Privatisation of Police Services

West Midlands and Surrey police authorities have invited private security companies to bid for a wide range of services, including criminal investigations, patrolling neighbourhoods and detaining suspects. While it is being done through the prism of government cuts, outsourcing “signals a shift that would allow the private sector to provide staff that can carry out routine and repetitive tasks at cheaper rates”.

At present, there are many forces that have taken the initiative to employ their own non-police staff to undertake this sort of task but have been unable to do so in sufficient numbers because of the need to employ a fixed and ever increasing number of officers within a fixed budget, but some feel the private sectors presence within the police force should be deepened, allow cuts to be made from the force and remove expensive, unnecessary teams within the force, explained in this statement: “The tender offered by West Midlands and Surrey police signals a shift which would allow the private sector to provide staff who can carry out routine and repetitive tasks at cheaper rates and, perhaps most intriguingly, to provide temporary access to skilled staff – such as murder inquiry teams – which can be hired for incidents that are rare in most forces but for which all forces must permanently retain a group of very expensive staff. This would then allow the chief constable, satisfied that he or she has commissioned these kind of services at a cheaper rate, to spend more of the budget on those parts of the service that require, because of their complexity, their impact on public safety or their centrality to the police mission, to be carried out by fully warranted officers,”.

When looked at from a sceptic perspective, it’s clear the tasks presented are more than backroom jobs: “patrolling neighbourhoods” “investigating crimes” and “responding to incidents”. This isn’t backroom. It’s frontline, public-facing policing. The sort of policing that has the most effect on the public. Fears are that a development such as this within the police force could lead to a situation in which officials begin to hand policing patrols to private security firms driven by profit and a return for the shareholders most certainly affecting public confidence in the police.

Greater Manchester chief constable Peter Fahy tried to assuage public fears that outsourcing could lead to private companies carrying out investigations, patrolling or detaining suspects by pointing out that private security staff were already patrolling public spaces and managing major public events, licensed by local authorities. Fahy believes that the £1.5bn contract, which could be worth up to £3.5bn if other forces sign up, makes clear that nearly every police service is on the table except for those involving the powers of a warranted officer, including arrest. It will be up to each participating force which services are privatised.

Brian Paddick, the former Scotland Yard deputy assistant commissioner and Lib Dem candidate for London mayor, wrote on the Guardian’s Comment is Free website: “The British tradition of policing by consent, rather than by force and weight of numbers, is being eroded, and plans to use private security firms to carry out core policing tasks, as reported this weekend, will accelerate that process.”

A Home Office spokesman said: “We are determined to do anything that will help the police to become more efficient and better able to fight crime. We have been very open in our support for the police in taking these decisions.”

Michael Price

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