On 17th March 2020 France went into lockdown. As a policing consultant, I was interested to experience how this worked. How do you train a population to protect itself? How do you police the fringes who need policing?
On the 16th March, I was free to go where I wanted; on the 17th of March I was still free, provided I carried a Certificate with me. The new requirement was well broadcast on the TV and radio, but I picked it up on the internet.
The public and its police service all had the same information, the same song-sheet, if you will. The Certificate was the simple version of Article 1 of the Decree of 16th March 2020. I have translated it and attached it to this post.
To comply with the new law, I had to print out a Certificate. It says I am making an essential journey “on my honour”. I then had to tick an essential option, sign and date it, for presentation to ‘the authorities’ on request. “Essential” options are obvious, simple, sensible choices.
The requirement does two things:
Firstly it made me think hard about whether my trip is essential, compared to, say, giving or receiving a deadly virus. The passive act of seeing it in print, the tangible act of holding a piece of paper, the positive need to select a box, tick it and sign the form are all things which make an unnecessary trip less likely. The responsibility is passed to me, the responsible citizen, to make my choice.
Secondly, I don’t want a long encounter with the police while I explain that I am going shopping (or whatever). I can just show the paper and I am on my way. The police will obviously only question those without the paper at all or with an old or incomplete Certificate; I know this because I was a uniform police officer for many years and I know how they behave. In the first week of the new law, French police issued less than 100,000 fines and arrested 5 people, who presumably, badly failed the attitude test. In a country with tens of millions of people that seems like a minimal enforcement rate. Finally, what happens if you don’t have a printer at home or internet? You just write out the relevant bit by hand on a bit of paper.
We are now, just, in the second week of lockdown. The French authorities are still not happy that the level of compliance is enough to protect the population so they have raised the maximum fine level, to further limit non-essential travel. The fine is on a sliding scale starting at about £30 (about 35 dollars or Euros) going up to £300 and now £1200. They have also changed the form. It now has a couple more options and they are set out in more detail. The form also has a ‘time of issue’ to be completed. In my view the second, more complicated, Certificate is workable because everyone has understood the first, simple one that was issued, they have had time to absorb the meaning of “essential” trips within their own lives. The lockdown seems to be working. As circumstances change, perhaps the law will change too. The entire population is engaged, via the Certificate of Movement, so that whatever changes are made can be easily communicated. What the French have achieved in a very short space of time is a clarity and process, that makes me feel safer.
Policing with consent is all about everyone understanding the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of policing at the most basic level. The reason for the lockdown in France is simple and the obligation of the citizen to protect themselves and others is clear. At the margins, where policing normally happens, there will always be those who resist enforcement, but the clarity of the Certificate means that everyone else will police themselves. There will also be those who question enforcement and quite right too. The lockdown has a lifespan of 15 days, when it will be reviewed. This seems a reasonable period to check that my responsible citizenship is being matched by an accountable government.