The Gendarmerie nationale roots in the middle Ages, when the Royal Constable (Connétable), head of all ground forces, was responsible for police and justice over his troops during the campaign.
Each army detachment was entrusted to a marshal (maréchal), who delegated his police and justice powers to a provost (prévôt). All provosts were commanded by the provost marshal (prévôt des maréchaux), and formed into a Maréchaussée.
Gendarmerie employment, budget and staff are transferred under the authority of the Minister of Interior. The Gendarmerie remains responsible to the judicial authority for judicial tasks and to the Defence Minister for military missions and status.
The French Gendarmerie nationale is a military force in charge of law enforcement, which has a full jurisdiction over civilian population while carrying out judicial police, public safety, public order and intelligence missions, by implementing its interoperable policing and military skills both on the national territory and abroad.
The Gendarmerie nationale is a crisis management tool able to cover the full spectrum of conflict from peacetime operations to war missions, through crisis. It is a key asset for state’s sovereignty and resilience. Its main guiding principles are the graduated use of legal force and the constant proportional use of weapons.
The Gendarmerie nationale is a 102,000 personnel-strong force, with an additional daily used 30,000-strong reservists force. It comprises 6,100 commissioned officers, 79,000 non-commissioned officers, 12,500 soldiers and 4,400 civilians. Its area of responsibility covers 95 % of the national territory, where lives 50 % of the population.
The French gendarmerie comprises a territorial branch, insuring a territorial grid over the French territory, mobile forces to uphold the public order and reinforce the territorial branch when needed, and specialized gendarmeries to provide skilled personnel in judicial police, overseas or military security, to mention but a few.
The territorial branch
The 70,000 personnel-strong territorial branch acts according to the principle of subsidiarity: every level of command above the stations has specialized equipment, personals and capabilities to reinforce, each time when needed, the subordinated units.
The mobile forces
The 13,000 personnel strong Gendarmerie Mobile is specialized in managing public order, from peaceful situations up to wartimes actions. It comprises 109 mobile companies, called “escadron de gendarmerie mobile“, and 18 mobile group HQs (bataillon size), the « Groupe d’Intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale » (GIGN), elite high-intensity crisis management unit specialized in counter-terrorism, hostage rescue, high-risk arrests, fight against organized crime, and security and protection of sensitive VIPs and facilities. Last but not least, mobile forces comprise the Republican Guard, composed of the 1st & 2nd infantry regiments and the cavalry regiment, in charge of the protection of the President of the Republic; and of the Parliament and national buildings.
Specialized Gendarmeries and Gendarmerie specialized commands
- Overseas Command
- Gendarmerie Aviation Command
- Reserves Command
- Gendarmerie Nationale Judicial Complex, composed of:
- the National Forensic Institute (IRCGN),
- the National Criminal Intelligence Centre (SCRC),
- the National Cyber-crime Centre (C3N).
- Training Command
8 academies and 14 specialized training centres including :
- National Language Training Centre,
- National Canine Training Centre,
- National Ski and Mountain Training Centre,
- National Underwater Training Centre.
The Gendarmerie nationale provides to military or civilian authorities skilled personnel to form specialized permanent corps.
- For the Defence ministry:
- Air force Gendarmerie
placed under the OPCOM of Air Force Commander
- Navy Gendarmerie
placed under the OPCOM of Navy Commander
- Armaments Gendarmerie
safeguarding the premises of the General Directorate of Armaments
- Nuclear Weapons Security Gendarmerie
ensuring governmental control over nuclear weapons
- Provost Command
providing the Joint Staff with Provosts, from selection to end of mission debrief.
- For other civilian authorities:
- Air Transport Gendarmerie
protecting airports technical premises (non-public areas) and investigating civilian aircraft accidents for the General Director for Civil Aviation
- Specialized Command for Nuclear Security
interministerial service ensuring a coordinated protection of civilian nuclear facilities.
The Gendarmerie nationale has daily jurisdiction over the whole French population and territory, and is essentially in charge of the:
- Administrative police (= breech of law prevention)
Ranging from specialized rescue (mountain, underground) to crime prevention, public order, security and law enforcement (also named general administrative policing), administrative police activities include a wide variety of specialized fields (financial and economical rules, environmental protection and public health, workforce legislation) in various domains (road safety, maritime, coastal and inland waters, rail transports, aeronautical transports).
For these missions, the Gendarmerie is reporting to the civilian administrative authorities (préfet). As such, each gendarme is a member of the public force (“agent de la force publique”).
- Judicial police (= breech of law investigations)
Acting on order or by delegation of a judicial authority, the Gendarmerie investigates any kind of offences to French laws, from the crime scene to the trial.
Judicial police powers
Gendarmerie personnel can be either:
• judicial police officer (officier de police judiciaire, OPJ), legally delegated or empowered by a prosecutor or a judge to investigate, or investigating on his own initiative.
• judicial police member (agent de police judiciaire, APJ), tasked for supporting OPJ in their investigations.
The judicial powers are linked with:
• a certification (exams have to be passed)
• a position (territorial Branch and specialized commands, even as reinforcement)
• a geographical AoR (ranging from departmental up to national)
All commissioned officers and all OR-7 or above within the territorial branch are OPJ.
In these three different fields of activities, Gendarmerie fulfils a key mission of information gathering and intelligence processing for the benefit of either military, civilian or judicial authority.
- Defence missions
Legally, the Gendarmerie nationale ensures homeland defence and protection of the Nation’s higher interests.
According to the Law and the Code of Defence, Gendarmerie is part of French Armed Forces, just like Army, Navy and Air Force or the joint directorates.
The personnel has a military status, and initially undergoes basic military training, then completed by specialist trainings all through the career. Subjected to military regulations, the gendarmes have military ranks and duties.
- Gendarmerie nationale engaged in overseas or international military missions
When tasked to fulfil a national provost mission in benefit of the French Army deployed abroad, each Gendarmerie personnel is qualified as “judicial police officer to the armed forces”. He exerts the duties and responsibilities of a judicial police officer for any case involving defence personnel, facilities or equipment and reports these cases to a military prosecutor/ military judge whose delegation of powers they act upon.
Usually, not defined and reduced to a military police force, the Gendarmerie nationale provides French armed forces with:
- judicial protection of Force personnel and properties, through the deployment of Provost units (unités prévôtales);
- specialists and experts especially in the field of investigation (including police-related intelligence and capability building);
- CRC capability executed by mobile gendarmerie units, in order to contribute to the security of the Force or for conducting public order stability activities;
- targeted Security Sector Reform missions executed by a tailored police training cadre.
As a result, depending on the activity, France will engage each time in international military missions with the more suitable units.