In French, they are the PSMP, Pelotons de Sûreté Maritime et Portuaire,” elite units of the French Gendarmerie

What is a Gendarmerie? The term “Gendarmerie” refers to a military force charged with police duties among civilian populations.

PSMP Dog Handler
Here, a PSMP dog handler boards a vessel.

The PSMP are maritime and port security specialists. They patrol French ports to keep them safe from terrorist activities.  The unit was formed shortly after 9/11.

PSMP during a training exercise
During a training exercise.
Indonesian Pirates
Indonesian pirates brandish their weapons in an obviously maritime environment.

Gendarmerie: A Background

  • Origin: The word “Gendarmerie” is derived from the medieval French expression “gens d’armes”, which means “men-at-arms.” Over time, this has evolved to refer to soldiers who carry out policing functions.
  • Roles: Their primary role is often to maintain public order and enforce laws in areas that are not under the jurisdiction of the standard police force. They might be responsible for patrolling rural areas, highways, or regions that require specialized attention.
  • Characteristics: Gendarmeries are usually a branch of the armed forces, but they function as a law enforcement agency. This dual role often equips them with a unique set of powers and responsibilities compared to civilian police.
  • Countries with Gendarmeries: Many countries around the world have a Gendarmerie or a similar paramilitary police force. Some notable ones include:
    • France: The French Gendarmerie is one of the best-known examples. It’s a branch of the French Armed Forces responsible for policing rural areas and smaller towns, among other duties.
    • Turkey: The Jandarma is Turkey’s equivalent, serving similar roles in rural areas and along the borders.
    • Italy: The Carabinieri is an Italian national military police force under the control of the Ministry of Defense.
  • Key Duties: In addition to standard law enforcement roles, Gendarmeries often handle other duties like military and defense responsibilities, riot control, counter-terrorism activities, and more.
  • International Missions: Gendarmerie units from various countries often participate in international missions, providing training, maintaining peace, and assisting in rebuilding efforts in post-conflict zones.

In essence, the Gendarmerie provides an essential bridge between the military and civilian police, capable of taking on roles that may be outside the scope of a regular police force while not being as heavily armed or mobilized as a traditional military unit.

PSMP in Action