Private Police: Has it come to that?

Private Police? Has It Come to That?

In the June 20, 2012 issue of the Guardian, David Taylor-Smith, the head of G4S for the UK and Africa, predicted that private companies will be running large segments of the police service within five years. I guess I was waiting for this.

My first chief’s job was working for a bright, young city manager who proposed I take a good look at forming a company from which the city would then purchase police services. That was in 1969. I have to admit it frightened me too much at the time to seriously do what he was proposing. I had lots of excuses – do you really want to award city police services to the lowest bidder? And what about statutory police authority?

But since that time, the idea has remained deep in my mind. And now this article from the Guardian. What would contracted private policing really be like? And has it come to this? Perhaps it has. With our nation’s police under siege with regard to accountability problems and the “four obstacles” I mention in my book – anti-intellectualism, excessive force, corruption and discourtesy – we may in our lifetimes see this as the primary mode of policing.

And if it happens, it will be the leadership in our nation’s police and their reluctance to change that will have caused it!

Journalists Matthew Taylor and Alan Travis write more about this in the Guardian.

“Private companies will be running large parts of the UK’s police service within five years, according to the world’s biggest security firm.

“The prediction comes as it emerged that 10 more police forces were considering outsourcing deals that would see services, such as running police cells and operating IT, run by private firms.

“Taylor-Smith, whose company is in the running for the £1.5bn contract with West Midlands and Surrey police, said he expected forces across the country to have taken similar steps within five years . “For most members of the public what they will see is the same or better policing and they really don’t care who is running the fleet, the payroll or the firearms licensing – they don’t really care,” he said.”

And there’s the key, folks — For most members of the public what they will see is the same or better policing and they really don’t care who is running the fleet, the payroll or the firearms licensing – they don’t really care.

G4S, is currently providing security for the Olympics. It has 657,000 staff operating in more than 125 countries and is one of the world’s biggest private employers.

Taylor and Travis go on: “[G4S] already runs six prisons in the UK and in April started work on a £200m police contract in Lincolnshire, where it will design, build and run a police station. Under the terms of the deal, 575 public sector police staff transferred to the company.

“Taylor-Smith said core policing would remain a public-sector preserve but added: ‘We have been long-term optimistic about the police and short-to-medium-term pessimistic about the police for many years. Our view was, look, we would never try to take away core policing functions from the police but for a number of years it has been absolutely clear as day to us – and to others – that the configuration of the police in the UK is just simply not as effective and as efficient as it could be’…

He went on, “I have always found it somewhere between patronising and insulting the notion that the public sector has an exclusive franchise on some ethos, spirit, morality – it is just nonsense. The thought that everyone in the private sector is primarily motivated by profit and that is why they come to work is just simply not accurate … we employ 675,000 people and they are primarily motivated by pretty much the same as would motivate someone in the public sector.”

A governmental spokesperson said, “Policing is not being privatised — core police functions will continue to be delivered by sworn officers and no police powers will be given to private contractors beyond the limited powers allowed by the last government.”

Or so, for now.

I would not be surprised to see this trend (which, of course, has already begun with corporate prisons in our country and certainly with the number of police and security contractors in Iran and Afghanistan) continue and for police in the U.S. to soon find themselves having to either quickly competitively transform and improve their services or find themselves working for a large corporation like G4S.

What do you think?

[For the entire article, click here.]

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About improvingpolice

I served over 20 years as the chief of police in Madison (WI), four years as chief of the Burnsville (MN) Police Department, and before that as a police officer in Edina (MN) and the City of Minneapolis. I hold graduate degrees from the University of Minnesota and Edgewood College in Madison. I have written many articles over my years as a police leader calling for police improvement (for example, How To Rate Your Local Police, and with my wife, Sabine, Quality Policing: The Madison Experience). After retiring from the police department, I answered a call to ministry, attended seminary, and was ordained as a priest in the Episcopal Church. At the present time, I serve a small church in North Lake (WI), east of Madison. Sabine and I have nine adult children, eleven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. She is also a retired police officer and we both continue active lives.

3 Responses to “Private Police: Has it come to that?”

  1. When I watched Robocop as a kid I didn’t even pick up on the political message of the film at all. It’s worth re-watching. Someday I imagine that my house will get broken into and I’ll call various private investigators to negotiate fees to find someone who can investigate the robbery on a decent hourly rate. Or, perhaps, I might just need to purchase “Crime Insurance” and I’ll call my insurance company who will negotiate with private police. In this world, an officer would write me a citation for a trivial offense, and include a charge for the amount of time they spent with me, maybe an extra fee if I use profanity. The entire idea of a free social service of “police” will be gone entirely, and we will be left with a world where money/wealth is not only a means of purchasing, but necessary for self-protection and the preservation of our rights. Our legal system already works this way to a large degree, what not extend that to the enforcement of laws?

    I know that my parents, both LEO’s in the Public Sector, took their positions entirely motivated by money and benefits. Once Private sector pay and benefits outpaces Public sector pay and benefits, we will see the complete abandonment of public sector policing. I’m not sure how many officers are in public sector policing truly to “protect and serve” and not just the paycheck.

    • In Denver many years ago, there was a neighborhood that wasn’t receiving the police protection is needed due to a high crime rates. A local lawyer got the neighbors together, hired off duty police to patrol after hours, and started a lawsuit against the city to pay for the protection. It worked and the on duty patrols increased to the level needed.

      • Absolutely. That is what I am advocating — a closer, much closer (even intimate) relationship between police and those whom they serve. If we will even do anything about crime and other community disorder it will be through this kind of collaboration.

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