Academic warns of dangers of 'simple solutions' as Macron tacks right on law and order

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Through his appointment of the tough-talking Gérald Darmanin as interior minister, President Emmanuel Macron has shown himself to be a conservative on law and order issues, following in the footsteps of former president Nicolas Sarkozy. The French Left, meanwhile, which is wary of once again being portrayed as “soft” on crime, is showing signs of wanting to set its own agenda on the issue ahead of the 2022 presidential election. Against this backdrop Mediapart's Antoine Perraud spoke to political scientist Jacques de Maillard, an expert on the police and on law and order issues, about the fight against crime and the effectiveness of statistics. The academic warns against the “perverse effects” of focusing too narrowly on crime figures and of the dangers of proclaiming “simple solutions” to what are complex issues.

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Crime has become a high-profile issue in France in recent weeks. The tone was set by President Emmanuel Macron's new interior minister Gérald Darmanin, who has spoken controversially about the “en-savagement” of a section of French society. The subject now looks set to be a key one in the run-up to the 2022 presidential election with President Macron appearing to follow in the footsteps of former president Nicolas Sarkozy in his crackdown on law and order. Many figures on the Left, meanwhile, are wary of history repeating itself. Eighteen years ago, in the 2002 presidential election, the socialist prime minister and presidential candidate Lionel Jospin infamously failed to make it past the first round, partly as a result of a perceived weakness on the issue of crime. He later conceded that he had fallen into the “law and order trap”; and that despite trying to appear tough on the issue, he had been portrayed as being soft on crime. A much-publicised attack on a pensioner in his seventies just two days before polling in 2002 – the so-called 'Papy Voise' affair - played into the hands of the Right and the ultimate winner of that election, Jacques Chirac.

It was in the context of this ratcheting up of political and media rhetoric over law and order that Mediapart spoke to academic Jacques de Maillard about the fight against crime, how this issue is communicated and the way that the public mood can be manipulated. Jacques de Maillard is a professor of political science at the university of Versailles-Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines and at the prestigious higher education institute Sciences-Po Saint-Germain-en-Laye. He is also directer of the research centre into the law and criminal justice institutions, the Centre de Recherches Sociologiques sur le Droit et les Institutions Pénales (CESDIP). He has just co-edited a book with Wesley Skogan 'Policing in France' published by Routledge. He currently works on the relations between the police and the public and on local crime prevention policies.