Cannes on Alert: Local Cops to Carry Handguns for First Time

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Local police on the march in Cannes.

Blockades and barbed wire are among the new measures authorities are employing to thwart a potential terror attack.

France might be a bit less on edge now that its contentious presidential election is over and centrist Emmanuel Macron has defeated far-right candidate Marine Le Pen. Much of the population is relieved, but now the Cannes Film Festival is coming up, and experts say security threats remain.

"It's a political revolution," terror expert and police consultant Alain Bauer tells THR. "The election will have no effect on [jihadists]."

Macron, who campaigned on confronting the causes of homegrown terrorism, will need to concentrate on "intelligence reform and better analytical skills," says Bauer.

The threat level in France remains "elevated" under the Vigipirate plan that has seen soldiers stationed at the Nice airport and Cannes train station where attendees arrive.

While there were no incidents at 2016's film festival and increased security was clearly evident — armed military and riot police patrols and police dogs were ubiquitous — security concerns this year have been stoked by a number of headline-grabbing events in France: a fatal shooting along the Champs-Elysees in Paris on April 20; a bomb attack in Marseille that was thwarted earlier that month; and the 2016 truck attack in Nice that killed 86 people celebrating Bastille Day (just six weeks after the fest ended), for which the Islamic State claimed credit.

This year, in a nationwide first, local Cannes police officers will be sporting handguns. Mayor David Lisnard's two-year lobbying effort for local flics to carry 9 millimeter sidearms finally met with success in December, and they will also be issued bulletproof vests. Only national police previously were allowed to have handguns.

In addition, 400 extra officers will flood the city, and plainclothes police will be dispersed in crowds. More than 500 closed-circuit cameras will monitor the city 24 hours a day and, in another first, large bags will be subject to searches along the waterfront in what Lisnard calls a melding of "technological and human means."

One week ahead of the fest, the city was already on "lockdown," said local authorities, and large delivery trucks — the kind used in the Nice attack — will be restricted from coming into the city during the event. Other new measures include cement barriers and 600 feet of spiked chain to deter any rogue vehicles.

On Monday morning in Cannes, it appeared to be business as usual up and down the Croisette – if not slightly more hectic than last year. By 10 a.m., white delivery trucks lined most of the street all the way from the Martinez down to the Palais. It was nearly bumper-to-bumper as many of those trucks were competing for space with tour buses, bicyclists and even the sightseeing regular Petit Train of Cannes.

Festival insiders are bracing for how the increased security measures will affect traffic once the festival kicks off on Wednesday. One veteran driver told The Hollywood Reporter that her driving privileges are restricted this year, meaning that she won’t have access to the Croisette at all during the festival. Officials, along with local police, opted to ban all vehicles from the Croisette except for "official festival cars," carrying VIPs and guests of Palais screenings, she said.

Also on Wednesday morning, local police were spotted just after 10 a.m. in a large group practicing a formal security routine in front of the Palais, ending up on what will soon be the red carpet area in front of the risers that will hold dozens and dozens of photographers. Meanwhile across the street, close to 20 security officers were seen inside the Dior boutique having a meeting, a sign that security is top of mind for most in town.

The same seems to be true for the airport in Nice. Armed officers carrying automatic weapons were spotted on the tarmac outside of an Air France flight. "I’ve never seen that before," said one passenger upon leaving the plane.  

As the Nice airport beefs up security, flights back to the U.S. may be impacted before the festival ends on May 28. That's because the Trump administration has indicated it will expand a ban of laptops and tablets from the cabins of some flights from the Middle East and Africa to include flights from Europe. As a result, U.S. festivalgoers may soon have to pack their devices in luggage.

"Times have changed," says mayor Lisnard about the situation in Cannes. "The police, whether national or municipal, are confronted on the ground with more violent and heavily armed criminals than in the past. The terrorist threat reinforces [the new measures]."

The series of attacks across France during the past year has raised anxiety levels among some festivalgoers. "I think there's as much fear and anxiety now as back in 2002, which is really sad," says one U.S. producer who attended after 9/11. "It's essentially a new generation of terror."

Chris Gardner and Tatiana Siegel contributed to this report.

This story first appeared in the May 10 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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