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Gendarmerie Nationale

One of the peculiarities of the organization of the French armed forces is the existence of the Gendarmerie Nationale [National Police] as a distinct service under the Interior Ministry. Security of the territory of France itself is primarily in the hands of the Gendarmerie Nationale (National Military Police Force), which carries out security missions jointly with other (local) police forces. The Gendarmerie is a military police force, almost the size of the Army, tasked on the national territory to enforce law and order in rural areas, providing homeland intelligence and defense, as well as dealing with mob control with mobile units. Abroad, it fulfills the traditional supporting missions of a military police. It was thus naturally the best-suited service to address the issue of popular violence.

The Direction Generale de la Gendarmerie Nationale (Directorate-General of the National Gendarmerie, or DGGN) is a paramilitary police force that operates on a national scale exclusively in a uniformed role. It has its own maritime and air branches and serves as mountain and speleological rescue units. The GN is now involved in every aspect of national defense and the prevention and repression of crime. Although the brigades are the organic cells of the GN, specialist units have been created to meet particular challenges, such as surveillance and terrorism. Operations are conducted with the most modern resources available; full use is made of electronic equipment at all levels.

The DGGN national police organization that represents a unique counterterrorism capability, able to blend law enforcement provisions, including investigative resources and power of arrest, with military tools and tactics, covering both internal and extraterritorial jurisdictions. The French legal system in terrorist matters is designed on a framework of specialized magistrates and prosecutors who deal exclusively with terrorism issues. The magistrates independently select the strategy of the investigation or prosecution based upon knowledge of the threat and the specific circumstances of the case. Under French law, the investigating magistrate has the power to hold a terrorist suspect for longer than many other countries while a case is being investigated to mitigate the threat to French security. The validity of information presented by either the prosecution or the defense is evaluated by the magistrate without disclosure of the source.

France has two national police forces -- the 108,000-member [1982] Police Nationale and the 82,938-member [1982] Gendarmerie Nationale. The latter polices the countryside and the small towns, and the former operates in large urban centers. The Gendarmerie evolved as a military force, followed by the establishment of the Police Nationale in service to civilian authorities. Civilian authorities may not call upon the services of the Gendarmerie without a formal request for assistance. The two forces closely cooperate, especially in criminal investigations.

France's 96 departments (counties) are subdivided into arrondissements, where the Gendarmerie companies are stationed. Companies are made up of brigades, which vary in number from 7 to 20, depending on population density. Directly under the company commander are a headquarters group, the investigation section, and the surveillance and intervention platoon (can be used to reinforce the work of brigades). Gendarmes are housed rent-free in barracks with their families and are available 24 hours a day. Brigade commanders are responsible for public order within their area and for the gathering and collation of potentially useful criminal information, for the investigation of all crimes and for the welfare of their men and families. They also organize on-the-job training of newly appointed Gendarmes and promote cooperation with other brigades and neighboring Police Nationale units. Gendarmes patrol their beats in Renault 4L cars and customized Renault Estafette vans, which are used as mobile command posts. Gendarmes carry automatic pistols; submachine guns may be issued for special missions.

Although gendarmes live in barracks, they have succeeded in being an integral part of the communities they serve through school visits and the sponsorship of community events. The work of gendarmes is difficult because of the permanent availability of all personnel, but there is no difficulty in attracting high quality recruits. The achievement level of the GN is largely attributable to the quality of its ongoing training and the cooperation it elicits from the public, which generally perceives the GN to be disciplined, efficient, and fair.

The Gendarmerie Nationale invests half of its time dealing with general policing which main mission is to keep order, and ensure public safety. These missions, with a prominent preventive aspect, depend on the decisions of the public authorities entitled to enforce the law : the mayors and the préfets. The gendarmerie enforces the authorizations and the restrictions made by these authorities. In fact general policing is by definition the heart of the gendarmerie's daily job. The surveillance of the territory and the mission that get along with it are a way to make the gendarmerie visible, thus deterring individuals to commit crimes.The fear of the gendarme, a reality in France, is peculiarly efficient when dealing with road policing.

The GIGN [Groupe d'Intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale - Intervention Group of the National Gendarmerie] is a highly trained unit specialized in negotiation, crisis situations, operational intervention, observation and protection. Its primary mission is to tackle terrorism and organized crime as well as protect the key interests of France (on French soil or abroad) when they are directly threatened. This unit directly depends on the head of the gendarmerie, making it an important and reliable unit and a responsive one as well. Under the orders of a general officer and working with two headquarters (operational and support), the GIGN comprises 5 competences : 3 operational forces, different and additional : Intervention, Observation, Protection ; 1 supportive force : providing the equipment and the abilities necessary for the 3 previous ones , 1 training center. Highly skilled, its staff is recruited according to very selective criteria. The main training is based on intervention. They specialize in other domains after 2 to 3 years.

