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French police to film ID checks after truncheon rape case

media Protesters burn garbage containers after a demonstration over Théo's case in Rennes, western France, this week AFP

French police will be obliged to film identity checks on body cameras as from next month, Interior Minister Bruno le Roux announced on Friday in the wake of the alleged truncheon rape of a young black man that has sparked sporadic rioting near Paris.

The French police force already has 2,600 body cameras, Le Roux told reporters on Friday, and from 1 March officers will have to use them when they check citizens' identity papers.

The measure has been decreed after the alleged rape of 22-year-old Théo during an identity check by police who suspected him of tipping off drug-dealers of their arrival at an estate in Aulnay-sous-Bois, near Paris.

But it is also a response to more general accusations of abuses, in particular of racial profiling in the choice of people who are asked to show their papers.

Le Roux ruled out the implementation of another proposal, that police should issue chits after a check, arguing that it would lead to a permanent record of people who had been stopped by police.

Clashes with police continue

After five nights of sporadic violence in Aulnay and neighbouring towns, Le Roux said that Thursday was "quieter than the previous night".

Eighteen people were arrested and police reported cars and dustbins set on fire and some stoning of officers in four towns.

During the day two young men were given two-month suspended sentences for having spied on police from rooftops so as to help rioters attack them, while a 34-year-old was given a three-month suspended sentence for insulting a police officer.

The officers involved in the incident - whose first names, Marc-Antoine, Tony, Maxime and Jérémie, are known to the media - have been suspended and charged for violence and, in one case, rape.

The lawyer acting for the latter claimed Thursday that his act, which left Théo in hospital with serious injuries in the rectal area, was involuntary.

In a joint statement, the men's lawyers complained of "political pressure and irresponsible statements" in relation to the case.

Body cameras welcomed

The body camera ruling was welcomed by experts and young people in Aulnay-sous-Bois.

"Young people can get roughed up [by the police] and afterwards there’s no proof whether it’s true or not," Nassana, a local teenager, told RFI.  "So when they carry out ID checks it’s better if they wear a camera."

"They gave the name of the guy that was raped but not the policemen’s names. Everyone believes the four police officers’ story," commented another, Ryan.

The youths predicted that "all hell will break out" if the policemen are acquitted when they go to trial.

"The evidence we have from English and American experiments underline major benefits to body worn cameras," said Jacques de Maillard, the deputy director of the Cesdip research centre, which specialises in policing and criminal justice. "They increase transparency, they have a civilising effect. They diminish violence from the officer and towards the officer."

But the measure may prove costly and complicated to implement, he warned.

The breakdown in relations between the police and some of the public is "a very enduring problem", de Maillard added. "In the case of institutional police initiatives one must recognise that since the start of the 2000s we haven’t seen any major reforms tackling this very deep issue in the French society."

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