The West Midlands and Surrey police departments, among others, are facing budget cuts, so the UK government is planning on privatizing parts of the police force to private contractors. Several UK cities, such as Lincolnshire, have already opted for privatization, while the West Midlands and Surrey have opened up bidding to do the same.
As we have seen elsewhere, when private companies are hired to do the job of police officers, they often do not rely on the same set of rules and regulations commonly used by law enforcement. They often attempt to sidestep the law or completely disregard it because the government has given them immunity from prosecution. Using mercenary contractors such as these are cost effective only in the short term. Once the government relies on mercenaries for civilian policing,, it is extremely difficult to reverse those decisions and return to civil policing as it once was. UK home secretary, Theresa May, however, doesn’t see it this way.
The home secretary, Theresa May, who has imposed a 20% cut in Whitehall grants on forces, has said frontline policing can be protected by using the private sector to transform services provided to the public, but this is the first clear indication of what that will mean in practice.
A 26-page “commercial in confidence” contract note seen by the Guardian has been sent to potential bidders to run all services that “can be legally delegated to the private sector”. They do not include those that involve the power of arrest and the other duties of a sworn constable.
The programme has the potential to become the main vehicle for outsourcing police services in England and Wales.
While this “backline” policing will have no power of arrest, they do have a large array of other, traditional police responsibilities.
The breathtaking list of policing activities up for grabs includes investigating crimes, detaining suspects, developing cases, responding to and investigating incidents, supporting victims and witnesses, managing high-risk individuals, patrolling neighbourhoods, managing intelligence, managing engagement with the public, as well as more traditional back-office functions, such as managing forensics, providing legal services, managing the vehicle fleet, finance and human resources.
Just in this small list of powers that private companies will have, there are several problems. If these private contractors have the right to detain suspects, but no power of arrest, what happens when a suspect resists detention? Isn’t there a natural conflict of interest when a private company will be representing the police, but then also providing legal services. IF the police are not the ones investigating crimes and incidents, what kind of training will they have? If they make a mistake, whi, if anyone, are they responsible to?
“The areas of service listed in this notice are deliberately broad to allow the force to explore the skills, expertise and solutions a partnership could bring.” He said not all the activities listed would necessarily be included in the final scope of the contract, but if the force added other activities later a “new and costly procurement exercise” would be needed.
The contract notice does state that “bidders should note that not all these activities will necessarily be included in the final scope, and that each police force will select some activities from these areas where they see the best opportunities for transformation”. But the police clearly want to test whether it is possible for new areas of policing to be provided by private companies.
The contract is being offered in two lots, one covering custody services and the second all other services. It envisages that only one company will be awarded the main contract, although a second may run custody services separately.
Under this new plan, the private contractor will detain you, the police will come and arrest you, and a potential second private contractor will hold you in custody. Exactly how is this more efficient or save any time or money? Historically, whenever a government function has been privatized, it has become less efficient and more bureaucratic with more problems than before. The highly skilled and knowledgeable workers are, inevitable, replaced with low-paid, low-skilled people.
Ben Priestley, Unison’s national office for police and justice, which covers many police civilian staff, said it was alarmed by the programme: “Bringing the private sector into policing is a dangerous experiment with local safety and taxpayers’ money,” he said. “We are urging police authorities not to fall into the trap of thinking the private sector is the answer to the coalition’s cuts. The fact that the Home Office is refusing to publish its business case – even under FOI [the Freedom of Information Act] – speaks for itself.
“Privatisation means that the police will be less accountable to the public. And people will no longer be able to go to the Independent Police Complaints Commission if they have a problem. When a critical incident happens, a force’s ability to respond will be severely compromised. The only winners are private companies and shareholders who make profits at the expense of local services.”
When portions of police work are given over to unqualified individuals, abuses of power inevitably follow. The United States has seen this happen already when the private prisons bribed a judge into instituting custodial sentences for crimes that should have required probation and/or fines. These private prisons are even hoping that new contracts will bring 90% guaranteed capacity for the next twenty years.
Just like the privatization of the railways, private prisons suffer from a lack of proper maintenance, causing inefficiencies in the system. These inefficiencies will be turned back towards the taxpayers who will be forced to foot the bill.
Whenever these private companies decide cuts need to be made, they will turn to eliminating staff first. When this happens, there will be less staff [pdf] at the prisons, fewer officers on the streets, fewer people available for investigations, and fewer people responding to incidents.
While the government is eagerly anticipating numerous bidders, the British public should be wary of another scheme that will curtail their rights while government and private companies’ coffers fill with taxpayer dollars. The privatization of the British police force does nothing to help British citizens. It only serves to help, yet again, a select few who will profit from such an undertaking.