Pam Barker | Director of TLB Europe Reloaded Project
The rate of police suicides was brought into sharp focus this past weekend when an off-duty policeman in the northern Paris suburb of Sarcelles (see image) took his own life as well as those of two others after committing other violent acts. See ‘French police officer kills three before committing suicide‘. This brings the rate of police suicides to 46 for 2017, in addition to 16 gendarmes. The government is seeking to minimize it, interpreting the phenomenon as an expression of personal issues, but the following interview shows the increasing strain French police have come under – for a variety of reasons – amid the wave of terror attacks since 2015. ER also recommends this recent Daily Express piece, ‘Why are French police committing suicide in record numbers?‘
French cop who attempted suicide twice tells why more colleagues take their own life
Aurelie hides her face from the camera and will not disclose her real name. She has served in law enforcement for more than two decades, after joining at the age of 19. There was a time when she was very excited about her job. But then the pressure of it became harder and harder to bear.
“They always say that these are personal issues. We must stop saying that,” Aurelie tells RT’s Charlotte Dubenskij. “Police officers are traumatized by their work. They decide to commit suicide more easily than the others. Why? Not because they have weapons on them. How many of them hang themselves, throw themselves under trains, take pills? My female colleague, 49 years old, killed herself last week with a hunting rifle.”
Aurelie attempted to kill herself twice, with the latest incident coming just seven months ago. She does not deny there was a personal aspect to it: “I was considered a trouble-maker. I also had problems in my private life and with my children. I felt abandoned. You spend your entire life to build your personal and professional life – and one day you say to yourself: everything would be better without me.”
But the personal troubles were worsened by professional burnout. Although a nearly two-year state of emergency in France ended recently with President Emmanuel Macron’s tough counterterrorism law, the impact it had on the police was vast.
“We suffered enormously physically and psychologically from the terrorist attacks. We worked extremely hard – but that was our duty. What was really bad was that we were not given the tools to fight terrorism. Some police officers received new weapons, some received training – but not all of us. The measures that they introduced were miniscule.”
Aurelie also blames the government for the French police force’s tarnished image.
“Our administration is taking decisions and the people’s anger is turning against us. We are suffering from the image our government created for us. Today many people are calling for policemen to be killed.”
It was Aurelie’s children who helped her to pull through eventually. “I realized that my child will come home that day – and it saved my life. But the lack of humanity in police nowadays leads to the situation when many of my colleagues prefer to die instead of fighting.”
But dozens of other police officers have succumbed to the extreme pressures they face. This month, the French Interior Ministry revealed figures on police suicides, saying 2017 alone has seen 46 officers and 16 members of the gendarmerie take their lives. Last weekend, another officer committed suicide after going on a killing rampage.
“Faced with daily human misery, violence and with the worst that can be found in humans, police can no longer stand this lack of respect, a factor in coming closer to the dramatic act [of suicide],”said the SGP police union.
General secretary of the National Police Commissioners’ Union (NPCS), Céline Berthon, added her thoughts. “Police and gendarmes have been very busy defending others for two years, maybe that has led them to taking less care about themselves and maybe it has also led to exhaustion,” she said.
In the past, the grim statistics of some 85 suicides in 2014 triggered the then interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, to unveil a set of measures aimed at cutting the numbers. These included recruitment of additional psychologists, lockers for storing service firearms after work, as well as a change to working hours. The number of suicides went down after that, but apparently not for long, as the 2017 statistics show. For officers such as Aurelie and many like her, the struggle will continue until their voices are heard and the strain they are under is properly addressed.
ER recommends other articles by RT
Inserted photo: Police patrol the scene in Sarcelles. Photo: Thomas Samson/AFP