CAIRN-INT.INFO : International Edition

1Research on transformations of administrative systems carried out both in France [1] and in other countries [2] has noted the introduction into public administrations – and legitimation of – categories of economic actions and understandings drawn from the industrial world. Although this managerial turn entails a set of developments that vary depending on national contexts, its most central characteristic has been the promotion and dissemination of tools for measuring and managing the performance of public administrations. [3] The case of the police has been presented as a “paradigmatic illustration of the contemporary innovations” [4] that are changing public policies and services. Since the 1980s, Western police forces have been the object of reform initiatives aimed at reorienting their activities toward performance measurement. [5] France joined this international trend in the early twenty-first century [6] with the introduction of a policy of management by objectives. [7] While the main dimensions of public management of the police [8] have been the focus of many in-depth and comparative pieces of research, [9] other “innovations” – ones that have also brought about change and that in theory represent versions of new public management (NPM) – have to date largely not been studied. Paradoxically, although intensified specialization is at the heart of the NPM doctrine, specialization initiatives for policing activities have scarcely been explored. For Christopher Hood [10] and Patrick Dunleavy, [11] the breaking up of public organizations into small operational units is indisputably one component of new public management. The development of agencies is its most visible organizational translation and its most widely studied aspect, with many works focusing on the phenomenon of “agencification”. [12] However, reforms through specialization can also be analyzed on more ordinary microlocal scales, which reveal the detail of how far and in what form this division of labor is an integral part of neo-managerial transformations.

2Police commissariats are a case in point in this respect, and this article seeks to study them through ethnographic fieldwork. The issue of specialization is particularly pertinent here. On the one hand, the specialization of policing is a constant feature of the history of the institution and is at the heart of the organization of police work, as the classic works on the sociology of policing have established. [13] This specialization is generally presented via the official history of the most celebrated specialized brigades (from the famous “Tiger Brigades” [regional brigades of mobile police units], to the BRI, [14] the BPM, [15] the BRB, [16] the RAID, [17] and so forth) as a “natural” response to the development of particular crime phenomena. On the other hand, there is much evidence that this specialization has steadily risen since the 1990s, in conjunction with the neo-managerial reforms that have been applied to the police. Over the last fifteen years in France, organization charts offering a visual depiction of the commissariats of the public security services have become considerably more complex with the creation of new departments and new brigades specializing in particular kinds of crime. Although specialization is not a directly declared instrument in the modernizing reforms of the police, it is presented by police commissaries [commissaires] as a means of increasing the effectiveness, efficiency, and management of police work. The ethnography of a police commissariat (see Box 1) provides a detailed picture of the importance of this type of reorganization. In the early 1990s the judicial branch [le service judiciaire] consisted of four units dealing with undifferentiated matters; in 2007 it was split into some fifteen specialized brigades dealing with street crime, burglary, automobile-related offenses, robbery with assault, and cybercrime, etc.

3How is this accentuation of the division of labor to be explained? Accepting the explanation of a “natural” adaptation to changes in crime and criminality means uncritically adopting the institutional police version of this historical process. [18] In the Anglo-American literature, these issues of division of labor and drawing of boundaries between departments (known as “boundary work”) have so far been little explored, as Chris Giacomantonio points out. [19] Scholarly attention on the increased number of specialist police units has focused on the advantages and disadvantages of specialization. [20] Moreover, most studies take note of this historically constituted organizational dimension. Among the few works that examine the logic governing the specialization of brigades, some focus on the size of commissariats [21] and local criminal phenomena. [22] Others see these organizational changes as a response to the expectations of the public and local politicians and regard them as window-dressing, since “such specialization is inconsistent with the tasks actually undertaken by police departments”. [23] From this perspective, surface-level specialization does not correspond to the real work carried out by the police: specialist units simply obey the logic of institutional signposting and communication.

4I take the view that the changes to organizational charts are not just about reorganizing premises or tweaking departmental names. This move towards specialization in the police reflects changes in public security policies and is part of the transformation of professional practices. Nor are these changes reducible to historical specialization. Looking more closely, it can be observed that commissaries specialize their brigades because the political and policing conditions allow them to do so and because they believe their own careers will benefit from it. It is not so much a matter of adapting departments to local crime phenomena – as they claim is the case – but rather a question of adjusting to the demands of higher authority by acting on the division of policing work. By increasing the number of specialist divisions, they expect to be able to modify police crime figures in their favor. For this reason, I propose to analyze the specialization of activities undertaken at the initiative of commissaries as a discrete form of public management of policing. However, this policy of specialization is not merely a version of the doctrines of new public management. As I will demonstrate, it is an aspect of parallel changes in the police, which it may relay or reinforce. These changes include the orientations of public security policies, performance-based neo-managerial reforms, and reforms of police corps’ human resources management. Accordingly, I argue here for a situated approach to the process of division of labor in the police, attentive to the uses and rationalities that prevail there, by proposing an embedded sociology of contemporary police specialization.

5To demonstrate the “situated” character of the dynamics of specialization and propose a sociological explanation of it, I will develop my argument empirically over three stages. The first analyzes the main axes of police reforms since the mid-1990s. It will be seen that redrawing the division of labor is at the heart of successive structural reforms and political directions. The two reforms known as the corps and careers reforms (1995 and 2004) and the public security policies reforms (community policing and the “repressive turn”) have led to the hierarchical redistribution of labor and the reorganization of public security activities. The second stage examines what lies behind the commissaries’ decisions to create specialized brigades. I will show that specialization at the local level offers several advantages. It enables the commissaries to secure “political peace” by adapting the organization not only to the hierarchy of public problems defined from above (by the ministry, the prefect, or the département director of public security) and below (by the mayor), but also to managerial imperatives of effectiveness. It additionally enables them to preserve “social peace” within the police institution by redistributing posts to their subordinates (rewards and sanctions). The third stage examines the effects of these organizational “innovations” on the content of the work of police personnel and their professional career paths. These specialized brigades are effectively a lever for change in the institution and favor – or accompany – a new institutional configuration. The further increased segmentation of the division of labor has modified the historically constituted working practices and the processes of promotion.

As part of my doctoral research, I conducted a two-year ethnographic study (2006-2007) at a central commissariat. This involved (participant) observations, some fifty interviews with police personnel of all ranks, the collecting of various institutional documents, and retracing the careers of a cohort of 147 police personnel. To confirm the trends observed in 2007, I returned at regular intervals (2010, 2012, 2014) and also carried out observations in other commissariats to which the policemen and policewomen whom I had met at the first site had been transferred.
The police headquarters in which I did my fieldwork is in a medium-sized town in the provinces, with about 134,000 inhabitants in 2006. It is the headquarters of a Departmental Directorate of Public Security (DDPS; direction départementale de la sécurité publique) and belongs to a police district grouping fourteen communes (165,830 inhabitants in 2006). With a staff of 409 active personnel, there was one policeman or policewoman for every 331 inhabitants at the time of the fieldwork.
The findings presented in this article are based on an analysis of the organization charts that represent the changes in the organization of departments between 1994 and 2014. Armed with these objective documents, which reflect a kind of institutional collective memory, I interviewed the three commissaries behind the specialization and ten or so policemen and policewomen who had worked in the commissariat since the 1990s. The aim was to evaluate the issues involved in the organizational changes for the hierarchy and their impact on the real work of agents. I also draw on a study of the texts of the laws (LOPS [Loi d’orientation et de programmation relative à la sécurité] of 1995; LOPSI [Loi d’orientation et de programmation pour la sécurité intérieure] of 2002) and of two reforms known as the corps and careers reforms ([corps et carrières] 1995 and 2004), and on an analysis of internal documents (organization notes, department notes, internal crime registers, and an internal bulletin) as an indicator of the conditions for the creation and functioning of the specialized brigades. Finally, reconstruction of the social and occupational trajectories of the policemen and policewomen working in these new units and prolonged observation of their actual work provided insight into how the changes were understood both “from above” and “from below”.

