Paris and its suburbs under pressure as the Olympic Games approach

From 26 July 2024, the eyes of the world will be on mainland France and its overseas territories for 28 days. But one area in particular will be the centre of attention: Paris and its suburbs. With a challenging opening ceremony and threats ranging from organised crime to petty crime, not to mention the risks associated with managing the flow of people, the organisers and security services are in a state of turmoil less than 8 months before the start of this global event.

By Diane Cassain

The Olympic Seine

During the opening ceremony, 10,500 athletes and spectators will parade along a 6 km length of the Seine. Staged in the heart of a city for the first time in the history of the Games, the opening ceremony allows organisers to reinvent the traditional format. « We wanted to create a unique moment, and the Seine is the perfect place for it. We are currently creating an ephemeral infrastructure that meets the same technical and logistical challenges as those that would have arisen from holding a ceremony in a stadium« , explains Thierry Reboul, Executive Director of Branding, Events and Ceremonies for Paris 2024, before adding: « The rehearsals have enabled us to validate many points and modify others, which will enable us to be ready on D-Day. We have, for example, modified the precise timing that everyone will have to respect in order to be in the right place at the right time« . Beyond these challenges, safety will be at the heart of the success of the opening ceremony. « When the plan to leave the stadium was presented to the security teams, we felt they were surprised. Then came the moment of adaptation. Since then, we’ve been building this project together. Today, there’s a shared desire to see this project through to the end« , continues Mr. Reboul. There will be no shortage of security threats: terrorist threats, uncontrolled crowd movements, falls into the Seine, drone attacks and CBRN threats, among others. « The record number of spectators and television viewers also means an additional difficulty. Indeed, for terrorists or criminals, the showcase offered by the opening ceremony in terms of strike power is enormous. Security is therefore fundamental to the success of this ceremony« , emphasises Frédéric Péchenard, Vice-President in charge of security and victim support at the Ile-de-France Regional Council. Finally, the presence of around a hundred Heads of State at the Trocadéro for the protocol part of the ceremony adds another layer to the overall challenge of ensuring its smooth running. The 35,000 security forces deployed on 26 July will have to react to the slightest incident, which could quickly escalate. This is a scenario feared by some: « I hope that the geopolitical situation will calm down so that we can enjoy a peaceful Games organised in the best possible conditions. If, on the eve of the Games, there is a red light for the risk of an attack, we’ll need a plan B for the opening ceremony« , says David Douillet, former Minister of Sport in La Tribune.1

A reorganisation that requires reactive players

Exceptionally, during the Games, the Prefect of Police, Laurent Nuñez, will be solely responsible for security in all the departments of the Paris region. « He will have exceptional prerogatives during the Olympics, on a regional scale. Under the authority of the Minister of the Interior and Overseas Territories, the Prefect of Police will be the sole authority in charge of security for the Games, including the fight against crime, terrorism and social protest, as well as security on public transport and on the network of reserved Olympic lanes. He will command all the forces, thanks to the implementation of a specific command, coordination and control system, which will enable the various operational rooms to be coordinated in an unprecedented context, and to optimise the processing and feedback of information« , emphasises the Paris Police Prefecture. All the security, rescue and assistance forces in Paris and the surrounding area will be deployed should the need arise. The Prefecture de Police has established a dedicated and unprecedented organisational structure with 11 thematic poles, headed by referents who are responsible for regularly reporting on the progress of their missions. « One of the lessons learned from the preparations for the Olympics is the commitment, motivation and availability of all those involved, who pooled their skills and resources to organise an extraordinary event. Police officers, gendarmes, military personnel, customs officers, private security, municipal police forces…their mobilisation illustrates the State’s collective ability to guarantee the security of the world’s biggest event, while preserving its popular character« , the Paris Police Prefecture added. As announced by the Minister of the Interior, there will be no leave for the forces during this period. However, there are some who disagree with this approach, particularly among the firefighters, whose union has called a strike from 26 July to 11 August, denouncing the overwork of personnel who need rest to perform. Although firefighters in Paris and Marseille are military personnel and therefore cannot go on strike, any increase in discontent would be detrimental in an already tense context.

Zero delinquency” targe

Paris. Seine-Saint-Denis. Two departments where delinquency is taking its toll, and which will be at the heart of the festivities during the Olympic Games. In response, a Zero Delinquency plan was launched in November 2022. The goal is to step up police presence on public thoroughfares and increase judicial and control operations tenfold, so that athletes and tourists alike feel safe during the Olympics Games. To date, 100,000 people have been arrested for theft, street vending, violence, drug-related offences and carrying prohibited weapons.2 On October 23, a vast operation was carried out around the Champs de Mars. “As of May and June, we will benefit from more substantial police reinforcements in order to completely eradicate the phenomenon of « curbsider », « three-card trick » and other criminal activities, » stressed Prefect Laurent Nuñez.3 In Seine-Saint- Denis, no fewer than 2,000 operations have been carried out since January. In the department, police officers are mainly targeting drug and cigarette trafficking, which leads to fights between rival gangs and is not without risk for the population. « The idea is to intervene to limit trafficking at the point of the deal, not to eradicate it. Eradicating trafficking altogether requires lengthy legal investigations« , notes Claire Laclos, Police Commissioner.4 However, this new arrangement is not without consequences for the Bobigny court, which has had to keep up with the new pace, with the number of people taken into custody increasing by more than 7% between January and July this year. « Any additional cases arriving at the Bobigny court are likely to pose a problem, as all the hearings are full. We have asked for reinforcements. We have received additional magistrate resources », explains Eric Mathais, Public Prosecutor of the Bobigny court, before concluding: « From November 2023, we are creating the 31ᵉ correctional chamber. It will sit in the mornings once or twice a week and will judge cases that are currently in stock, so as to reduce the number of pending proceedings before the Paris Olympic Games.”5





5 Ibid