French police caught in act of skiving, by their own computer

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The lot of a French policeman may, or may not, be happy but it is scarcely hectic, a computer survey of working hours shows.

The lot of a French policeman may, or may not, be happy but it is scarcely hectic, a computer survey of working hours shows.

Leaked figures published by Le Figaro yesterday revealed that for every uniformed officer on the beat, or enforcing the law outside a station, at any one time 17 others were doing paperwork, on holiday, taking time off or sick.

Although France has 77,682 people in its uniformed police force (not including the CRS riot police, gendarmerie, detectives and municipal forces), only 4,264 officers are typically available at any one time to police the entire country.

French police officers are supposed to work a 40-hour week, despite the national maximum of 35 hours, the newspaper reported, but according to the calculations of a new police computer program, the average, uniformed officer works a 27-hour week. Of this time, police officers spend, on average, less than nine hours a week outside the station.

The leaking and publication of the figures drew a furious reaction from the director general of the Police Nationale, Michel Gaudin. "These assertions, based on misleading interpretations of partial information obtained by journalists, fly in the face of work done by all officers for the benefit of their fellow citizens, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year," M. Gaudin said.

He accused Le Figaro of "blackening the good name" and denigrating the devotion of officers.

Le Figaro stood by its story. The figures, it pointed out, came from the findings of a new police computer program, called main courante informatisée (computerised incident book) which analyses the deployment of officers.

The analysis appears to confirm allegations by, among others, the former interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy, that police are often deployed for their own convenience rather than the good of the public. The figures show, for example, that officers work a disproportionate amount of time between 9am and 6pm. They are seriously under-deployed between 9pm and 1am, when mostincidents happen.

One unnamed director of public safety said: "[The program] helps us to grasp that, in a given police station, there may be a glut of officers on the reception desk, even though they deal with almost no incidents."

France has more police per head than any other western European country, except Monaco.