Genesis of the changes in the division of labor in the policing institution

6Since the mid-1990s, changes in the organization of police work have been at the center of reforms to the institution. These changes have been structured along two different axes. The first concerns the reshaping of the responsibilities of the various police corps (1995 and 2004); the second concerns political direction in terms of security (1995 and 2002), which radically changed the distribution of activities among departments. These changes are closely linked: the hierarchical redistribution of labor is supposed to facilitate the reorganization of police activities toward dealing with minor and medium-level crime. To understand this, I will analyze the implementation of community policing [la police de proximité] and then that of the “repressive turn” in the commissariat studied.

Community policing and the 1995 reform of corps and careers

7Reflection on “modernizing the policing institution” started in the late 1970s. In 1977, the Peyrefitte report [24] criticized the police’s poor adaptation to growing levels of minor and mediumlevel crime and recommended the development of community policing, the creation of small neighborhood police stations, and an emphasis on preventive measures. This diagnosis was confirmed by the Mayors’ Committee on Security [Commission des maires pour la securité] [25] and the Belorgey report, [26] which both proposed the start of a new relationship between the police and the public. However, the changes made in the 1980s were limited to personnel training [27] and the upgrading of equipment and staffing levels. [28] Until the early 1990s, the organization of commissariats was based on a separation into street crime activities and judicial work performed in two quite distinct departments: the General Security Service [Service de sécurité générale] and the Urban Security Service [Service de sûreté urbaine]. The former comprised uniformed personnel (the corps of officers and guardians of the peace [henceforth officiers and roumains gardiens de la paix] and gradés [ranking police officers] and consisted of street crime units and a crime brigade. The latter was made up of plain-clothes policemen and policewomen [corps des inspecteurs, corps des enquêteurs] in charge of judicial investigations. Mobility between the two departments was highly regulated [29] and concerned only a very small number of agents.


In the commissariat where the fieldwork was carried out, the two main departments were not particularly segmented and not greatly specialized in the early 1990s. Urban Security comprised four units (a judicial unit, a crime prevention and social protection unit, an administration unit, and a technical unit), in which 31 policemen and policewomen worked (inspectors, principal inspectors, division inspectors, a division chief, and seconded sub-brigadiers). This department did not yet have brigades specializing in a particular kind of crime, as would come to be the case in the middle part of the first decade of this century. General Security comprised 232 uniformed policemen and policewomen (all ranks) and fourteen auxiliaries, distributed between the mobile units and the crime brigade, the department’s only specialized brigade.

9In 1995, the Framework Act on Security [Loi d’orientation et de programmation relative à la sécurité; LOPS, 1995] made it a priority objective to increase police presence on the street. [30] To re-establish “community policing with a presence on the street, rather than policing to keep order”, [31] the law ushered in statutory reform. This so-called “corps and careers” reform removed the distinction between “uniformed” and “plain-clothes” corps and grouped policemen and policewomen in three new police corps, as against the previous five: the control and enforcement corps (Corps de maîtrise et d’application comprising gardiens de la paix and gradés), the command and supervision corps (Corps de commandement et d’encadrement comprising officers [officiers]), and the planning and management corps (Corps de conception et de direction comprising commissaires). It also recommended the recruitment of security assistants and administrative and technical staff (secretaries, laboratory specialists, and so forth) to relieve “active” personnel of administrative chores.

10By removing an element of compartmentalization in the management of agents, this reshaping of the corps allowed for greater mobility between the services and enabled commissaries to modify the organization of public security work much more easily. The structure of commissariats became more complex: the tasks of keeping the territory secure and maintaining order, previously entrusted to the General Security Service, were taken over by the Community Policing Service [Service de police de proximité] and the Public Order and Road Safety Service [Service d’ordre public et de sécurité routière], which were created in 2000 and segmented into generalist and specialist brigades.


In 1999, the General Security Service was split in two: a Street Crime Service [Service de voie publique] visibly patrolled the territory and a “territorialization” service [Service de la territorialisation] responded to the need for better coverage of the public space. These two departments were merged in 2000 to form the Community Policing Service, [32] which was segmented into several brigades. It consisted of six night and day mobile sections (as against three in 1994), two specialist brigades (as against one in 1994), five “territorialized” units spread over so-called sensitive areas (no such unit existed in 1994) and the Service de quart [an initial response and triage unit for criminal investigations]. Maintenance of public order was ensured by the Public Order and Road Safety Service, which was created in 2000. This consisted of three units: public order, road safety, and administrative and judicial assistance. Within these two services, four specialized units were created between 1995 and 2006 (as against one in 1994 [33]): the response section [section d’intervention], the canine unit, the urban motorcycle brigade, and the community policing group.

12Moreover, the statutory composition of the services was changed. The Community Policing Service and the Public Order and Road Safety Service included gardiens de la paix and gradés, whose numbers increased, but also newly recruited security assistants and officers previously stationed in investigation services. The Investigations and Research Service [Service d’investigations et de recherche], which was formerly known as Urban Security and made up of inspectors and investigators in 1994, would henceforth include officers and gradés responsible for conducting investigations alongside a small number of gardiens de la paix, to whom they would transmit the tricks of the trade. The three main services were unevenly staffed. Policemen and policewomen were effectively more frequently allocated to street crime services than to the Investigations and Research Service, which was qualified to manage investigations.


In 2000 the Community Policing Service and the Public Order and Road Safety Service were made up of 304 policemen and policewomen (as against 232 in 1994). Of these, 74 were security assistants, 177 gardiens de la paix, 37 gradés, and sixteen officers. The Investigations and Research Service had 33 policemen and policewomen (against 31 in 1994), of which five were security assistants, eight gardiens de la paix, five gradés, and fifteen officers.

14At the start of the twenty-first century, the transformation of the shape of the corps and the creation of new services allowed the intensification of a police presence on the street. This, together with community policing, came to spearhead the fight against the petty crime (or even anti-social behavior [34]) that was presented as the source of a sense of insecurity.

The Corps and Careers Reform of 2004 and the repressive turn

15On 10 July 2002, the Framework Act on Internal Security [Loi d’orientation et de programmation pour la sécurité intérieure; LOPSI, 2002] backed by interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy ushered in a repressive turn.


