Gendarmerie, a military force, the Gendarmes who enforce national law outside of Paris, in the countryside under the Ministry of Defense. The Police Judiciare, in Paris, in under the Ministry of Interior and so is the Renseignements Generaux, RG a very FBI-like hydra headed intelligence branch but do their own thing ie. run investigations independently. Needless to say the RG are not any one's favorite lists. But this part always confuses me and since it's changing suffice it to say the Police Judiciare - only in Paris - run their own turf and the Brigade Criminelle - the elite homicide unit handle murder and cases that perplex most others.
Not that they can't be outmanuevered by their sort of military equivalent also with power in Paris. Diferent SWAT units, counter terrorist teams get muddled here and like always I reach for a drink when this gets explained to me.
We're sitting in the Great Canadian, a noisy pub on the Seine right across from the famous 36 quai des Orfévres where many of my drinking companions work in Brigade Criminelle. Small tables huddled in the back, beer spilt and stories. Lots of stories.
I'm really impressed by these guys, actually, they're sharp, funny, self-deprecating and I like them. Even a counter terrorist specialist who speaks several Arabic dialects, is a computer whiz and shoots 15 our of 15 with this Sig Saur on target at the firing range we've been to.
He's a big bear of a man in a teddy bear way but I'd definitely want him on my side. Not the other way around. The take I get on these French flics is the human side. Maybe it's the beer talking but when I ask them about the case that's most got to them in their careers, it's the look in their eyes, this story they tell and it's not about 'the one who got away or the guy I couldn't put inside but will' it's the human toll they've witnessed at a homicide. I hear those stories; a sociopath's calm and bored recounting of why he murdered his mother and a good samaritan who came to her aid, looking into the faces of a kidnapped victim's family and informing them 'the operation wasn't successfull' after living with them for three weeks, a father who murdered his children and wife then changed his clothes and took the dog for a walk.
I asked one of them 'how do you do this work and not let it affect you, your home life?' He shrugged. 'It's my job, first of all, it's dealing with a dirty side of life everyday. I'm divorced; left the suburbs, the house, the wife and now share our children but right now all I'm thinking about is painting my daughter's room this weekend in our new apartment. And hoping we can agree on a color.' I sense something else behind his eyes and then it's gone.
(btw in January Murder in the Marais is being re-issued and with a new cover)
Cara - Tuesday