Will France's new 'suicide prevention units' be enough to stop police taking their own lives?

Will France's new 'suicide prevention units' be enough to stop police taking their own lives?
By Cristina Abellan Matamoros
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To battle a spike in suicides among its police force, the French government has opened "suicide prevention units" to help police officers. But will they be enough to turn the trend around?

The French government has opened a "suicide prevention unit" in response to the high amount of police officers who have committed suicide so far in 2019.


Police unions have called out the enormous stress that units feel since the start of the Gilets Jaunes (yellow vests) protests in November, which have sometimes turned violent between demonstrators and security forces.

As many as 28 police officers have taken their own lives this year — a sharp rise from the total 35 for the whole of last year, according to interior ministry figures.

"We have to break the fear, break the shame, break the silence," said Interior Minister Christophe Castaner during the opening of the prevention unit in Paris.

He said that officials would evaluate practices and procedures in the police forces of other countries as well as in private companies.

Castaner said that the rising rate of police suicides was linked to the physical and emotional toll of the work but Arnaud Leduc — a police officer in the Parisian region who is now working with the police union — did not agree.

For Leduc, the spike in the suicide rate is more linked to poor working conditions.

"Everything is in poor shape: the material is in bad shape, police stations are in bad shape, even the cars [...] on top of that add the long working hours," said Leduc.

The policeman turned unionist explained that with the current working schedules police officers only got one weekend every six weekends off — but that because of the gilets jaunes protests happening every Saturday, the free weekend was almost always skipped now.

Having a work schedule that never stops with few real breaks coupled with the intensity of the work adds to the problem, said Leduc. "The fact that police officers often don't get enough time with their families has a real psychological impact."

Leduc explained that these problems are not exactly new. Since the 2015 terrorist attacks, activity has been "very intense" because even if there isn't a state of emergency anymore, police are still charged with missions linked to the attacks or in preparation for other attacks.

"Today, we have daily missions for which we have to be very attentive because no matter which individual can be a terrorist and so the level of caution is much higher," he said.


Leduc said that with the gilets jaunes, the amount of work "never ends" and that many protesters make things harder by insulting police officers — the latest insult "go commit suicide" was condemned by police unions — and that it obviously has a bad impact on authorities.

So is the suicide prevention plan put out by Castaner good enough? Leduc doesn't necessarily think so.

"I don't think that a police officer who is about to commit suicide is going to call a 24-hour help hotline."

"We need more social working hours so police officers can spend more time with their families and we also need a better management system that doesn't turn a blind eye to work-related problems," he said.

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