“The objective of establishing neighborhood policing, initially set by the Framework Act on Security of 21 January 1995, will be maintained. However, its implementation should not be at the expense of the capacities for judicial proceedings and the night-time presence of police forces. These capacities, which have been impaired in recent years, must be upgraded.” [35]

17This new policy was accompanied by a “reform of the corps’ architecture”, [36] which was supposed to improve the police’s operational effectiveness. Specifically, the Command Corps “henceforth has operational command of services” [37] and was to fulfil administrative and managerial tasks. Within the Supervision and Enforcement Corps [Corps d’encadrement et application], the gradés (chief-brigadier and major-brigadier) “must be affirmed as the first level of authority in leading the core team, including small autonomous services, and in organizing working time” [38] and contribute to the work carried out by the gardiens de la paix.

18The redistribution of functions and responsibilities among the different police corps and the numbers of personnel meant that this time the police chiefs were able to change the organization of judicial work. In the middle of the first decade of this century, the Investigations and Research Service was renamed Sûreté départementale (departmental security) and segmented into brigades specialized in one specific aspect of minor and medium-level crime. This reorientation of judicial activities changed the activities of policemen and policewomen, who, back in 1994, prioritized more serious matters.


“From the middle of the first decade of this century, the police chief of the Sûreté départementale segmented the service into small brigades specializing in minor and medium-level crime. Between 2003 and 2014, twelve specialized brigades were created dealing with street crime, automobilerelated crime, robbery with assault, burglary, crimes in flagrante delicto, street crimes, cybercrime, payment fraud, the protection of vulnerable individuals, discriminatory acts, real-time judicial processing unit, and gangs.”

20The division of labor between each police corps was also altered. Officers, whose numbers were declining, were shifted away from investigative work, over which they previously had a monopoly, and toward management activities. They ceased sharing work space with their subordinates, and supervision of the many brigades was entrusted to the increasing numbers of gradés who took over from the officers. Gardiens de la paix, alongside gradés, now conducted investigations. This represented a seismic shift in police work.


“In 1997, the service specializing in investigation had 31 policemen and policewomen, comprising one auxiliary, 10 gardiens de la paix, 7 gradés, and 21 officers. In 2007, it had 58 policemen and policewomen, of which 5 were auxiliary personnel, 14 gardiens de la paix, 29 gradés, and 10 officers. In 2014, it had 52 policemen and policewomen, including 5 auxiliaries, 10 gardiens de la paix, 32 gradés, and 5 officers.”

22The reforms to police corps and doctrine therefore impacted the two components of work organization in commissariats. A vertical change has led to the separation of enforcement, supervision, and managerial activities, [39] while a horizontal change concerns the specialization of activities related to minor and medium-level crime. Although action on the division of labor is firmly at the heart of the processes of police administration reform, the creation of specialized microdepartments in contrast has occurred as a result of the initiatives of commissaries, who have leeway to organize their departments. To account for the process of specialization we need to set out the determining factors in commissaries’ organizational choices.

Determining factors in commissaries’ organizational choices

23Since 2004, the corps and careers reforms have entrusted commissaries with the task of adapting their departments to local crime. Those involved in these transformations strive to “innovate” by creating specialized brigades. However, the changing nature of the role of commissary does not suffice as an explanation for this organizational choice. It is important to understand that commissaries hope to derive a twofold benefit from it, both by providing a response to policy and managerial constraints and by ensuring the compliance of their subordinates.

Adjusting to the role provided for by the 2004 reform

24The reforms pushed through in the 1990s and more recently in 2004 have accelerated the symbolic and objective transformation of commissaries’ functions. [40] The Corps de conception et de direction [Planning and Management Corps] is now responsible for “planning and implementing programs and projects related to the fight against crime” and called upon to “develop its managerial competence for the purpose of objectives-based management in order to optimize results in accordance with the resources allocated”. [41]

25In the commissariat studied, the commissaries behind specialization took their role as it is defined in the reform of 2004 seriously. From 2003, Albert M., aged 51, the divisional commissary who led the commissariat, sought the cooperation of Dominique S., a young commissary aged 28, in reorienting the activities of the Sûreté départementale toward handling minor and medium-level crime, following what he saw as an upsurge in offenses of this type. This instruction from his hierarchical superior matched Dominique S.’s temperament and interests. Fresh out of the commissary academy (the École nationale supérieure de la police; ENSP), he had completed management training and was comfortable with its workings. Reorganizing the service in charge of investigations by specializing brigades in street crime offenses “became my priority when I arrived here”, he told me. In 2006, the commissary of the Community Policing Service in charge of the street crime units also sought to change the organization of his department by creating specialized brigades, just like his colleague from the Sûreté départementale. Mohammed R., aged 35, took up his position in 2005. Having joined the police in 1993, he had climbed the echelons (policier auxiliaire, lieutenant, commissaire). He passed the competitive officer exam in 1999 and the commissaire exam in 2003, after which he was appointed head of the commissariat’s Community Policing Service. In 2006, he began to “innovate” by creating two successive specialized judicial brigades even though this service was only authorized to handle “uniform” work and not judicial activities.


“You need to understand that a department head has operational and hierarchical competence over his or her department and must account for his or her results to the hierarchy. When I arrived, I reorganized, to make public security work better, including in relation to the objectives that I had to achieve. I adapted its structures in relation to the objectives that the director had assigned to me […] From there, I had the idea of creating a first specialized unit, and I played with names. I thought it needed a name that attracts, that was attractive, that was known and that stuck in people’s minds.” [42]

27These strategies allowed the commissaries to distinguish themselves from competitors and also from the management practices of “old guard” colleagues, who, according to them, did not “seek to prove their capacity to adapt”. They also aimed to stand out from officers who had been fulfilling the same goals since 2004. [43] Questioned about the work of the commandants, the commissaries hastened to distinguish themselves from them by differentiating between the role and competences of the two corps.


“The commandant is my assistant. It would have been interesting before asking questions to have had an organizational chart of the service. If you have an organizational chart, you’d understand things. You’d understand that there is a commissary who is department head and a commandant who is assistant. My role is about planning and management. I’m here to give the Republic what it expects of me – that is, to diagnose the security problems that can be detected by observing crime statistics and to provide answers to them. The assistants and officers are mainly there to supervise. They do not do planning and management; they do command and supervision. The police hierarchy is like a roof. On the top of the tiling is the département director, and everything should point in the same direction, in the direction of the instructions of the département director, who gets them from both the prefect and the central directorate. If you have a tile that is askew, it’s not good.” [44]

29By claiming a monopoly over “the spirit of proposing and initiating” and reducing the role of officers to the supervision of subordinates and the implementation of instructions, the commissaries attempted to establish and maintain the legitimacy of the posts that they occupied, and thus to guarantee the benefits that they derived from them.

Adapting the organization to the political hierarchy of public problems

30The creation of brigades specialized in a specific aspect of criminal activity relates to the career strategies of commissaries who convey their willingness to their oversight authority by acting as mouthpiece for public security-policy orientations, as is the case of Dominique S., commissary of the sûreté départementale.

