The Prefect reference article from the English Wikipedia on 24-Jul-2004
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The word prefect can refer to any of a number of types of official, including:


A prefect (préfet) is the State's representative in a
région (thus called préfet de région) or département. His agency is called the préfecture. Sub-prefects (sous-préfets, sous-préfecture) operate in the arrondissements under his responsibility. The prefect of a région is also responsible for the département where his préfecture is seated, and the prefect of a département for the arrondissement where his préfecture is seated.

The prefects operate under the Minister of the Interior. Their main missions include.

There is an exception with Paris (which is itself a département) and the three surrounding départements (called the petite couronne, small crown): those four départements are governed by a single préfecture for law enforcement and security purposes, which is the préfecture de police (PP). The préfet de police has the power of law enforcement for Paris, which is a power of the mayor for the other french cities and towns. Until 1977, Paris had indeed no mayor and was mostly ruled by the préfet de police (a situation inherited from the Paris Commune, 1871). However, the powers of the mayor of Paris were increased at the expense of those of the Préfet de Police in 2002, notably for traffic and parking decisions (the préfet retains the responsability on main thoroughfares such as the Champs-Élysées avenue, and on any street during the organization of demonstrations).

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