Who will police the (privatised) police?

Will police reforms truly make us safer and increase detection rates or will they just maximise shareholder value?

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"Excuse me, Miss - mind if we ask you a few questions?"
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Julian Hunt
On 13 March 2012 10:46

The route one theory is this: Private companies are ultimately policed by their shareholders who expect shareholder value to be maximised. There may be internal compliance teams, in-house lawyers and human resource departments along with the general input of the directors, but the aim of the game, once the corporate responsibility platitudes are stripped away, has to be – and must be – to maximise shareholder value.

Repeat again – the aim is to maximise shareholder value; in layman's terms – to make some dough.

This sounds horrendously patronising – and it is. It’s not aimed at you but at those in senior management positions in Surrey and West Midlands Police who actually believe and share the credo that more and more functions within the police service (which is as far removed from a privately owned widget making company as you can get) can be privatised according to announcements made last week.

Yes, of course canteen staff can be outsourced as IT systems are and should be. Likewise, I do not doubt that there is a strong argument for outsourcing forensic work to scientists in the private sector. But, according to the Chief Constable of Surrey, further aspects of policing can be privatised bar arrests and investigations. This could include guarding crime scenes. (Who will arrest anyone interfering with the scene if, err, the guards cannot arrest there and then?)

This could also include the preparation of papers and the writing of statements which can lead – remember this – to a charge, prosecution and someone losing their liberty for a very long time. These are not backroom roles but as "frontline" a job as the chasing of a robber on the streets.

The depressing language used by top brass that only backroom jobs will be privatised indicates that senior figures are unaware of how the small and laborious jobs in policing and investigations, not grand strategic roles, are the way that offenders are apprehended. Someone needs to tell them that myriad roles in policing, from the photocopying of a hundred exhibits to the filling in of search warrants, are frontline policing.

Do you want an official from a private company to search and look after you from your arrest in the custody area? Do you want an investigator from a private company, with the consequent targets and profit motives such companies have, preparing the case ready for your potential loss of liberty? Are we ready for private guards obtaining state powers? That is not the next step – but a conceivable step – with a patrol car, sponsored by Coca-Cola and a couple of private bouncers (CRB checked) doing it cheaper than a policeman, making sure the streets of Surrey and West Midlands are safer.

Even the Conservatives under Margaret Thatcher dared not touch or reform the police like we are now. Will this departure truly make us safer, more secure and increase detection rates or will it just maximise shareholder value?

Julian Hunt is a barrister and has been practicing law since 2005. He was a Crown Prosecutor and Senior Crown Prosecutor for the Crown Prosecution Service between 2008 and 2011 but now defends. He lives in South London

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