31During a speech at the Paris police prefecture on 20 August 2002, Nicolas Sarkozy, the interior minister, said: “In particular, I want to put a stop to the development of new types of criminal activity that are emerging, such as the theft of cars, cell phones or bank cards.” In 2005, Dominique S. followed this instruction by creating a brigade for reducing automobile-related offenses, whose role was to combat car thefts; a robberies group specialized in tackling the theft of mobile phones; and, in 2007, a payment-methods fraud group that combated thefts of bank cards and checks.

32The policy of announcing government priorities from above echoes that of specialization from below in the commissariat: a crime judged to be a priority leads to the creation of a specialized brigade, as remarks made by one chief brigadier show:


“If there is no brigade that specializes in a particular criminal act, it is because that act doesn’t matter and is not considered important by the hierarchy.” [45]

34However, the directives of the supervising ministry are not applied mechanically. Commissaries follow directions as a function of their own disposition and ambitions. The North African origins of Mohammed R., the commissary of the Community Policing Service, played a part in the decision to create a unit to combat discrimination, as his assistant Commandant Guillaume T. confirmed:


“The creation of a unit for handling acts of discrimination corresponds to a political desire that goes hand in hand, in my opinion, with the motivation of a department head who is unlikely to be a stranger to discrimination in his own life and career. I think that he wanted to improve the image of the police by showing that we’re not all fascists and that we can be interested in discrimination and above all take ownership of it.” [46]

36The types of crime that a brigade takes ownership of also depends on the interests of the local elected representatives, with whom commissaries attempt to build alliances. The corps and careers reform built bridges between the planning and management corps and senior civil servants. The post of commissary has thus become a way to circumvent the National School of Administration as a way into the prefectorial corps, for example. But for commissaries, access to the senior administration entails building networks and creating alliances and understandings, particularly with local officials. Taking ownership of certain crimes allows them to simultaneously invest in the professional policing space and in the space of administrative-political power in order to gain access to new positions. For example, Mohammed R. also put his weight behind combating personal assaults (domestic violence) and the insecurity in the school environment, which were established as priority objectives in LOPSI, [47] and created the personal assaults group. This group handles cases of intimate partner violence because, at the time, the mayor of the city had made the “police HQ” a “pilot commissariat” in the Plan to Combat Violence against Women: Ten Measures for Empowering Women (November 2004), which was presented by the minister for social cohesion and equality, [48] Catherine Vautrin, on 23 November 2005.

37Far from putting up resistance to observation, [49] the commissaries willingly opened the doors of the specialist brigades to “laypeople”. Interns and the media were invited to “observe their operation”. [50] Four specialized brigades were the subject of an article in the regional daily newspaper and of a report on TV channel TF1. All this can be seen in the e-mail message below, which was written by Laurence G., general staff administrative secretary at the Paris communications office, and sent to the commandant responsible for one of the units.


“Hello, I am writing to inform you that I have been in contact with Le Point regarding the national media coverage of the personal assaults combat group. The journalist, Mr L., is very interested and assured me that he intends to take up this story. He will contact you soon. I have to call France 2 back at about 4 p.m., I will keep you informed of their decision, Best wishes, Laurence G.”

39Some policemen and policewomen were well aware that specialization is a way for commissaries to prove their political loyalty. They also likened the brigades that they were in to “playthings” [51] belonging to the commissaries.


During my field research, I always had a field notebook on hand, in which I made observation notes. The police agents would often take it. Before meeting with the commissary for the Community Policing Service, I had prepared some questions. As usual, my notebook was lying around in the brigade office. Mathieu T., 36, chief brigadier and head of this group, made use of my absence to pick up the notebook. He had some fun answering the questions formulated for his superior in the hierarchy:
How was the personal assaults combat group created?
To make me look good to the hierarchy.
What is their role?
Boosting the numbers.
What is the role of the commandants?
Why is intimate partner violence a priority?
Because they’ve been talking about it on TV.”

Responding to efficiency imperatives

41Analysis of commissaries’ organizational choices must take account of managerial orders to produce more rapid results. Performance has become a priority objective that goes beyond policing and is part of a broader evolution in public administration. [52] Begun by the Rocard memo of 1989, [53] and extended ten years later by the Jospin memo, [54] the rationalization of public services quickened in the middle of the first decade of this century through the LOLF [55] in 2006 and the General Review of Public Policies in 2007. This rationalization has not been just bureaucratic in nature; it has also and above all been “managerial” – that is, inspired by the ideas of new public management. [56] The management skills – determining and setting objectives and measuring performance via activity indicators – introduced by the Framework Act on Internal Security in 2002 were also at the heart of the corps and careers reforms and the national police management methods reforms of 2004.

42But these managerial orders would probably be less effective if they did not have the support of the commissaries, or at least some of them, as these excerpts from interviews suggest:


“The role of a public servant of the Republic is to adapt and to put mechanisms in place to achieve what is assigned to him or her as quickly and efficiently as possible […] I’m all for performance culture and continually questioning and adapting.” [57]


“There was real dysfunction in the police. That can’t be denied. And I’m not talking about the dark past that shaped the bad image that people have of the police, alcohol, interventions bordering on illegality. I think that it was necessary for all that to be given a shake-up, that’s for sure […] Today, procedures are quick because groups are specialized and policemen and policewomen know what they’re talking about.” [58]

45It is therefore necessary to link the creation of specialized brigades to commissaries’ attitudes towards relaying managerial imperatives and their belief in the effectiveness of their action strategy, as demonstrated by the organization notes drafted by Mohammed R. and Dominique S. during the specialization of the units for handling discrimination and robberies.


“The creation of the unit tackling discrimination is intended to improve both quality and speed in the handling of procedures carried out in the context of a complaint about any discriminatory behavior. It has the goal of enhancing the quality of security responses that can be provided for institutional partners and victims and ultimately of increasing the effectiveness – in terms of prevention and reduction – of police action addressing such crime. The objectives set will be measured through reductions in processing time for these investigations as well as through improvements in the quality of these sometimes-underestimated cases. This targeted investigative work should contribute to a fast and specialized response to this type of crime. As such, it constitutes part of the response to the objectives determined by the head of the Community Policing Service in the context of combatting discriminatory behavior.” [59]


“Subject: Creation of a robbery group within the street crime group of the sûreté départementale. The fight against violence, and particularly against violence involved in robberies, is a goal set by the interior minister as part of the national plan to combat violence against the person. Although measures are being taken or are envisaged to fight against behavioral violence, they are not adapted to the violence involved in robberies, which needs to be handled in a specific way. As a specialized form of street crime, it must be combated and reduced through the creation of a specialist brigade. In March 2005, the Central Directorate of Public Security also invited streetbased groups to focus their activities on robberies. The objective was to reverse the trend of increasing levels of this form of crime and to continue to solve street crime.” [60]

48This belief was borne out, moreover, as the clearance rates for these crimes significantly increased a few months after the creation of the specialist groups. An observation of the indicators published in the Internal Crime Registers reveals that specialization had clear effects.

