NOIRMOUTIER-EN-L'ÎLE, France — When Crestview Police Department Investigator Shawn Temple visited the Noirmoutier barracks of the Gendarmerie Nationale, he learned about the commonalities and differences between his own agency and the French national police.
Temple, traveling with a delegation from the Crestview Area Sister City Program, met with Maj. Jean-Pierre Saunier, who shared a brief history of the Gendarmerie, a nationwide police force that dates back to the Middle Ages. It assumed its current name in 1791 after the French Revolution.
"The Gendarmerie is a very old lady," Maj. Saunier said with a broad smile.
His barracks — or "caserne" — is one of more than 3,800 stations scattered across France, covering 95 percent of the country and 55 percent of its residents. When necessary, its more than 150,000 staff members and officers supplement local police departments, called the Police Municipale.
In Noirmoutier, the municipal police chief is Mayor Noël Faucher. Police duties are generally relegated to minor offenses such as traffic enforcement and petty crimes. For major incidents, the Gendarmerie takes control.
In the Noirmoutier caserne, 11 officers reside in the barracks adjacent to the headquarters building that Temple, CPD Public Information Officer Brian Hughes, and several Noirmoutrin Sister City Committee officials visited. In the summer, the Gendarmerie ranks swell to 28 to accommodate the population, which grows from 10,000 residents throughout the island to more than 100,000, including tourists.
While judicial procedures were similar — the two countries share common governing roots — the Crestview Police Department enjoys one thing the Noirmoutier Gendarmerie lacks: autonomy.
"It is amazing!" translator Philippe Lemoine said as the French hosts learned that the CPD isn't subject to county, state or federal supervision.
Not only does Maj. Saunier report to an extensive chain of command that stretches from regional to provincial headquarters and on to national level in Paris, the Gendarmerie reports to two republic ministries, those of Defense and Interior, as well.
Following an exchange of a plaque from Chief Tony Taylor and insignia patches from Saunier, the visitors toured the Gendarmerie headquarters, culminating in sharing a glass of champagne with their hosts in the vehicle bay.
There the group raised a toast to continued friendship between the two communities — and the shared bond of defending their respective citizens against wrongdoers.