Blue brigade - Issue 171 - Magazine | Monocle

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The French are no strangers to public protest. But even by their own rowdy standards, the past few years have been combustible. The damage that occurred during a week of rioting following the killing of a 17-year-old motorist by French police last summer led to an estimated bill of €1bn. This came after months of large-scale and sometimes violent protests against a rise in the retirement age. The police came in for criticism both for their heavy-handedness and their inability to contain the disorder. 

Formed as a response to such events, the Compagnies républicaines de sécurité 8 (crs 8) is a highly mobile division of 200 riot police, intended to act as a rapid- intervention Swat team. Rather than simply lining up with their shields at the ready, the unit uses military-style tactics to outflank and surprise violent protesters, terrorists and gang members. crs 8 candidates are hand-picked after a gruelling recruitment process that includes endurance and shooting tests, obstacle courses, written exams and an interview in front of a panel. In 2023 only 22 of 95 applicants were selected. Several quit in their first year, citing a demanding work schedule that includes eight days of 24-hour duty followed by six days of rest.  

Charles de Gaulle created the crs in December 1944. Eight decades later, it has spawned an elite unit intended to combat threats such as terrorism, organised crime and public disorder. The group is led by Commander Olivier Desmaisons, a former diplomatic-security expert, and headquartered in a 17th-century castle near Paris.

The group was formed with one eye on this year’s Olympic Games in Paris. French police and political leaders want to project an image of security as millions descend on the capital in July and August. But critics of the government’s approach perceive it as a symptom of France’s slide into a police state. The crs 8’s crowd-control work will be aided by a controversial video system, which uses an algorithm that has been designed to spot suspicious objects or behaviour, such as unsupervised luggage and dangerous crowd movements that could lead to stampedes. 

Some are concerned that the new equipment will lead to wrongful arrests. But with an already tense domestic situation, heightened by fresh volatility in the Middle East, the government claims that it needs every tool that it can get. All will be hoping that the officers of this new division manage to keep their truncheons in their holsters this summer.

The crs 8 carry at least 23kg of weapons and equipment at all times, to which is sometimes added an 18kg category- four ballistic riot shield for mass shootings. That’sa lot of gear. Here’s what else they pack. 


Heavy-duty polycarbonate ‘bubble’ shield
Smaller, outward-facing concave riot shields are more mobile than traditional riot shields, and so they’re easier to use in offensive operations.

Tetrapol communications system
Tetrapol radio systems are popular with first responders and emergency services as they offer highly secure communication. They deliver voice and data from local to large networks and feature end-to-end encryption on group calls and emergency communications.

Penn Arms PGL 65 40mm multi-shot grenade launcher
This launcher works with all 40mm grenades, including Flash-Ball rounds, but is only used by the crs 8 for tear gas. It can fire up to six rounds in four seconds over a distance of 150 metres. 

GM2L tear gas and stun grenade
This grenade produces both a powerful detonation of about 160 decibels and a cloud of incapacitating CS gas. It does not contain explosives (it is a pyrotechnic device) and has no blast effect, unlike the gli-f4 and f-1 models it has replaced, both of which have caused mutilations and which some critics consider a threat to life.

Heckler & Koch G36K assault rifle
The crs 8 carry the latest configuration of this rifle, which features length and height-adjustable stocks and aluminium alloy handguards. It is effectively a military weapon adopted by French police after the 2015 terrorist attacks to provide more firepower to first responders. 

Sig Sauer SP2022 9mm handgun 
The sp2022, popular with law enforcement worldwide, features an all-polymer frame and an integrated accessory rail. It has a 9.9cm carbon-steel barrel, weighs about 900g and has a 15-round 9mm Luger magazine.

Protective helmet
Like most police helmets, this features a hard shell with reinforced padding, a chinstrap and hinge-up polycarbonate visor. Accessories include a built-in radio microphone and earpiece.

Telescopic defence baton 
The crs 8 uses three types of baton: a standard straight baton, a tonfa (side-handle baton) and a telescopic defence baton (tdb), like the one pictured. Straight batons and tonfas are made from durable rubber, plastics such as polypropylene or polycarbonate, or aluminium. tdb's are usually made from high-grade steel. 

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