49For example, the brigade for combating automobile-related offenses (Brigade de répression des infractions liées à l’automobile; BRILA), which was created in 2003, increased clearance rates for car thefts from 2004, with an even more decisive increase in 2005, when the clearance rate was 8.78%. In 1993, it had been 4.80%. This is also the case for the antiburglary group, which increased the clearance rates for burglary to 21.52% in 2005, when it had stood at 8.41% in 1993.

50To encourage policemen and policewomen to buy in to the targets set and verified by officers, commissaries highlighted the results of the specialist brigades when the opportunity to do so arose. Dominique S., sûreté départementale commissary, distributed congratulatory letters to policemen and policewomen who bought into – or at least complied with – efficiency objectives, rewarded them with bonuses, and publicized the “good business” being done by the specialist brigades in different communication media (the intranet of the departmental police directorate; Politeia, the internal bulletin; and the Internal Crime Registers), as the following excerpts illustrate:


“The police district continues to pursue the decrease in street crime that has been seen since 2002. With just 6000 thefts recorded in 2005, the district has reported a decrease of 40% compared to 2001 and of 20% compared to 2004. The creation of BRILA in 2004 allowed a clear reduction in automobile-related offenses. The downward trend in recorded crimes has been confirmed this year with the eradication of fake registrations on mopeds and an appreciable decrease in thefts of vehicles and two-wheeled conveyances (-23%). The district recorded two times fewer thefts from vehicles and thefts of vehicles or two-wheeled conveyances compared to two years ago! Credit for these results should go to BRILA’s policemen and policewomen.” [61]


“The DDPS has sent a letter of congratulations to Lieutenant Marie M., Chief Brigadier Henri H., Brigadier Pierre U., and gardien de la paix Vincent J. of the Sûreté départementale concerning the quality of their work on damage to vehicles.” [62]

Ensuring buy-in from policemen and policewomen

53These strategies also allow commissaries to ensure the buy-in of their front-line agents as they coincide with the agents’ career interests. Specialization is a form of positive capital in terms of police prestige: specialist brigades are more highly valued in the institution because they allow policemen and policewomen to distinguish themselves from generalist roles. This distinction manifests itself, inter alia, in styles of dress, remembering arrest achievements with awards, and the adoption of an insignia, generally based on an animal, placed on specialist brigades’ office doors.

54Furthermore, the creation of specialist brigades within the investigation services increases the chances for gardiens de la paix of entering such services, which were once reserved to gradés and officers. Considered to be more interesting than the tasks assigned to uniformed gardiens de la paix working in emergency response services or at police stations, investigative work confers a symbolic benefit on those involved in it. To understand these new promotions, it is necessary to briefly outline the investigation service’s recruitment methods prior to the creation of small specialist brigades. In 1999, for gardiens de la paix to join the more rewarding units in the Sûreté départementale (the only service empowered to lead investigations at the time), generally they needed to have reached the rank of brigadier and/or the qualification of judicial police officer (JPO: officier de police judiciaire). The acquisition of knowledge and/or a higher rank were therefore what opened up horizontal career opportunities. In other words, the higher an agent’s rank, the more his or her chances of joining a rewarding department increased. In the middle of the first decade of this century, selection mechanisms became more flexible, and departmental specialization brought with it a widening of recruitment to a greater range of personnel. The creation of small judicial brigades therefore matched the interests of policemen and policewomen, and especially those of gardiens de la paix, for whom authorization to go from uniform to plain-clothes duties became easier. Jacques N., for example, began his career in uniform, with the general overnight service. After two years, he took up a neighborhood police station post, which he left the following year to join the Quart.


“I asked to be transferred to the Quart because I think that’s how the hierarchy gets to know personnel and discover their value. There are daily exchanges with the hierarchy. The commissaries find out about the way you work, because when you’re on patrol the image they have of you is the one that your bosses want to be conveyed to the hierarchy. In contrast, when you work with the Quart, they have a direct picture of you. Nobody is painting it for them. They see the way you work, and they have a picture of you that is direct and not distorted or exaggerated. The Quart helped me in that the commissary saw the way I worked, and my goal was to work in investigations. I knew that this was a necessary step. I was there for seven or eight months, and Dominique [the Sûreté départementale commissary] saw that I could be useful to his department and asked me to come to the street crime group.” [63]

56Recruited into the street crime group, which had just been created in 2003, Jacques completed his JPO qualification and joined the judicial investigation brigade [64] in 2004.


“It was really a promotion for me to move into the street crime group because this meant that I joined the Sûreté départementale. Proof of this is that it meant I could take the judicial police qualification, which is not necessarily open to everyone, and it allowed me to join the judicial investigation brigade.” [65]

58Whilst gardiens de la paix are proud of being able to handle investigations, the gradés are also happy with brigade specialization as it lets them occupy command posts over which officers previously had a monopoly, as this chief brigadier of the antiburglary cell explains:


“What I like about this post is that you gain command responsibilities while still remaining with the gardiens de la paix. I wouldn’t have been able to stop investigation work. So I think that being a chief brigadier is a good compromise […] I do investigations with colleagues, and at the same time I am responsible for making sure that my brigade functions well. And my day-to-day work has become more varied. I set up assignments, and I contribute to the management of the brigade. The difference is also noticeable in terms of pay.” [66]

60There are therefore different rationales for specializing commissariat activities. Commissaries’ initiatives should be linked to the changes in their role that began in 1995 and were stepped up from 2004, as well as to political directions and managerial imperatives that have been reaffirmed since 2002, and to the principles held by their subordinates. Front-line agents have an interest in supporting this segmentation process, as the creation of new brigades allows for their promotion. By choosing to specialize their departments, then, the aesthetic aspects of the institution have not been commissaries’ only consideration. To substantiate this statement, we now need to focus on the effects of these organizational changes on police “ways of being, thinking, and doing”.

A lever for change in the police institution

61Specialist brigades are small organizational “innovations” that nevertheless represent a lever for change in the policing institution. By altering work content and the space for possible career paths in the commissariat, these forms of reorganization represent a powerful tool in commissaries’ hands for reducing the autonomy of policemen and policewomen on the one hand, and for locally managing career paths on the other. Thus, by turning to the subtle procedures of division of labor, commissaries are led to impose the managerial objectives set out in the so-called state modernization reform.

Reducing autonomy and redefining investigators’ attributes

62In the 1990s, judicial departments, which had low levels of specialization, dealt with an indiscriminate array of cases. Complaints about thefts, burglaries, or even intimate partner violence were dealt with by a single brigade (the judicial investigation brigade [brigade de recherches judiciaires]; JIB). [67] In this context, policemen and policewomen who led investigations had leeway in selecting complaints that they deemed worthy of interest, at least in part. Hold-ups, for example, were prioritized over intimate partner violence, which were classified as lower in terms of police prestige. [68] This relative autonomy enjoyed by policemen and policewomen, observed in numerous works, [69] was seriously hindered by the specialization of activities. By creating brigades dedicated to particular types of crime (burglary, intimate partner violence, etc.), commissaries weakened the capacity of policemen and policewomen to select their duties and choose their cases: they were confined to their brigade’s area of specialization. By altering the content of work, then, commissaries’ initiatives have contributed to reorienting police practices toward handling minor and medium-level crime, towards which the police had previously shown little commitment.

