PARIS (AP) — A French police officer was in custody Thursday after shooting to death a driver who failed to obey an order to stop, the latest in a string of events that are raising questions about the use of deadly force by French police.
They are also calling attention to the use of vehicles as weapons. The latest incident took place Wednesday in the southern city of Nice as the trial for the 2016 Bastille Day truck attack that killed 86 people in Nice started this week in Paris.
Police authorities said the driver refused to obey an order to stop after officers noted he was dangerously driving but he instead accelerated to flee.
Deputy prosecutor of Nice Maud Marty said at some point the car “turned back to be in front of the police car and rammed into it twice.” She said the 23-year-old officer fired a single shot at the driver.
A video on the social media show the car, in front of the damaged police vehicle, driving backwards while an officer in the street points his gun at the driver’s window. The officer shoots just after the driver appears to stop the car.
Authorities said the man was driving a stolen car. The passenger has been placed in custody on suspicion of attempted murder of police officers.
Nice Mayor Christian Estrosi thanked police officers on Twitter.
“In front of a driver who deliberately drove toward them, they had to use their weapon to neutralize him,” he wrote. “Refusals to obey are multiplying.”
Police unions said the police officer acted in self-defense.
Benoit Barret, of the Alliance police union, told France 3 television that a vehicle can be used as a weapon. “Police officers, to save their lives, use their weapon simply to avoid being killed.”
French researcher Christian Mouhanna, from France’s National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), an expert on police issues, said a major factor explaining why French police are using their weapons more than before is legal changes introduced in 2017.
The new rule allowing officers to shoot is “more vague” than the previous, stricter self-defense rule, Mouhanna said. It provides that officers can use their weapon “in case of absolute necessity and in a strictly proportionate manner” when they have no other means to stop a vehicle whose driver disobeys the order to stop and represents a threat.
The legal changes were notably made after a series of attacks by extremists in the country in 2015-2016.
“It is seen by some police officers as allowing them to shoot when someone, with a vehicle, is fleeing,” Mouhanna said.
In another incident Wednesday in the western city of Rennes, a 22-year-old woman was killed after police opened fire on the car she was in during an anti-drug operation. The driver of the car was wounded.
Earlier this year, a French police officer was charged with involuntary manslaughter after shooting dead two men in a car as they sought to escape a police check on the Pont-Neuf bridge in central Paris, on the night of French President Emmanuel Macron’s reelection.
News broadcaster France Info said, according to its own count in the absence of recent official statistics, nine people have been killed by police in similar situations this year. Last year, four people were shot dead in such circumstances, according to police figures.
According to a report from the Inspectorate General of the National Police (IGPN), the use by officers of weapons to fire at “moving vehicles” has increased, from about 110 annually in 2012-2014 to over 150 in recent years.