In late January, a 28-year-old woman was found strangled to death in her apartment in Paris. Her partner, a police officer who had previously been convicted on domestic abuse charges, the main suspect in the murder, has still not been found. While the search continues, many women’s rights groups are calling out a broken system. FRANCE 24 investigates what happens when a police officer is charged with domestic abuse.
On January 28, a young woman was found dead in the Paris apartment she shared with a 29-year-old police officer called Arnaud B., who had not reported for duty that day at the Blanc-Mesnil police station where he is posted. Fifeen days later, he has yet to be found by local authorities.
“He is in possession of his service weapon and a black commando-type backpack,” reads an appeal for witnesses issued by the Paris police headquarters on February 10. “The police officer is driving a white Peugeot 208 in poor condition […] and is likely to be travelling throughout the country.” Many women's rights groups on social media criticised the police for taking so long to issue the appeal, publish a photo of the suspect and reveal his name, especially given he is armed.
It is not the first time police officer Arnaud B. is known to have committed acts of domestic violence. In October 2019, he was placed in police custody for violence against his partner at the time. Instead of facing prosecution, he was given the choice to complete an awareness-raising course on domestic violence and he received a simple warning that was not recorded in his criminal record.
An administrative investigation by the IGPN (General Inspectorate of the National Police, a.k.a. the police of the police) has been launched to determine whether the officer, known to be psychologically fragile, was fit to carry a weapon.
Nous apprenons le 12ème féminicide.
Le vendredi 28 janvier, à Paris, un homme a tué sa compagne. C’est un policier déjà connu pour des faits de violences conjugales commis sur une autre personne. Il avait fait un stage de sensibilisation. Pourtant, il vient de tuer sa compagne. pic.twitter.com/5DvVcc1wCe
— #NousToutes (@NousToutesOrg) January 29, 2022
The case marks the 12th known femicide to have occurred since the start of the year in France, where it is estimated that one woman is killed by an ex or current partner every three days.
‘What isn’t counted doesn’t count’
The fact that Arnaud B. was previously convicted for domestic violence but carried on serving as a police officer has flared up recent debate in France on whether police are being fairly prosecuted, and if it is acceptable for them to continue handling complaints by other victims when they themselves have been charged.
In July 2021, a petition imploring the ministry of the interior to create a record of all police officers and gendarmes with previous records of domestic violence was launched by women’s rights organisations. The plea was posted after it was revealed that the police officer in charge of handling Chahinez Daoud’s domestic abuse complaint had written an illegible report that was never properly forwarded to court authorities. He had also previously been given an eight-month suspended sentence for domestic violence.
Daoud was killed by her ex-husband on May 4, 2021, two months after filing the complaint. The officer, along with five other colleagues, are going through disciplinary hearings for “administrative failings”.
In response to the mishandling of Daoud’s complaint and the officer’s violent past, Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin declared that any police officer convicted of domestic abuse should no longer be in contact with the public in an interview with newspaper Le Parisien on August 1, 2021.
But for many women’s rights activists, this is not enough. “The problem is the code of silence,” says Stéphanie Lamy, co-founder of Abandon de Famille – Tolérance Zero, an association combatting economic violence against women. Her organisation was the one to set up the petition.
“[Domestic violence by police] is not being recognised as a systemic problem, which it is. That is why we need the record. It’s about raising awareness and being able to identify those who are involved in cases of violence against women, just to make us aware of the extent of the phenomenon,” she told FRANCE 24. “What isn’t counted doesn’t count.”
There are no statistics to show how many police officers or gendarmes have been perpetrators of domestic violence in France. But in 2016, the National Federation of Women’s Solidarity recorded 115 phone calls to the national helpline (3919) by spouses of police officers or gendarmes who had been raped. A concerning number considering only 1,210 calls recorded the profession of the perpetrator that year, according to French newspaper Libération.
‘I am the law’
When a police officer in France is known to be a perpetrator of domestic violence, it’s because a complaint was lodged against them. What happens next and whether their crime will have repercussions for their job varies case-by-case, since there are no automatic procedures or protocols in place for police officers or gendarmes convicted of domestic abuse.
But lodging a complaint is extremely daunting for victims in the first place. “Even more so when the perpetrator is a member of the police force,” says Sophie Boutboul, author of a 2019 investigative book on victims of domestic abuse by police officials entitled Silence, on cogne (Silence, we're knocking).
Victims are often targeted with power threats, which trigger additional fears, she says. “[Police or gendarmes] will say things like ‘I am the law’ or ‘it’s your word against mine’ or that the victim’s complaint will just end up on their desk, (or) that they are licensed, sworn and they know the prosecutor. These are just some examples that I heard in the testimonies I gathered.”
If a victim of domestic violence does manage to perk up the courage to report to the police, there is only a 20 percent chance that their complaint will be accepted by the public prosecutor.
Once in the hands of the prosecutor, it is up to the justice system to deliver a suitable conviction. And even with a conviction, as was the case for Arnaud B. and the officer in charge of Daoud’s complaint, a member of the police can remain on duty.
“There is also preferential treatment for those accused,” says Boutboul. “It can be access to a telephone, certain documents being deleted in the proceedings, a minimisation of the facts … I also saw many convictions that were not registered in an officer’s criminal record. And even when they are recorded, it’s up to the hierarchy to handle it. The heads of department, the commissioners, the heads of brigade find themselves with a case-by-case policy and with all the responsibility on their shoulders when one of their staff is implicated for domestic violence.”
For Boutboul, as for Stéphanie Lamy, domestic violence within the police is a systemic problem in need of a systemic solution. It is one that has vast repercussions, beginning with the safety women feel in the hands of the authorities.
“We need to stay wary of police officers and gendarmes who are perpetrators and who continue to work in the complaints department,” Boutboul insists, “Because, as a result, the treatment of other victims of domestic abuse will be biased.”