An eviction and a lot of anger. This Friday, October 7, the boss of the judicial police (PJ) of the southern zone of France, Eric Arella, was dismissed from his functions. This decision, taken the day after a demonstration in Marseilles against the reform of the organization of this institution, triggered a lively outcry. The police see it as a punitive act and an attempt to force a passage, while the measures announced by the government are decried by a large part of the police and judicial world.

Before being ousted, Eric Arella had been leading investigations into serious crime for seven years, and in particular into narcobanditry, from Perpignan to Nice via Corsica and Marseille. This 63-year-old policeman is a figure of the PJ. He worked there for 37 years, in all the services – pimping repression brigade, criminal or narcotics brigade – between Marseille and Corsica, before climbing the hierarchy. Eric Arella was also deputy director of the technical and scientific police in Ecully, near Lyon.

At the time of his departure, his collaborators greeted AFP “a dignified, upright man, with moral elegance”. “Someone you could count on, who knew how to withstand pressure,” said one of them. “An exemplary career, a great gentleman of the PJ”, added Philippe Frizon, number 2 of the PJ at the Marseille police station, where Eric Arella notably supervised the investigation work on the two terrorist attacks in Nice. .

His eviction was pronounced in reaction to a mobilization of the police in his sector on Thursday, a rare event in an institution that is usually silent. Some 200 officers of the PJ demonstrated in front of the Evêché, the Marseille police station, on the occasion of the arrival of the director general of the national police (DGPN), Frédéric Veaux, against the reorganization of the judicial police. This project arouses enormous reluctance within the institution, but also on the side of justice.

On leaving the meeting, Frédéric Veaux crossed the corridors in an icy atmosphere, forced to split a hedge of demonstrators, their “judicial police” vest barred with a black band, arms crossed and silent, according to a video which had been transmitted to AFP on Thursday. “As with any reform, (…) there can be disagreements. But such disloyalty is not acceptable”, said one in the entourage of its director, who obviously did not appreciate the welcome .

As soon as Eric Arella’s departure was announced on Friday, hundreds of officers expressed their anger. In Marseille, there were about 200 shouting “bravos”, “thank you boss” as his car passed. For the Alternative police union, “a milestone has been crossed and a real divide has occurred” between the PJ and the boss of the national police. “Politics of terror” for a judicial police commissioner in the Paris region, “dictatorship” for an investigator in Bordeaux, “banana republic” for the vice-president of the National Association of the judicial police (ANPJ) in Lille: the qualifiers reflect the anger of the police.

The magistrates are also worried about such methods used, according to them, to carry out the reform at all costs. “This hasty decision is worrying and significant of an authoritarian mode of management, which does not tolerate any manifestation of opposition and prohibits any real internal debate”, estimated in a press release the French Association of Instructing Magistrates (AFMI). In a separate text, the Marseille investigating judges indicated that they had learned “with amazement” of the ousting of Eric Arella and expressed their “deep concern” with regard to the reform project, contested by the majority. PJ investigators.

Far from calming the discontent, the eviction of Eric Arella participated in giving a national scale to the mobilization. A hundred police officers in Nice, Montpellier or Versailles displayed posters “I am PJ” or “I am Arella” for some; 80 of them demonstrated in Bordeaux, 70 in Toulouse, or even dozens in Strasbourg, Lille or Nantes. The anger seems to have spread, as in Nanterre, in front of the headquarters of the central office of the PJ, where dozens of investigators sang the Marseillaise.

Carried by the Minister of the Interior Gérald Darmanin and Frédéric Veaux, the project plans to place all the police services of a department – intelligence, public security, border police (PAF) and judicial police (PJ) – under the authority of a single Departmental Director of the National Police (DDPN), reporting to the prefect. Clearly, the government wants to integrate PJ investigators, who specialize in complex investigations, with those of public security in charge of everyday crime within an investigation sector.

Part of the police and judicial world is opposed to the new distribution wanted by the government. “If we ask investigators from the PJ to take charge of files that relate to public security, we will no longer be able to do our job”, worried Friday, in Toulouse, a member of the National Association of the judicial police (ANPJ). “This reform (…) exposes our fellow citizens to organized crime and cartels”, notes Thomas, spokesperson for the ANPJ in Marseille. “We will be crushed in the mass. We will no longer be able to concentrate on investigations into the delinquency of organized crime which take time”, explained anonymously one of these representatives, group leader of the Anti-Narcotics Office (Ofast ).

A seminar bringing together attorneys general to discuss this reform is to take place on Monday 10 October. But it already looks tense. Faced with the anger of the police, the boss of the national police Frédéric Veaux decided to postpone his trip scheduled for October 17 in Versailles. This was to be the next step in a tour of France of regional PJ branches. Several calls to demonstrate were launched everywhere in France for this same date, including one of them for a gathering of investigators from the central offices in front of the Arena of Nanterre (Hauts-de-Seine).