Favoring the contact with the population, night and day, the divisional gendarmerie (gendarmerie départementale in French) contributes to the general public safety. It is 66,000 person strong and is a real community policing force which carries out all the assignments of the French Gendarmerie (general policing, judicial and military missions). It is divided into divisional and special units. The Divisional gendarmerie group unit (groupement) is the commanding echelon at the " département " 1 level. It is subdivided into Divisional gendarmerie companies (BCU in England) at the " arrondissement " 2 level. The latter are subdivided into stations, which work either autonomously or within a pool.

The "gendarmerie mobile" is a 17,000 person strong force which is mainly in charge of public order under any circumstances. It often participates in the general public safety alongside the divisional gendarmerie. The "gendarmerie mobile " is divided into groupements and squadrons. The groupements gather from 4 to 7 squadrons. A squadron comprises about 120 personnel under the orders of a captain. The squadron, basic command unit of the mobile gendarmerie, comprises 120 personnel. It is composed of 5 platoons, including a swat platoon. The latter deals with the most critical situations, mostly apprehending dangerous criminals. The mobile gendarmerie which main assignment is public order can also assist the divisional gendarmerie in its law enforcement missions.

A specialized unit of the Gendarmerie Nationale, the Republican Guard is in charge of the full protocole assignments of the French state. But it only represents 20% of its operational activities, the remaining 80% are dedicated to security, protection and intervention.

A marine policing unit, the maritime gendarmerie is one of the specialized gendarmeries. It operates for many authorities : The French navy chief of staff ; The sea prefects, who coordinate the action of the French state on the sea ; the Procurators. When needed the maritime gendarmerie can help the divisional gendarmerie or other departments of the gendarmerie according to its competences and knowledge. In the European legal framework, it is one of the major actors of border policing working alongside the UK, Spain, Belgium, and others.

Working in the French Air Force airbases, the air gendarmerie is a specialized gendarmerie, working under the orders of the French Air Force chief of staff. It operates general policing, as well as miltary policing and criminal investigations on the air bases and the facilities of the French Air Force on domestic soil, overseas and abroad. It has an exlusive competence in investigating military aircrashes. Protecting and securing the air space comprises the ongoing surveillance, the control of the facilities, air bases and their premices and intelligence gathering ; Advising the administrative authorities on policing and protecting and securing issues is the second mission ; General and military policing as well as CI assignments are operated within and outside (personnel and equipment) the air bases and their facilities. The air gendarmerie is investigating the military aircrashes (French or foreign) happening on French territory. Sometimes they investigate abroad on special request of the magistrates according to international agreements. They can also support the divisional gendarmerie or other specialized gendarmeries when needed, especially the air transport and the maritime gendarmeries.

A specialized gendarmerie, the air transport gendarmerie is working within the French civil aviation. It is acting under the direct orders of the General Directorate of the French civil aviation since April 28, 2006. It is operating within the restricted areas of the international hubs, airports and airfields. General assignments include general policing, mainly intelligence gathering in the fields of counter-terrorism and environmental scanning ; CI (of which tackling illegal work). Specific assignments are : Airport security : it is a permanent and a prioritary mission. Its purpose is to protect the personnel, the facilities and the airplanes of the French civil aviation against sabotage, bombings or hijackings. Air police : noticing air crashes, control of the aircrafts, noticing the infrigements to air regulations ; Controlling the airport managers, the air companies and the companies working within the restricted area of an airport (luggage, cargo, catering).

A specialized gendarmerie, the weaponry gendarmerie operates for the French State organization in charge of weapon programs (a.k.a Délégation générale à l'armement or DGA) carrying out the maintenance of security in the facilities of the DGA. Within these facilities, the weaponry gendarmerie fills all the attributions of the divisional gendarmerie and has particular assignments in protection and security. It can apprehend any person (civilian or military) present on the premises of the DGA.

The heavy casualties sustained initially by the Gendarmerie forces in Mitrovica (Kosovo) demonstrated the need for a specific concept addressing the issue of the upper end of the scale of popular violence in a hostile and volatile environment. The principles of the new French doctrine and the lessons learned in Bosnia and Kosovo have thus led to a joint doctrinal development.




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