Armed Police Lifeguards Patrol Beaches This Summer Amid Terror Threats

The beach in Nice, France

Police lifeguards on France’s busiest beaches will carry guns and bulletproof vests for the first time this summer amid fears that terrorists could target holidaymakers.

The decision comes as France enters its seventh month on highest alert under a state of emergency since the November terrorist attacks in Paris, which killed 130. It also follows the murder of a policeman and his wife at their home outside Paris earlier this month.

Officers of the CRS riot police are deployed as lifeguards at beach resorts in July and August each year. In the past they have abandoned their guns, flak jackets and helmets in favour of swimming trunks, sunglasses and T-shirts when taking up the much coveted perch on a lifeguard’s chair.

The officers in charge of beach first-aid centres and their deputies will now carry guns in sand-proof holsters, specially designed for use with beachwear. Bullet-proof vests will be kept near lifeguard posts.

“We will be ready to act if there is an armed attack on a beach,” Nicolas Comte, a police union spokesman, said.

The decision is thought to have been motivated partly by the need to reassure tourists in one of the world’s favourite holiday destinations, which has also been hit by a long series of often violent protests against labour reforms.

Holidaymakers have also been alarmed by the massacre of 38 people, including 30 Britons, on a Tunisian beach last summer and a beach attack in Ivory Coast in March in which gunmen killed 16 people.

We will be swimming in ridiculeFrédéric Lagache of police union, Alliance.

Some officers welcomed the decision, but others complained that they would look foolish carrying guns while wearing swimming trunks.

“We will be swimming in ridicule,” said Frédéric Lagache of another police union, Alliance. “It is necessary to keep police and tourists secure on beaches, but not in this manner. I don’t like the idea of a CRS officer intervening with a gun and a bullet-proof vest while in swimming trunks.”

The number of officers on lifeguard duty is being reduced this year from 460 to 300 because police are needed to protect against possible terrorist attacks elsewhere, including the European football championship, which ends on 10 July, and the Tour de France bicycle race. Around a third will now carry guns.

Mr Lagache said storing the guns and ensuring they do not fall into the wrong hands would also pose security problems.

But Mr Comte argued that the police would be safer if armed. “We’ve seen that today, police officers are prime targets for terrorists,” he said.

French police have been allowed to carry guns when off duty since the murder of the police couple, carried out by a man who claimed allegiance to Islamic State.

Local councils are making up the shortfall in CRS lifeguards with volunteers, firemen and municipal police, none of whom will carry guns.

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