The Gendarmerie nationale is one of France’s oldest institutions. It is the natural heir to the Royal Constabularies « Maréchaussée de France », i.e, the military forces which remained the only corps in charge of policing the country for centuries. Initially in charge of judicial and police missions to control scaterred soldiers and looters, the scope of their competence was progressively extended during the Renaissance to general policing. The creation of the Gendarmerie nationale « units » – forming the basis of the current organisation – dates back to 1720.
In 1791, the “Maréchaussée” was renamed Gendarmerie nationale. The Act dated « Germinal 28, Year VI of the French Revolution » (April 17, 1798) established the principles of action, missions and assignments in terms of general and judicial police.Today, the Gendarmerie nationale ensures public safety on 95 % of the national territory for 50 % of the population. Twenty-four hours a day, the institution protects, rescues, intervenes, investigates, arrests and fights.
– Judicial missions
Competent all over the national territory, in towns as well as in the countryside, more than a quarter of the tasks of the Gendarmerie is devoted to judicial duties.
– Administrative missions
This task is characterised by its preventive aspect. It is based on a continuous surveillance of the areas where the Gendarmerie is in charge of public security, particularly through contacts with the population.
– Military missions
Even in peacetime, the Gendarmerie takes part in the protection of particularly important places that can be of vital interest for the nation. It exercises the government control over the nuclear armament and provides the escorts of the nuclear weapons convoys. Moreover, it contributes to the preparation of the mobilisation of sister units and to the management of the reserves. Finally, the Gendarmerie accompanies the French armed forces stationed or committed abroad (military criminal police) and is takes part in peace missions (both military and civilian) all over the world, at the request of the EU, the United Nations, or the NATO.
Favouring the contact with the population, the territorial Gendarmerie (Gendarmerie départementale) contributes to the general public security.
The territorial Gendarmerie includes
– Territorial units:
The Groupement is the commanding echelon at the level of a “département” (division of the French administrative organisation, smaller than a region). The Groupement is subdivided into companies. In general, we can find one company of Gendarmerie departementale by “arrondissement” (ie. district level : division of the French administrative organisation, smaller than a departement). Commanded by officers, the companies are divided into territorial brigades spread on the territory according to a logic of proximity. Territorial brigades can function in an autonomous way or be organised in communities of brigades (joint brigades).
– Specialized Units :
The action of the territorial units is completed by the action of units with particular vocation, such as:
- Criminal investigation units, exclusively devoted to criminal investigations and judicial support to the territorial units ;
- Surveillance and intervention platoons (aka PSIG): located in the most sensitive areas in terms of delinquency, they are in charge of backing up the territorial units, whatever the operational needs may be ;
- Traffic units : at département and company levels, motorcyclist units, highway patrols, rapid response and motorway platoons ensure policing on the whole road network ;
- Mountain units (aka PGHM) : are responsible for the surveillance and the interventions (crime policing and rescue) in mountain areas ;
- Air sections intervene in helicopters, while maritime units are in charge of the seashore and waterways;
The mobile Gendarmerie is a 11,300 man strong general reserve at the disposal of the Government on the whole Metropolitan territory and French overseas territories. Responsible for maintaining public order, it is also shaped to respond to a wide range of missions, from policing events to restoring order.
The Gendarmerie nationale intervention group (aka GIGN)
This Gendarmerie elite unit can be deployed over the national territory or abroad. It participates in special operations launched on the occasion of some serious events (e.g. terrorism, crime, hostage taking, riots in prison). It was particularly involved in the January 2015 terrorists attacks in Paris.
The Republican Guard
Its missions are to protect government, national institutions and highest State authorities and to ensure honour services.
– The maritime Gendarmerie
Is responsible for policing military harbours, naval base dockyards and facilities. It also contributes to the surveillance of the coast and to sea rescue.
– The air Gendarmerie
Is responsible for policing Air Force bases and compounds.
– The air transport Gendarmerie
Is responsible for public safety and law and air transport regulations enforcement in the most important civilian airports.
– The weaponry Gendarmerie
Operates for the French State organization in charge of weapon programs (a.k.a Délégation générale de l’armement or DGA) securing the facilities of the DGA.
The Reserve is composed of civilian volunteers and former members of the Gendarmerie. This Reserve is operational in peacetime as well as in case of crisis. Reservists carry out the same missions as the active personnel, except tasks requesting specific technical skills related to criminal investigations. The Reserve is a back-up force, flexible, and can be called-up quickly.
At the European level, the EU constitutes the major framework of the international action of the Gendarmerie within the 3rd pillar “Police and judicial Cooperation in Criminal matters” (PJCC) and 2nd Politics pillar “common foreign and security policy” (CFSP).
At the international level, the Gendarmerie works in the direction of a greater police co-operation in order to strengthen our domestic security.
At the multinational level, the Gendarmerie is also very present abroad on theatres of operations: under the UN flag (FINUL in Lebanon, MINUK in Kosovo, MINUSTAH in Haiti, MONUC in democratic Republic of Congo, ONUCI in Ivory Coast…), the EU flag (MPUE and EUFOR in Bosnia, EUBAM Rafah in Palestine, EUPOL Kinshasa in DRC, EUPT in Kosovo), NATO flag (Afghanistan), or under national command (Ops Licorne in Ivory Coast and Epervier in Chad).
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