Reform of the judicial police: why are the investigators fighting?


The judicial police, usually silent except on the occasion of the success of major cases, have for some time been in the media and exposed their dissatisfaction to the general public. In question a change of status which, according to the mobilized investigators, risks sacrificing their specificity and their independence on the altar of the security reforms in progress.

Audiences new to police complexity find it difficult to find their way around, both the debates on violence during demonstrations brought to the fore the public order issues as if they were the only ones to report a police problem.

It is true that the difficulty of access to the institution does not make it easy, and a fortiori in sectors where transparency does not necessarily go hand in hand with efficiency and the need for discretion.

Rare pictures

The widely relayed images of investigators from the Judicial Police erecting a wall of silence in front of Frédéric Veaux, the Director General of the National Police (DGPN), during his visit to Marseille have further amplified the more than nascent discontent in the police community. and highlighted the dissatisfaction displayed by these "péjistes" in the face of the reform project announced by Gérald Darmanin, the Minister of the Interior.

The project plans to place all the police departments of a department under the authority of a single Departmental Director of the National Police (DDPN), reporting to the prefect. This would amount to undoing the organization of the judicial police services which have hitherto been regionalized and placing them under a single command directing all police missions at department level (public security, territorial intelligence, border migration and judicial police).

In recent weeks and faced with the announcement of this reform, the investigators of the judicial police fear two major changes: the first relating to their territorial jurisdiction, the second relating to their jurisdiction of attribution.

PC: special skills

With regard to territorial jurisdiction, the fact of being subordinated to a departmentalized entity would cause them to lose the possibility of being able to continue their investigations on the whole of a region and thus be able to respond more effectively to the movements of the actors of organized crime. . It is moreover this desire which had led to the demand for more extensive mobility from the creation of mobile brigades by Clemenceau.

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With regard to the competence of attribution, the stated will of this connection corresponds in fact to an integration into the public security system which, according to article L 111-2 of the internal security code aims to extend local policing throughout the territory to meet people's expectations and needs in terms of security. However, this attachment makes the professionals of the judicial police fear a pure and simple loss of their specificity linked to cases of organized crime and financial crime, the impact of which goes beyond the strict framework of the department.

Until now, the architecture of the police response in terms of the judicial treatment of crimes and misdemeanors has been based on two organisations.

Distinctions sometimes confused by the citizen

Within the general directorate of the national police, there are two directorates in charge of the fight against delinquency. The central direction of the judicial police, also referred to by the abbreviation of "judicial police" or even more simply "PJ" includes central services located at the Ministry of the Interior and Territorial Services for the most serious crimes and misdemeanors ( homicides, armed robberies, international drug trafficking, major financial crime, etc., we then speak of the “top of the spectrum” in terms of crime.

The police officers of the judicial police have a territorial competence which is not limited to the jurisdiction of a department, but extended either to one or more defense zones or parts thereof, or to the whole of the national territory.

On the other hand, the central directorate of public security, represented by the police stations and above all known to all for its interventions within the framework of "police assistance", for the "less serious" crimes and offences, relating to what is modestly described as everyday violence.

This distinction is not always perceived in its reality by the lay citizen in view of the complex structures of the national police.

It is then necessary to probe the professional practices and the specific know-how to consider the gap between the two professions, because it is indeed two professions even if they can be grouped under the generic name of investigation. The time required to resolve a case of organized crime, the techniques and means implemented, the multiplicity of investigations and cross-checks, the procedural complexity cannot be compared with the shorter and simpler treatment reserved for less important matters.

A reform to remedy the shortcomings?

This reform is also perceived by the péjistes as a solution to come to compensate for the failures of the investigation in public safety, where the number of files accentuates an insufficiency of the results compared to the expectations of the population. On this same point, the technicality and know-how of the PJ would be used to raise the level of procedures carried out by public security, whose lower procedural quality is often denounced by magistrates. On these two points, see the enlightening study by criminal lawyer Olivier Cahn in his "Police Chronicle".

So is it a reform whose unacknowledged goal would be to remedy the supposed shortcomings of public security in the hope of increasing results in the fight against delinquency. Or how the will to reduce the functioning in silos of the national police is displayed, presented as an obstacle to a more effective complementarity of services?

The division of labor in the police has always existed precisely because of the diversification of missions which falls to him. It is therefore difficult to envisage a "catch-all" that would bring together investigation, intelligence, public order, daily security... Especially since there are already a certain number of exchange structures within the services to facilitate certain police operations, following the example of what exists in the fight against drug trafficking.

The creation of a new departmental organization which would bring together all of these police specialties and orientations under the direction of a single director, probably from public security, could also pose a problem.

In this new configuration, the investigators of the judicial police, traditionally close to the prosecutor's offices even if they are not structurally attached to them, fear having as their first interlocutor only the direct head of the Departmental Directorate of the National Police (DDPN ), in this case the prefect.

A diffuse feeling of the disappearance of the PJ

The risk of interference from the executive in the conduct of certain investigations, particularly financial ones, and the prioritization of the local and the immediate to the detriment of cases that are more extensive in time and space, make PJ investigators fear the loss of their specificity and in the long term of their existence. Hence the diffuse feeling of the disappearance of the judicial police.

There is then a risk of a rise in tension between colleagues of PJ and colleagues of Public Security, each claiming their prerogatives and their usefulness, contrary to the complementary association that these two entities must maintain within the framework of an effective judicial response. and adapted to the different needs of the field.

Curious reversal of the situation which sees the judicial police threatened in its foundations, whereas originally "this police of crimes and misdemeanors seems dramatically insufficient..." to use the words of the historian Jean-Marc Berliere.

The central offices of the judicial police which are not affected to date by this reform, as well as their colleagues from the Parisian PJ of the "36" gave their support to theNational Association of Judicial Police, created on this occasion for the defense of their profession and their image by the investigators of the PJ of province, first concerned.

Ultimately, one can wonder about the purpose of this reform. Wouldn't it be a question of bringing together the entire investigation service with, at first, an internal division between everyday crime (public security) and serious and organized crime (judicial police) to achieve a merger? pure and simple ? This organization would then make it possible to integrate, in a way, the judicial police into public security, like the late general intelligence that became territorial intelligence within public security, thus confirming the desire to eliminate the silos deemed to be too numerous in the organization of the police.

If this were to be the case, is there not a risk of seeing investigations into serious crime neglected in favor of ordinary crime, leaving the field open to large criminal organizations, that is before everything the PJ sleuths dread.

Jean-Michel Schlosser, Doctor in sociology, associate researcher at CEREP and CESDIP, University of Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines (UVSQ) - University of Paris-Saclay

This article is republished from The Conversation under Creative Commons license. Read theoriginal article.

Image credit: Shutterstock/Leeloona

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