The report, based on the testimony of 100 men in Paris, Lille and Lyon, claims police increasingly touched youths’ private parts during humiliating pat-downs. They were also known to slap, kick or use electroshock weapons against suspects during arbitrary searches, it says.
HRW western Europe researcher Judith Sunderland says the force’s overtly broad powers leave too much room for discretion on the part of the police. The organization wants the government to introduce tighter rules on arbitrary identity checks.
“These identity checks often, if not always, include quite invasive and humiliating pat-downs, body frisks and searches of personal belongings often in the street, in view of many people and without specific justification,” Sunderland told RFI.
HRW warns that unwarranted checks and abusive body searches were damaging police-community relations. Tension between the police and the community contributed to widespread rioting in French suburbs in 2005.
"Frankly, police-community relations in France are dismal, and everyone knows it," Sunderland said. "Taking concrete steps to prevent abusive identity checks - one of the main sources of tension - would be a real step forward and would make a genuine difference in people's daily lives."
A national police spokesman, Pascal Garibian, dismissed the report as unfair and unscientific, saying it presented a caricature of the police.
The HRW report is not the first time the police have been accused of abusive, racial behaviour.
A 2007-2008 report by the Open Society Justice Initiative found that the chances of undergoing an identity check in France were six times higher for Black people and eight times higher for people of Arab origin.
Since 2006, 26 police officers out of the country’s 145,000-strong force have been sanctioned for racist behaviour.