ID checks in France

Published on 02/06/2020

Low threshold for initiating a control
“Two North Africans in their twenties, dressed in summer clothes come towards us to ask directions to Part-Dieu [the main train station and shopping center in Lyon]. ‘Hey, where are you from?’ the police officer who was asked the question replies. The young person is not really surprised and responds: ‘I’m Moroccan.’ The police officer: ‘Oh yeah? Cool! Got any shit?’ ’No,’ the young man replies. ‘Do you two have your papers on you? I’ll answer your question after.’ ’Yes,’ the young men reply. ‘Well, I want to see them.’ They come from Toulon and have come to see a friend in Lyon. The officer looks at their ID cards and hands them back. ‘It’s your lucky day, no pat down. The station’s over there.’ Everyone says goodbye in a polite and happy way.”
(Field journal, Uniformed squad with a anti-crime mandate, near a deal zone)

“We are on the outskirts of housing project M., in a two-way street. All of a sudden, the watch commander tells the driver to make a U-turn and chase a red Clio we have just crossed paths with. The car is intercepted at the next traffic light. Two 25-year-old North-Africans in track suits are in it. Both policemen proceed to check IDs while the commander searches the vehicle […] I ask the commander what made him suspicious and prompted him to stop the vehicle. ‘The passenger was looking downwards, his head bent, as if counting money. […] It’s the attitude. People who avoid us, pretending not to see us, small things like that.’”
(Field journal, plain-clothes squad, sensitive area)

Asserting authority through controls
“It is 8:30 PM and the three officers decide to head towards S. Road to see if a group of ‘merdeux’ (to use their terms) who have a habit of hanging around near an estate are there and to check them if need be. On the spot, three North Africans of around 18, 24, and 28 years respectively, are gathered at the foot of a block of flats. One of them, the 24-year-old, is holding on to a scooter in bad condition and without a number plate, with the engine running. The officers carry out their checks. The young man is a bit annoyed by the checks. ‘Is this for noise?’ he asks. ‘No, no we were just passing,’ one of the officers replies. ‘Oh, so on the off chance,’ the young man responds. ‘Yeah, that’s it, always on the off chance,’ the 18-year-old of the group jokes.”
(Field journal, Patrol unit, sensitive area)

“We entered the estate on foot. A young North African of 16-17 years old is at the bottom of a tower block, in discussion with another young person of the same profile, at the window of an apartment on the second floor. The one in the road calls out: ‘There’s cops coming. The Asian and the blond one!’ He leaves in the opposite direction to us. The officers pick up the pace and catch up with him. ‘Is it me you called the Asian? Got your papers?’ The youth does not have them and clearly shows that it is not important to him. He has a perpetual smirk. The Asian officer starts: ‘You know we can take you to the precinct to verify your identity?’”
(Field journal, Uniformed unit with an order maintenance mandate, sensitive area)


Managing (Potentially) Tense Interactions
“The police spot a 16-year-old North-African walking on the side-walk, in a residential, low-traffic area. He is wearing a track suit. They stop him to check his ID. […] The police call the the station to perform all the necessary checks. […] We spend long minutes waiting while nothing is happening. The youth, though not particularly upset, starts displaying some signs of impatience. ‘It’s humiliating, all these people passing by are watching me.’, he claims. ‘Come on, they don’t care at all, there’s nothing humiliating’, the sergeant replies knowingly.”
(Field journal, plain-cloth unit, city centre)

“We set up a static operation next to the turnstiles of an underground station to perform ID checks. A young European-looking male, 20 years old or so, dressed as a blue-collar worker, is stopped by the sergeant, who asks him to stand against the wall. ‘What do you want from me, I’m coming back from work!’, the young man protests. The sergeant firmly tells him to quiet down immediately and asks whether he is carrying anything dangerous or illegal. Still upset, the youth replies that he doesn’t and hands out his ID card after having been searched. ‘Why are you stopping me, I’m just coming out of work, going home, I’m exhausted.’ ‘I am allowed to do it, Sir, we’re going to make some checks and then you may leave’, the officer replies quite firmly.”
(Field journal, Transport Police, city centre)

“We see three youths who start running for no apparent reason, we ‘chase’ them in the car, they finally scatter but we manage to stop one of them. He is a minor and very nervous.
— ‘Why were you running like that?’
— ‘Well, I was running, that’s all.’
— ‘You got an ID?’
— ‘No, don’t have it with me.’
Security body search by one of the uniformed officers.
The youth starts to lose patience: ‘Come on, now, I didn’t do anything! What’s going on here?’
Sergeant: ‘Keep calm, boy, do as you’re told and everything’s gonna be OK.’
The youth gives his name, address, and date of birth.
He answers in an aggressive, nervous, very curt fashion. Talking to the sergeant: ‘But you know me, Sir, I live over there!’
‘Yes, I do know you, I know your family. Everything’s fine, it’s just that we saw you running, we simply wanted to check, no worries.’
(Field journal, Uniformed unit with an order maintenance mandate, sensitive area)


For more information, read:
De Maillard, J., Hunold, D., Roché, S., Oberwittler, D., « Different styles of policing: discretionary power in street control in France and Germany », Policing & Society, 28 (2), 2018, p. 175-188.
De Maillard, J., Zagrodzki, M., « Styles de police et légitimité policière. La question des contrôles », Droit et Société, n°97, 2017, p. 485-501.


(Credits: Image downloaded from the official Twitter account of the Police Nationale 62 du Pas-de-Calais @PoliceNat62)

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