63Furthermore, the majority of policemen and policewomen stationed in specialist brigades quickly put their efforts into producing rapid results. In order to outdo “old guard” colleagues who resisted recent orders to produce quantifiable results, young gardiens de la paix who had been freshly promoted to the new investigation brigades valued mastery of procedure, utilizing their qualifications and skills to quickly achieve objectives assigned to them and hoping – as good students do – to gain recognition from their hierarchical superior.


“It’s not the judicial police for sure, but, well, you immerse yourself in what you do. That’s not always the case for everyone in Sûreté départementale. It’s pointless to put on a show or load up the vans after the raid, if you get what I’m saying. All that is needed is for the case to be dealt with and for criminal liability to stick.” [70]

65This adjustment of police practices to “results-based culture” must also be connected, at least in part, to the consequences of specializing activities. The process of professional segmentation destabilizes the identification principles that guaranteed the stability of the internal scale of prestige. In the relatively undifferentiated space of judicial services, the hierarchy of posts was clear. But this century, policemen and policewomen can no longer really define their positions by indexing the prestige of their brigade to a more or less informal but universally known scale of posts, as was still the case very recently. By expanding the number of specialist departments, commissaries have contributed to blurring the honors scale and increasing the phenomena of competition and distinction. [71]

66To maintain or seize their place in this reconfigured space, policemen and policewomen engage in symbolic micro-struggles. Each strives to divert the definition of the “true” and the “good” policeman or policewoman toward his or her interests, according to the resources at his or her disposal and to those that he or she is denied. The specialization of activities has therefore not only exacerbated police struggles to impose the attributes and resources necessary for the occupation of judicial posts but also changed the outcome of these battles. In a context in which evaluatory authorities such as commissaries and officers particularly value “performance”, brigades that specialize in minor and medium-level crime now offer distinctive benefits. The accumulated mastery of a microset of offenders and its operational modes, as well as the use of technologies (video surveillance and telephony), increases policemen or policewomen’s chances of rapidly producing a result by comparison with their colleagues in generalist departments and those responsible for crimes in private spaces (brigades focused on vice and minors). “Effectiveness” is therefore an argument deployed by gardiens de la paix stationed in brigades specialized in minor and medium-level crime to highlight their work to the hierarchy in the hope of progressing more rapidly within the institution, but they also use it to prevail over “old guard” colleagues who are better placed in the historical scale of police prestige. Moralizing discourses (calls for individual “accountability” and the hunting down of “abuses”) have experienced growing success within specialist brigades. In 2006, the young gardiens de la paix sought at all costs to distinguish themselves from the “old police” associated with a distant past, and they played the role of “moral entrepreneurs” [72] in relation to the old guard. This was unambiguously revealed through observing the drinks parties at which policemen and policewomen gathered after a successful case or the departure of a colleague. These gatherings were an occasion for them to ridicule the practices of their “elders” and “rivals”.


“September 2006. The personnel of the street crime group met up to celebrate solving a case. It was the commissary’s idea. It is 12pm. The gardiens de la paix from the robberies group are preparing their offices to welcome their colleagues. Files are being removed from the tables and chairs are being set up. The members of the automobile offenses brigade have gone to fetch the lunch. Everyone contributed to buying the meal. Potato chips, cold cuts, bread, and red wine have been placed on the desks. At 12.15pm, the members of the street crime group and the commissary meet. The policemen and policewomen are reserved. They are struggling to find space in the cramped office. The commissary opens the conversation and turns to the way in which the questioning at 6am this morning unfolded. All stages of the operation are commented upon. A gardien de la paix says to his colleague, ‘You didn’t seem very awake!’ Another recounts, `We had problems with the battering ram. The door wouldn’t give, and we had to have at least six goes!’ The mood is becoming more relaxed. A gardien de la paix refers to another case that he had led: ‘We had the same thing once. The door wouldn’t give way, and my colleagues had to go through the window.’ The commissary congratulates his team: ‘That was good work. You reacted well!’ And then he heads off. Vincent, a 30-year-old gardien de la paix, starts speaking after the commissary has gone: ‘I’m going to have another small glass and then that’s it. Otherwise I won’t be able to work […] This reminds me of when I started. I was a young gardien de la paix at the station. I worked under a commandant’s orders. You, he said to me, you didn’t experience that time. The guys didn’t know when to stop back then. I worked with drunk cops so many times! One day, I went to the commandant’s office. We’d brought in a homeless person who couldn’t stand up anymore. To cut a long story short, I knocked, and no one answered. I asked my colleagues if they’d seen the commandant. They told me that he was shut up in his office and that he hadn’t come out all morning. It was about 11 in the morning. Then there’s a group of us, and we start to knock. From behind the door we hear this quiet moaning. Me and my colleagues were really laughing about this, and we were wondering what was happening behind that door. [Everyone in the office laughs.] After a moment or two, one of them told me to go in. And so I push at the door, a bit heavily. And what did we find? Our commandant spread out on the floor, completely hammered, with his foot behind the door so that it couldn’t be opened. The situation was so funny, with the other one [the homeless person] waiting in the jail also hammered. There weren’t enough cells to put everyone in!” [73]

68These attitudes need to be translated, however, to the position that policemen and policewomen occupy in the commissariat during an investigation. Those who in 2014 had managed to join more prestigious departments than the “little” specialist brigades became the new guardians of the symbols of the “old” version of the profession that they had sought to overturn in 2006. This is revealed by the remarks of one of them.


2007: “We don’t waste our time. We take care of cases. Just yesterday I did two handovers to the prosecutor. People who have a problem with objectives are perhaps also people who can’t handle them…” [74]


2014: “You can’t go fast if you want to lead good investigations. You can’t be in a hurry if you want to catch the right perp. You need time. You don’t build up a good case in two days.” [75]

Managing police manpower

71In addition to contributing to the fast processing of minor and medium-level crime, the proliferation of specialist services is a method of personnel management in its own right. The corps and careers reform of 2004 provided for an increase in gradés and a decrease in the number of gardiens de la paix and officers.


The establishment of post specifications has allowed a reduction in the number of police personnel from 2030 to 1600 in the senior technical corps (commissaries), from 15,000 to 9000 in the command corps (officers), and from 79,677 to 58,570 for the supervision and enforcement corps (gardiens de la paix). In the space of eight years, the commissariat lost ten officers and eleven gardiens de la paix, and it gained 73 gradés and one security assistant.

73By creating new sections, the commissaries have extended their departments’ responsibilities, at the same time as tackling the reduction in officers and gardiens de la paix.


The segmentation of the structure of the three departments in 2004 was accompanied by a significant decrease in the number of policemen and policewomen (319 in 2004, compared with 422 in 2000). Their brigades were made up more through a redeployment of staff than through an increase: two agents were enough to create a specialist judicial brigade in 2007, whereas at the beginning of that decade, a minimum of five agents made up a group within this department.

