Special Report: In France, minority communities decry a surge in police fines

Special Report: In France, minority communities decry a surge in police fines

Special Report: In France, minority communities decry a surge in police fines
Dec 06, 2022 3 mins, 0 secs

By the time he returned, he had incurred more than 900 euros in fines for nine different infractions without once, he said, coming into contact with a police officer.

The 27-year-old from the Paris suburb of Epinay-sous-Senart said he learned of the fines about a week later, when he received notifications in the post. His alleged offences, which he is contesting, include violating COVID-19 lockdown rules and lacking correct headlights on his quad bike, according to the notices he received from an interior ministry agency reviewed by Reuters.

Those include greater authority for police to issue fines – a power police have seized upon.

A Reuters review of census-related and some fine-related police data from across France reveals that police have fined people at higher rates in areas with the heaviest percentages of immigrants.

In Epinay-sous-Senart, Assam’s town, a Reuters review of data from more than two years of police reports recording incidents involving at least one fine found more than 80% of those incidents occurred in two adjacent neighborhoods where residents say many ethnic minority families live.

Of the 478 police reports that recorded fines from April 2018 to July 2020, 403 were from that part of town, according to the local police data, which Reuters obtained via a freedom of information request.

That is about 40% higher than the rate of other areas, where police issued almost 42 fines per 1,000 people.

But it’s not possible to prove discrimination, she said, without data showing that police treat people of varying ethnicities differently.

It was in this and an adjacent neighborhood where police issued the vast majority of fines over the more than two-year period Reuters reviewed.

About one-fifth of the recipients were fined in three or more incidents, according to the police data Reuters obtained.

Reuters also examined the contents of the police reports, which revealed some people received multiple fines for the same incident.

The reports also showed many fines were issued under local decrees banning outdoor gatherings and allowing police to stop people in specified areas.

Hassan Bouchouf received fines on more than two dozen occasions, according to the town’s fine data.

Bouchouf owes the treasury more than 20,000 euros for fines received between 2017 and 2020, according to a treasury summary dated Aug.

The Essonne police department didn’t respond to questions about the fines received by Assam and Bouchouf.

Epinay-sous-Senart’s police have been less active in issuing fines since the arrival of a new mayor and police chief in the summer of 2020, according to the mayor, two police officers and more than a dozen residents interviewed by Reuters.

Damien Allouch, the town’s center-left mayor elected in June 2020, told Reuters that police continue to issue fines where necessary but said anti-social behavior can be addressed through other means.

Allouch didn’t respond to questions about the earlier police data Reuters obtained from the municipality.

He said that during lockdown, police were applying COVID-related rules set by the government and that a core group of people who received multiple fines were well known to police.

Gandin said that police harassed young people in the neighborhood and that she intends to argue that this provocation justifies a lighter sentence.

Separately, Assam has contested the nine fines from his supermarket trip, plus four others from April and May 2020, on various grounds, including that he wasn’t stopped by officers in all cases and that police reports contained insufficient detail, Gandin said.

The fines were issued for antisocial behavior, such as making noise, and lockdown breaches between 2017 and 2021, according to the treasury summaries and fine notices shared with Reuters or the lawyers.

That prompted a review by the prosecutor’s office, which found that police had issued fines to Assam remotely, that person said.

But it told Reuters that after reviewing a 2020 complaint about remote fines, the local prosecutor sent mayors a letter to remind police of the rules.

The letter, reviewed by Reuters, said that lockdown-related “fines can only be issued after direct contact with the person.”.

“This confirms that the prosecutor is perfectly aware that there has been remote fining” and the fines are “not legal because they cannot be issued without physical contact,” Gandin, Assam’s lawyer, told Reuters.

But she said the problem with fines is that they can be issued arbitrarily and are difficult to challenge.

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