Monday, October 16, 2017

Chickens fly the coop

The chickens flew the coop in Paris. Poulets - a common term for the police and not pejorative  - have left the island of Ile de la Cité, departing their nest at 36 quai des Orfèvres. The Prefecture has been the police judiciare's home for aeons built on the former medieval chicken market, hence the name even today. The PJ is the direct successor of the Sûreté, which was founded in 1812 by Eugène François Vidocq (a thief turned policeman) as the criminal investigative bureau of the Paris police. The Sûreté served later as an inspiration for Scotland Yard, the FBI and other departments of criminal investigation throughout the world. Here's a view from the roof...kind of hard to leave, non?

 An angel guarding the roof of Saint Chapelle and Notre Dame two blocks away.

One of the infamous doorways into the Prefecture. In its modern form, the Parisian PJ was created by a decree by Celestin Hennion, the then préfet de police and father of the elite mobile police units called Brigades du Tigre. Unique for their time, they were created with the support of Georges Clémenceau, who was nicknamed "le tigre" - the Tiger.
The PJ has of late September moved to the Batignolles neighborhood, in a new building shared with the Tribunal de grande instance, Paris's main tribunal (which has moved also from it's former adjoining Court complex on the island). However, for years this move has been criticized because of its cost and the historic status of the 36 which holds the hearts of those who worked there. It's been immortalised in Simenon's books of Inspector Maigret, and so many films.
Built in the 1870's, worse for wear, with it's steeped worn stairways grooved over time, tiny offices and smoke patina'd walls, officers were jammed into offices and cubicles, the attic held scene of crime garments where the blood dried, you found the labs in the basement - where they tested for counterfeit money, the vaulted room of cabinets withfiles upon files of fingerprint cards. Even units overspilling in modulars on the old cobbled courtyards.
The police moved pretty much lock stock and smoking barrel to new quarters. Only leaving the RAID group - big men in black - to
remain at 36 quai des Orfèvres. RAID's the elite Police Special Forces unit of the French National Police.
 Here's the RAID brigade having coffee next door to the grand Tribunal. I think they got to stay because big guys like these who do Counter-Terrorism work and Hostage recovery situations like to rule their own bit of the roost.
Plus, the old Prefecture is in the heart of Paris and RAID teams need to access quickly. You can see the arrondissement with a 1 which is smack dab in the centre. At the very edges of the 17th arrondissement is the Batignolles location and new 'nest' -
Map of Paris with it's 20 arrondissements.
“This was a move that had to happen, the building has never been adapted to our work," said Claude Cancès, a former director. "When we were on the third or fourth floor, one had the impression of being in an old rusted ocean liner. But, it was a mythical place, all the officers dreamed of working one day at the Crim’. In a little more than 100 years, the building saw a lot of Paris pass between its walls, among them the biggest criminals in France. Serial killers Dr. Petiot, Guy Georges and Thierry Paulin have climbed the famous 148 steps.
"It's the end of an era," said Jean-Claude Mules retired head of Brigade Criminelle who oversaw the Princess Diana investigation. "That was my life, so much of it, and part of my's gone." He'd attended the leaving fête, but hadn't been to the new HQ yet...why? I haven't been invited. He let out an old man's sigh. Maybe he doesn't want to visit. So far the news about the new 'nest' has been sparse and guarded. Patrick, who I hung out with in a Saint Germain café last November is a Brigade Criminelle inspector and says he's so busy getting used to the place.
Seventeen hundred people work there and there are only three elevators. An incident happened and it took the brigade too long to get to central Paris with traffic. Of course, there was the usual complaint...a member of the brigade had fumed  - no cars were available and they were stuck out in the new Prefecture.
Geographically it's at the edge by ring road in northwest Paris designed by a famous architect. One officer said, "The new building is modern, but it has no soul. It looks like a hospital. “
What do you think?
But let's time travel back to November when I visited 36 quai des Orfèvres on Ile de la Cité and the chickens were in the nest.
Here's another view from the roof
Here's a glimpse underground with the former cells - the DEPOT,  police booking desk, and souriciere the ancient tunnel leading from the cells to the Tribunal.

What will happen with 36 quai des Orfèvres? It's prime real estate, full of history and no doubt, ghosts.
Cara - Tuesday


  1. What a moving piece, Cara. So much history left behind. So many questions about what went into the choice of the new locale. How many changes, large and small, this will bring into the lives of Parisians. Thanks for taking us chickens there!

    1. Thanks, AMA. Yes, these chickens are trying to feather their new sterile's actually in a great new park built over the old rail lines.

  2. Police Scotland did try out a Fast Action Response Team. Immediately known as the FART squad and promptly renamed!

    1. Caro, snorting coffee up the nose laughing at this...not a pretty site.