France has backtracked on a ban on the use of chokeholds in the face of protests by police unions.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner told union officials on Monday that the controversial technique would no longer be taught to police officers and prison staff, but stopped short of a total ban.
It comes less than a week after he announced on June 8 that chokeholds would be “abandoned” following protests over the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, in police custody in Minneapolis.
Floyd’s death led some of the biggest demonstrations in the U.S. since the civil rights era and spread across the world. In France, his death renewed the debate over police brutality, including the 2016 death of a 24-year-old in police custody.
But Castaner’s comments – which included a promise of “zero tolerance” against racism by the police – led to protests by officers in France, who argued that they were being abandoned by the state.
Speaking to union officials on Monday, the minister said that there had been a “misunderstanding” amongst the police over the ruling, and that while it will be forbidden for an officer to press on the neck of a suspect during an arrest, using a “rear hold” to bring a person to the ground was not.
In a further attempt to quell discontent from police officers – who have been under growing scrutiny over high profile deaths in the U.S. and Europe of suspects while in custody – France said it was widening the testing of tasers, which have led to a number of deaths in Europe.
Axon, the company that makes Tasers, has made a big push outside the United States in recent years and agencies in the Netherlands and Italy recently expanded use of stun guns, following the path of Britain, where use has increased steadily since they were introduced in 2003.
Use of the weapons increased from 1,400 in 2017 to 2,349 in 2019 and according to the French police, stun guns killed one person last year and seriously injured three others.
Police in England and Wales discharged Tasers 2,700 times over the 12 months ending in March 2019, according to government statistics, which also showed black people were more likely than white ones to have stun guns used on them.
Britain’s Independent Office for Police Conduct said last month that there were growing concerns “about its disproportionate use against black men and those with mental health issues.”
Amnesty International revealed that at least 18 people in Britain have died after a stun gun was discharged on them by police, while at least 500 people died after being hit by stun guns between 2001 and 2012 in the United States.
Italy’s government approved using Tasers in January after a two-year trial and opened a bidding process to purchase nearly 4,500 stun guns, while the Netherlands began issuing the weapons to police in 2017 and is training 17,000 of the force’s 40,000 officers.
There are about 15,000 stun guns in France, which has a total police and gendarme force of around 240,000.