During the tourist season this summer in Paris, police from Germany, Holland, Belgium, Bulgaria, Bosnia and Romania will patrol the streets with their French counterparts – but not yet officers from China despite the support of the Minister of the Interior.
In early May, Bernard Cazeneuve proposed the introduction of at least a dozen French-speaking Chinese officers to walk with Parisian colleagues, in uniform but without arms, and protect the thousands of Chinese visitors from robbery, pickpockets, mugging and other crimes. His proposal was reported by the People’s Daily and other mainland media.
At stake is one of the most important groups of foreign tourists. Last year nearly 1.5 million Chinese visited France, spending nearly 600 million euros (US$815 million); Paris is their favorite destination.
But a spate of attacks – and their wide coverage in the mainland media – has damaged this glamorous image and made the government fearful of losing this river of gold. This led the minister to make his proposal.
But Bernard Boucault, the city’s police chief, has ruled out the presence of Chinese police for this summer at least. “It requires a deeper knowledge of the technical, administrative and organizational issues than the two sides have at the moment,” he said.
“But our project foresees the welcome of Chinese officers, evidently not to play the role of policemen but to improve better welcome of tourists to this country and facilitate their relations with the French police in case of difficulty,” he said.
Chinese spend an average of 1,300 euros, much of it on designer goods, and usually carry large amounts of cash; this makes them an easy prey for attack. In March 2013, a group of 23 Chinese were robbed in a restaurant in Le Bourget, a northern suburb, just after their arrival; they were robbed of 7,500 euros in cash, as well as plane tickets and passports. The thefts occur, often with violence, outside luxury stores, in front of monuments and in restaurants.
Central Paris is the scene of organized gangs of thieves and pickpockets, many of them children, from eastern Europe and the Balkans; they harass tourists with fake petitions or demands for charity. This is one reason why the city has invited officers from Romania, Bosnia and Bulgaria.
The city government is working hard to improve safety for visitors and its image overseas. It has published a guide “Paris in all security” in eight languages, including Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Arabic and Russian, and made it available in police stations and tourism offices. It has put versions in Chinese and English online.
This year 25 officers will patrol the Champs Elysees, the main shopping street; and teams in the main tourist districts will be increased by 20 percent from last year, with two mobile stations added.
“The image of the capital has been degraded these last years,” said the city police. “But, because of our improved measures, complaints in and around the Louvre last year fell to an average of 40 a month during the busy season, compared with 170 in 2012. We are working closely with foreign embassies, including that of China.”
Joint patrols with police from other EU countries have been taking place since 2008 – but never one with those from outside the EU.
The minister’s proposal was welcomed by the police unions. “Some tourists speak only Mandarin,” said Christophe Crepin, of the Unsa-Police union. “Chinese officers could translate, ask good questions and help us to arrest rapidly the thieves. The French police have everything to gain by collaborating with foreign police in the fight against organised crime.”
But representatives of the opposition right-wing UMP in the city oppose the idea. “This is a sign of our incapacity,” said Philippe Goujon, deputy mayor of the 15th arrondissement. “The Chinese police have a different method, a different culture and a different idea of police action [to ours]. To see them in uniform would be a step back.”
Jeanne d’Hauteserre, mayor of the 8th Arrondisement which includes Les Champs Elysees, said that having Chinese police would not be a good solution. “It would be ridiculous. It would give the impression that the French police cannot guarantee the security of tourists.”
Marie Holzman, president of the Solidarity China association, said that the presence of Chinese police would be both useless and a dishonor for France. “They would use their presence here to spy on dissidents living in Paris. It would be enough to place Chinese-speakers at strategic tourist spots.”
The writer is a Hong Kong-based journalist and author.
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