75The creation of specialist brigades was also a way to manage the influx of gradés and satisfy their expectations. The commissaries were now able to use the larger playing surface at their disposal to appoint the gradés to the head of specialist brigades and, in so doing, they transformed the necessity to transfer for those who wished to be part of more highly valued investigative groups into the chance to command.


On this point, the career path of Henri H., a 36-year-old chief brigadier in the street crime group from 2005, is significant. A former gardien de la paix, he joined the judicial investigation brigade and reached the rank of brigadier in 2003. He hoped to join the regional department of the judicial police, but he was named chief brigadier of a brigade specializing in street crime. Although the commissary couldn’t satisfy his wish, his assignment to this department (this group is less prestigious than the judicial police) nevertheless allowed him to be promoted to the senior rank and to command a group.

77Commissaires also use specialist brigades to address the new aspirations of gardiens de la paix, who have more educational qualifications and are better qualified in terms of judicial and procedural matters. [76] Spending time in low-level specialist brigades has become one of the conditions for gardiens de la paix to then be assigned to the commissariat’s most coveted brigades. Gardiens de la paix are therefore easily retained in brigades combating minor and medium-level crime because of the prospect of joining more prestigious brigades.


“I was told: ‘If you want to go to Sûreté départementale, you have to spend time in the Quart.’ I was in the Quart for a year. And then I landed here in the discriminatory assaults unit. Even though I qualified as brigadier and chief brigadier at almost the same time, that wasn’t enough.” [77]

79In so doing, commissaries dress up agents’ sideways movements from one post to another as mobility – previously associated with promotion – even when in reality they do not allow access to more prestigious positions. Although regular transfers by policemen or policewomen look like a promotion, this is often just an illusion. [78] In reality, such transfers merely lend the commissary flexibility in allocating police manpower.

80The career path of Guillaume G., 38 and from a working-class background, serves as an example here. After failing the baccalaureate, he passed the competitive exams to become a gardien de la paix. His first post was in the Nanterre commissariat, in the emergency unit. After three years, having tired of his job, he applied for the crime brigade, where he remained for another three years. He then received a transfer to his home region. After a first posting to the enforcement section [service d’intervention] (order and road security department), the following year he joined the Sûreté départementale’s criminal identification [IJ; identité judiciaire] department.


“Two and a half years later, they said to me: ‘In the IJ department, policemen and policewomen are going to be replaced by administrative personnel. You were the last in, and so you’re out.’ I was told that in June. I could either leave right away and essentially stay in Sûreté départementale, or I could leave later, when my replacement had arrived. The choice was made quickly, and I left right away. I moved to the street crime group. The commissary was smart, and he said to me, `You have the choice to go into whichever department you want.’ So I was under the impression that I was able to choose, but at the same time he was the one who directed me. I thought about doing criminal investigation, but he suggested that I start in the automobile offenses brigade. A few months later, I moved to the robberies group… and now I’m in the antiburglary group, and still not in the criminal investigations brigade.” [79]

82The “little organizational tweaks” made by commissaries are therefore linked to changes in the shape of police corps and careers, [80] and simultaneously transform representations, opportunities, and the space for mobility. At the same time, the margin for maneuver gained from the creation and skillful distribution of “new” posts allows commissaries to deal with the effects of the recent corps and careers reform on police staff and their aspirations.

83* * *

84Although the introduction of performance indicators embodies the managerial turn in the administration of policing, the seemingly limited reconfigurations of the division of labor controlled by commissaries also merit attention. This is first because they allow changes in the police to be addressed not so much from the perspective of objectives and instruments announced in reforms as from that of their material dimensions. Linked to the emerging trends of processing minor and medium-level crime and of “results-based culture”, this managerial division of labor in the police translates public security policy orientations (the importance attached to minor and medium-level crime and results-based management) and has significant effects on professional practices (reduced autonomy, commitment to producing quick results, and management of career paths). Second, the changes in the division of labor reveal that “the managerial nature of a reform or an innovation is not a given that can be identified a priori, but results from the processing and refining by which social actors give shape to reform or innovation”. [81] Specialization is a constant in the history of the institution, wrapped up in managerial objectives since the beginning of this century. This discrete form of public management of policing has allowed commissaries to adapt the activities of their departments to the demands of the political and police hierarchies and to the imperatives of “results”, at the same time as it has achieved buy-in from their subordinates. Finally, we need to focus on these transformations because they are in line with the finding of increasing “manipulation” of organizational forms of bureaucracies as an effect of neomanagerial reforms that reinforce specialization and also, conversely, of more recent reforms that involve mergers and despecialization. Scholars such as Tom Christensen and Per Lægreid [82] have highlighted the complexity of changes that affect the structures of public organizations. These organizations struggle with the varied and combined forms of specialization (horizontal, vertical), and also with counter-developments that are sometimes referred to as “post-NPM” and which aim to put overly fragmented entities back together. They are additionally exposed to the contradictions of reforms centered on performance and the strengthening of control of the organization from above, through objectives and indicators. Finally, they struggle with the growing pressures of their environments (political and social) and with changes in their internal norms and cultures.

85Although the authors of international works on public administration readily talk of hybridization when describing these organizations undergoing transformation, the political, administrative, and social weight of changes in public organizational forms is frequently insufficiently addressed. The sociology of contemporary police specialization suggested here shows that, far from being unambiguous or mechanistic, activities related to the division of labor are embedded in dynamics of reorganization that are broader than performance-based neo-managerial reforms. An analysis of the issues, rationales, and effects of reconfigurations of the division of labor in public administrations would in my view allow the true scope of reforms inspired by new public management theories [83] to be evaluated, and it would restore sociological depth to the emergence and implementation of new forms of organization, whose hybridity must be more empirically explored than postulated. In the police, reorganizations that prioritize the fragmentation and specialization of commissariats into small units do not lead to stable organizational formats. The particularity of the new organization of police work lies in uniting specialization with flexibility. Units are not created permanently; their longevity is subject to several threats. The first involves brigades’ effectiveness. For example, the cybercrime cell created in 2007 was dissolved in 2010 due to a lack of conclusive results. The transfer of the commissary who created a given unit is a second risk. In this context, the new commissary will generally seek to leave his or her mark on the commissariat by closing his or her predecessor’s brigades. Finally, in addition to the reduction in staff numbers, new security-related political orientations may lead to questioning the pertinence of a brigade that specializes in a given type of crime. Since the end of the previous decade, the hierarchy has been creating, dissolving, merging, and specializing new units that agents are continually transferred in and out of. This organizational blurring allows commissaries to have a flexible workforce that can be adapted to objectives that are deemed to be a priority. In so doing, they bring flexibility to the horizontal division of labor through a process of unstable professional segmentation that continually changes the understanding of what is considered prestigious, makes positions precarious, and jeopardizes the collective necessary for police work. [84]

