More and more rural communities are turning to CCTV and video surveillance technology to help combat rising crime.
Rural mayors in south east France are the latest to adopt such technology, with plans under way for a centralised surveillance hub that can monitor several locations at once.
Centralised system more affordable for rural towns
The Alpes-Maritimes-based project will use the existing systems at an administrative centre near Nice.
There, trained officers will continually examine CCTV footage from multiple locations simultaneously.
Cannes mayor David Lisnard, who is also president of the French mayors’ association, and Jérôme Viaud, mayor of Grasse, have both backed the plan.
As well as surveillance, the videoprotection hub also aims to offer a ‘single market’ for mayors in the area’s rural towns, with standardised equipment, enabling them to afford the security system.
Around 10 municipalities are already interested in signing up to the project.
Elected officials increasingly targeted with abuse
More than 300 locations across the country experienced violence this summer, following rioting in Paris after the shooting of a teenager by police.
Mayors in rural areas have also been targeted with verbal and, increasingly, physical abuse in recent years.
In the first three months of this year, 900 acts of violence against elected officials were reported.
In Indre, in central France, where 95% of the 241 communes are rural, mayors have called on the government to do more to help elected officials deal with the problem.
Cameras installed in rural towns after vandalism and violence
In recent years, more rural communes have installed video protection systems after violent incidents.
These include a series of arson attacks on cars in Thouars, in Deux-Sèvres, and a violent robbery in Solignac-sur-Loire, in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, during which a woman in her eighties was gassed.
For Éric Briens, mayor of Saint-Sauveur-le-Vicomte in Normandy, the tipping point came more than two years ago, after a spate of vandalism that extended to a local medieval chateau. The total damage was €23,000.
Seventeen cameras were later installed in the village, home to 2,000 people, with eight more recently added.
“They have been a great success,” Mr Briens told The Connexion.
“It is, however, a videoprotection system, not one of surveillance. Gendarmes must submit a request to see images.”
When asked if he would sign up for a central hub, similar to the Alpes-Maritimes scheme, he replied: “No, because our priorities are a little different.
“Our cameras are for protecting buildings and residents.
“They can also be used to teach people. For example, when someone took down a road signal in front of the mairie, the culprit was tracked down. They admitted responsibility and apologised.”
Disproportionate rise in some crimes in rural areas
Almost all types of crime increased across France in 2022, compared to the previous year, official figures show.
Nationwide, vandalism against property increased by 12%, and burglaries by 11%.
Domestic violence and sexual assault increased by 17% and 11% respectively, while drug trafficking was up 5%.
Meanwhile, a 2021 study said almost a quarter of all recorded cases of burglary, sexual violence and intentional domestic assault occurred in rural communities.
This is despite only 33% of the country’s population living in these areas.
Environmental crimes also increased by 7% between 2016 and 2021, according to data from the Gendarmerie and national police. One third related to animals, while 13% covered hunting and fishing offences.
Mobile police units launched
In October, President Emmanuel Macron announced the creation of 239 new brigades of Gendarmerie between now and 2027 to support rural and peri-urban areas.
Two-thirds of these new brigades will be mobile units. The first is expected to be deployed this month.
Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said people felt less insecure when they saw officers on the ground.
The number of people feeling insecure in France has remained stable, at around 11%, for almost 15 years, according to state statistics agency Insee.
A map listing crime statistics by department and commune, including burglary, vandalism and car theft, can be found here.