At the end of January, a 28-year-old woman was found strangled to death in her apartment in Paris. His partner, a police officer who had already been convicted of domestic violence, the main suspect in the murder, has still not been found. While research continues, many women’s rights groups are denouncing a broken system. FRANCE 24 investigates what happens when a police officer is accused of domestic violence.
On January 28, a young woman was found dead in the Paris apartment she shared with a 29-year-old police officer named Arnaud B., who had not shown up that day at the Blanc-Mesnil police station where he is in office. Fifteen days later, he still has not been found by local authorities.
“He is in possession of his service weapon and a black commando-style backpack,” reads an appeal for witnesses launched by the Paris police headquarters on February 10. “The policeman is driving a white Peugeot 208 in poor condition. […] and is likely to travel across the country. Many women’s rights groups on social media have criticized police for taking so long to make the call, post a photo of the suspect and reveal his name, especially since he is armed.
This is not the first time that police officer Arnaud B. has been known to have committed acts of domestic violence. In October 2019, he was placed in police custody for violence against his partner at the time. Instead of facing prosecution, he was given the option of taking a domestic violence awareness course and he received a simple warning which was not recorded in his criminal record.
An administrative investigation by the IGPN (General Inspectorate of the National Police, alias the police force) was opened to determine whether the policeman, known for his psychological fragility, was fit to carry a weapon.
We learn of the 12th feminicide.
On Friday January 28, in Paris, a man killed his company. He is a police officer already known for acts of domestic violence committed on another person. He had made an awareness step. However, he has just killed his company. pic.twitter.com/5DvVcc1wCe
— #WeAll (@WeAllOrg) January 29, 2022
The case marks the 12th known femicide since the start of the year in France, where it is estimated that a woman is killed by an ex or current partner every three days.
“What is not counted does not count”
The fact that Arnaud B. was previously convicted of domestic violence but continued to serve as a police officer has reignited a recent debate in France over whether the police are being prosecuted fairly and whether it is acceptable for them to continue to deal with complaints from other victims when they themselves have been charged.
In July 2021, a petition imploring the Ministry of the Interior to create a register of all police officers and gendarmes with a history of domestic violence was launched by women’s rights organizations. The plea was released after it was revealed that the police officer in charge of handling Chahinez Daoud’s domestic violence complaint had written an illegible report which was never properly forwarded to judicial authorities. He had also been given an eight-month suspended prison sentence for domestic violence.
Daoud was killed by her ex-husband on May 4, 2021, two months after filing a complaint. The officer, along with five other colleagues, are going through disciplinary hearings for “administrative failures”.
In response to the mishandling of Daoud’s complaint and the policeman’s violent past, Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said any policeman convicted of domestic violence should no longer be in contact with the public in an interview with the newspaper Le Parisian from August 1, 2021.
But for many women’s rights activists, that’s not enough. “The problem is the law of silence”, deplores Stéphanie Lamy, co-founder of Abandon de Famille – Tolérance Zéro, an association fighting against economic violence against women. His organization started the petition.
“[Domestic violence by police] is not recognized as a systemic problem, which it is. That’s why we need the record. It’s about raising awareness and being able to identify those who are involved in cases of violence against women, to make us aware of the extent of the phenomenon,” she told FRANCE 24. “What is not counted does not count.
There are no statistics to know how many police officers or gendarmes have been perpetrators of domestic violence in France. But in 2016, the National Solidarity Women Federation recorded 115 phone calls to the national hotline (3919) by spouses of police officers or gendarmes who had been raped. A worrying figure considering that only 1,210 calls recorded the author’s profession that year, according to the French newspaper Liberation.
‘I am the law’
When a police officer in France is known to be the perpetrator of domestic violence, it is because a complaint has been filed against him. What happens next and whether their crime will impact their work varies on a case-by-case basis, as there are no automatic procedures or protocols in place for police officers or constables convicted of domestic violence.
But filing a complaint is extremely daunting for victims in the first place. “Especially when the aggressor is a member of the police,” explains Sophie Boutboul, author of a 2019 investigative book on victims of domestic violence by police officers entitled Silence, knock (Silence, knocking).
Victims are often targeted with threats of power, which trigger additional fears, she says. “[Police or gendarmes] say things like “I’m the law” or “it’s your word against mine” or that the victim’s complaint will eventually end up on their desk, (or) that they are authorized, sworn and know the prosecutor. These are just a few examples that I have heard in the testimonies that I have collected.
If a victim of domestic violence manages to work up the courage to report to the police, there is only a 20% chance that their complaint will be accepted by the prosecutor.
Once in the hands of the prosecutor, it is up to the courts to issue an appropriate sentence. And even with a conviction, as was the case for Arnaud B. and the officer in charge of Daoud’s complaint, a member of the police can remain in service.
“There is also preferential treatment for the accused,” says Boutboul. “It can be access to a telephone, the deletion of certain documents in the procedure, a minimization of the facts… I have also seen many convictions which were not registered in the criminal record of an officer. And even when they are registered, it is up to the hierarchy to take care of them. Heads of service, superintendents, brigade leaders find themselves with a case-by-case policy and with all the responsibility on their shoulders when one of their collaborators is implicated for domestic violence.
For Boutboul, as for Stéphanie Lamy, domestic violence within the police is a systemic problem that requires a systemic solution. It’s one that has far-reaching implications, starting with the safety women feel in the hands of the authorities.
“We must be wary of the police and gendarmes who are the perpetrators and who continue to work in the complaints department”, insists Boutboul, “because, suddenly, the treatment of other victims of domestic violence will be biased”.