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Why thousands more gendarmes are to be based in rural areas in France

We also look at the differences in the three main police services that operate in the country 

Mobile gendarmes on motorbikes are often used to enforce traffic stops Pic: Radu Razvan / Shutterstock

Two hundred new units of gendarmes and 2,144 personnel are to be deployed throughout France to increase the police presence in rural areas and manage the changing face of crime.

President Macron had promised to create the new units as part of his reelection campaign.

"We have to meet the growing demand for neighbourhood police and gendarmerie in order to strengthen the national network,” said Mr Macron in 2022.

"This is a historic effort,” he added, saying that “more than 500 units were disbanded between 2007 and 2016."

Mr Macron has promised to create an extra 8,500 gendarmes by 2027. 

Why are the new units needed?

Gendarmes, from the term gens d'armes, or men-at-arms, are a military force. While they are still used as armed police, ready to intervene at the command of the Interior Minister, their day to day duties include more mundane activities such as traffic stops on motorways.

There are currently 3,500 units of gendarmes in France with a total of 98,000 gendarmes between them. Each brigade numbers between 6 and 40 gendarmes per unit, or brigade. 

The cuts to gendarmerie numbers under President Sarkozy between 2007 and 2016 led to a shift in the policing landscape that particularly affected rural areas. Many of these places had to increasingly rely on mobile units from larger towns.

This shift contributed to a growing phenomenon in France, similar to the UK’s ‘county lines’, in which drug traffic and violence was exported to rural areas with fewer police and less competition for dealers.

Regional prefectures have been invited to identify where more units of gendarmes are required, with Mr Macron saying that new deployment of 2,144 gendarmes should result in “three or four extra units per department”.

In addition to managing the changing face of crime, France needs to increase its numbers of police and gendarmes to help manage special events such as the Olympic games in 2024.

The recent visits of Pope Francis and King Charles, coinciding with the Rugby World Cup, highlighted the strain that major events can put on France’s security apparatus. 

The combined events required the presence of an extra 30,000 police and gendarmes, with many having to be temporarily withdrawn from regional units.

What is the difference between police and gendarmes?

In France there are three main police services: Gendarmerie, Police nationale and Police municipale.

  • The Gendarmerie is a national force that operates from barracks, with missions typically in rural and suburban areas and on motorways. As a military force, officers are often armed and must be ready to intervene at any time.
  • Police nationale is the police service in large towns that investigates criminal and administrative offences and manages public order violations. Its officers are public officials. Its role overlaps with that of the Gendarmerie.
  • Police municipale is a local police force present in many communes that operates under the guidance of the local authority, typically to maintain public order and enforce local bylaws.

The Police Nationale or the Gendarmerie may be called by dialling 17.

Related articles:

Your views on police in France 

Did you know French police can check on your home while you are away? 

Gendarmes’ 9-point plan to keep your home safe when away on holiday 

France tightens border security 

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