A new Paris police chief took office on Thursday, tasked with proving to the world that the French capital can handle mass events despite the disastrous handling of a recent Champions League match.
Laurent Nunez, 58, took over from Didier Lallement who during his three-year stint was often criticised for heavy-handed police action, most recently at a Liverpool-Real Madrid game on May 28.
Faced with the build-up of frustrated crowds around the Stade de France, police used tear gas and pepper spray to move them back, also harming many children as well as disabled fans in wheelchairs.
Officials say Lallement’s departure was not linked to the football fiasco, but Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin left no doubt that he expects Nunez to help fix Paris’s tarnished image as the capital prepares to host the summer Olympics in 2024.
“You will be the police chief in charge of the Olympic Games, and the entire police service must be focused on that task,” he said at Thursday’s handover ceremony.
Paris will also host the Rugby World Cup next year.
Among sources of friction between Lallement and city hall, as well as President Emmanuel Macron, was his criticism of plans to hold part of the Olympic opening ceremony on the river Seine, which he and other police officials believed to be an unnecessary security risk.
Lallement, who was unapologetic about his law-and-order approach, was also in open conflict with leftist parties over numerous incidents of police violence, including against Yellow Vest protesters.
“Didier Lallement is leaving, good riddance,” tweeted Mathilde Panot, a deputy for the leftwing LFI party. “We won’t forget the Yellow Vests who lost their eyes, or had their hands torn off, and the other injured demonstrators.”
Lallement, 65, said in a farewell letter to staff that he was “proud of duty done”, but he also admitted “carrying the wound of the Stade de France failure”.
Paris employs some 28,000 police agents, plus 16,000 support staff.