What’s with all the different police forces?
True, there are different police forces operating in France many with similar roles & duties.
At the top of the pyramid is the Gendarmerie. The Gendarmes are the most known internationally, but believe it or not, they are military. Or at least, they used to be. Today they have dual reporting; Ministry of Defence and Ministry of Interior. But whoever they report to, the are the best trained and equipped and have the largest powers. They are also mostly used for riots.
The gendarme is also the one who will ticket you speeding on the motorways.
You’ll find them mostly in the country, less so in the big cities. There are some 100,000 gendarmes in France.
They have more or less 150,000 police officers operating throughout France.
They report to the Ministry of Economy and of course can be found at all the airports and harbours, but you’ll find them more and more on motorways. There they are looking for drugs and other illegal items and for illegal immigrants.
They have wide powers to stop you and search your vehicles. They have some 3500 vehicles.
Though their powers are severely limited (for example they do not solve crimes), it is only recently that they have received weapons. They will however issue tickets for parking offences or speeding in the city.
They also have a country side equivalent called “Police Rural” which operate in areas in France where there is little or no infrastructure. It gives the area a police presence.