The English version of this article is published with the support of the CNRS


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    Mathieu T., chief brigadier, personal assaults combat group, aged 36.
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    Guillaume T., police commandant, assistant to the Département Safety commissary in 2007, aged 43.
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    Loi no 2002-1094 du 29 août 2002 d’orientation et de programmation pour la sécurité intérieure: “Two trends have emerged over this twenty-year period. One is quantitative: the exponential increase in crime, eloquently demonstrated by the statistics. The other is qualitative: the significance of acts of violence against individuals. These are linked not only to classic crimes of appropriation but more and more frequently take the form of gratuitous and even humiliating acts of violence […] Although the domestic security forces should not substitute for social services, they nevertheless have the legitimacy to intervene in prevention, in particular in the context of schools.”
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    On 23 March 2006 Parliament definitively adopted the Strengthening of the Prevention and Punishment of Violence within Couples or against Minors Act.
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    The police force is characterized by a resistance “to the project of familiarity”. See Jean-Paul Brodeur, “La police: mythes et réalités”, Criminologie, 17(1), 1984, 9-41.
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    This was the expression used by the divisional commissary, who, at the beginning of my research, had encouraged me to observe the functioning of the specialist brigades.
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    This term was used by police stationed in the specialist brigades.
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    Marc Loriol, Valérie Boussard, and Sandrine Caroly, “La police et les jeunes des banlieues”, 31 January 2006, <>.
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    Memo of 23 February 1989 on the renewal of public services, available at
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    Memo of 3 June 1998 on the preparation of multiyear programs to modernize administrations, available at <>.
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    Loi organique no 2001-692 du 1er août 2001 relative aux lois de finances (LOLF).
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    Vincent Wright and Sabino Cassese (eds), La recomposition de l’État en Europe (Paris: La Découverte, 1996); Bezes, Réinventer l’État.
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    Mohammed R.
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    Dominique S., Sûreté départementale commissary, aged 28.
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    Departmental notice, 2006.
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    Departmental notice, 2005.
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    Observations and comments on crime in 2005, Internal Crime Registers, 2006, 18.
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    “Félicitations et témoignages”, Politeia, 126, June 2007.
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    Jacques N., gardien de la paix, judicial investigation brigade, aged 35.
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    The Judicial Investigation Brigade (Brigade de recherches judiciaires) occupies the top position in the symbolic hierarchy of the commissariat.
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    Jacques N.
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    Jean-François C., chief brigadier, burglary cell, aged 37.
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    Laurence Proteau, “L’économie de la preuve en pratique: les catégories de l’entendement policier”, Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales, 178(3), 2009, 12-27.
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    The classification of offenders is in fact a mark of distinction because it inversely determines the professional hierarchy. While the handling of organized crime is worthwhile, intimate partner violence is strongly devalued in the policing world. Such matters, which are often likened to tittle-tattle or gossip and gladly assigned to women, are met with far less effort than other felonies or misdemeanors. See Gwenaëlle Mainsant, “L’État en action: classements et hiérarchies dans les investigations policières en matière de proxénétisme”, Sociétés contemporaines, 72(4), 2008, 37-57.
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    For example, Dominique Monjardet, “À la recherche du travail policier”, Sociologie du travail, 4, 1985, 391-407; Robert Reiner, The Politics of the Police (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992); John Van Maanen and Peter K. Manning (eds), Policing. A View from the Street (New York: Random House, 1978).
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    Mathias B., gardien de la paix, street crime group, aged 33.
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    Élodie Lemaire, “Spécialisation et distinction dans un commissariat de police”, Sociétés contemporaines, 72(4), 2008, 59-79.
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    Howard Becker, Outsiders: studies in the sociology of deviance (New York: The Free Press, 1973).
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    Field notebook excerpts, September 2006.
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    Bernard T., brigadier, personal assaults group, aged 33.
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    Bernard T., brigadier, vice brigade, aged 39.
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    The extension in 1998 of the qualification of judicial police officer to gardiens de la paix and gradés (law no. 98-1035 of November 18 on the extension of the judicial police officer qualification to the control and enforcement corps of the national police) was reaffirmed in 2002 by LOPSI: “The number of agents having the qualification of judicial police will be augmented over the duration of the framework law, in particular in the control and enforcement corps of the national police” (Framework Act no. 2002-1094 of August 29, 2002, on internal security, annex 1).
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    Aline N., chief brigadier, discriminatory acts processing unit, aged 37.
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    Élodie Lemaire, “Réforme des corps et carrières et illusion promotionnelle dans la police”, in Sophie Bernard, Dominique Méda, and Michèle Tallard (eds), Outiller les parcours professionnels. Quand les dispositifs publics se mettent en action (Berne: Peter Lang, 2016), 127-41.
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    Guillaume G., gardien de la paix, robberies group, aged 38.
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    See on this point Philippe Coulangeon, Geneviève Pruvost, and Ionela Roharik, 1982-2003: enquête sociodémographique sur les conditions de vie et d’emploi de 5221 policiers (Paris: INHES, 2003).
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    Laurence Dumoulin and Christian Licoppe, “La visioconférence comme mode de comparution des personnes détenues, une innovation ‘managériale’ dans l’arène judiciaire”, Droit et société, 90, 2015, 287-302 (290).
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    Tom Christensen and Per Lægreid, “Complexity and hybrid public administration: theoretical and empirical challenges”, Public Organization Review, 11, 2011, 407-23.
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    Antoine Vauchez, “Un argument de poids: le chiffre dans le gouvernement de la justice”, Revue française d’administration publique, 1, 2008, 111-21; Nicolas Belorgey, L’hôpital sous pression. Enquête sur le “nouveau management public” (Paris: La Découverte, 2010); Isabelle Bruno, “Comment gouverner un ‘espace européen de la recherche’ et des ‘chercheurs-entrepreneurs’? Le recours au management comme technologie politique”, Innovations. Cahiers d’économie de l’innovation, 36(3), 2011, 65-82.
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    I would like to thank the Revue française de science politique’s reviewers and the editors of this special issue, Philippe Bezes and Patrick Le Lidec, for their always-constructive remarks, as well as for their careful re-readings of this text.

This article analyses the changing shape of a police station focused on public safety. It highlights police services’ over-specialization, and studies the different rationales behind this dynamic. It demonstrates that specialization is a constant phenomenon in the institution’s history, inscribed in managerial objectives since the beginning of the 2000s. However, this organizational strategy cannot be reduced to just another example of New Public Management. Embedded in parallel transformations within the police, specialization enables police commissaries to adapt their services’ activities to the demands of political and police hierarchies, and to the imperative for results, whilst also attaining buy-in from their subordinates.

Élodie Lemaire
Élodie Lemaire is a sociologist and lecturer at the Université de Picardie-Jules Verne (UPJV), and a researcher at the Centre universitaire de recherche sur l’action publique et le politique – Épistémologie et sciences sociales (CURAPP-ESS), Amiens. Her research focuses on the effects of administrative reforms on the policing institution, the procedures for constructing crime figures at the local level, and the uses of video surveillance recordings as evidence in court (CURAPP, Faculté de droit et de science politique, Pôle universitaire Cathédrale, 10 placette Lafleur, BP 2716, 80027 Amiens cedex 1).
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