Police forces across England and Wales are inviting bids from private companies who wish to undertake some aspects of the policing role in England and Wales. In allowing forces to do so, the government has set itself on a dangerous path that could seriously undermine the public accountability of the police. With many believing that the police are already unaccountable for their mistakes, TheOpinionSite.org suggests that in the future, decisions will be made based on the profitability of private companies, rather than the safeguarding of the public.
In Britain, we are – theoretically at least – policed “by consent”. The success of such a policing system relies on the impartiality of senior officers when making decisions whether or not to pursue a prosecution, investigate a crime or make an arrest. Were these activities to be passed over to private companies, the overriding factor in any decision would be made on the basis of what is best for shareholders, rather than what is best for the public.
West Midlands and Surrey forces are talking to security firms about possibly transferring tasks to them and are undertaking the negotiations on behalf of all forces in England and Wales.
The radical move being pushed forward by chief constables across the country is a direct result of budget cuts introduced by the government. In an attempt to allay public fears and worries, the government had been forced into making certain assurances.
For example, police minister Nick Herbert has said core policing would not be privatised and the Home Office also insisted that private firms would not be able to make arrests, nor would they be solely responsible for investigating offences.
However, as we all know to our cost, David Cameron’s government cannot be trusted to stick to its word. As regular readers of TheOpinionSite.org will be aware from previous articles, on numerous occasions this coalition government, as well as its predecessor, have frequently made U-turns on policy without thinking through the eventual consequences.
This latest move towards privatisation of the police is no different. In our view, whatever the government is saying now could change radically as the economic disaster that is rushing towards the UK takes effect.
Rank and file officers themselves are far from happy with the government’s proposals. The Police Federation voiced its own fears, with vice-chairman Simon Reed saying: “This is an extremely dangerous road to take.” He added: “The priority of private companies within policing will be profit and not people, and we must not forget, they are answerable to their shareholders and not to the public we serve.”
When the previous government under Tony Blair introduced the privatisation of Britain’s prison system, no thought was ever given to the effect that would be created by putting cost ahead of the safety of prisoners. Some of the highest suicide rates and violent occurrences have been recorded in privatised prisons; notably HMP Rye Hill where deaths in custody have become almost a regular event.
As in most of Britain’s private prisons, the staff/prisoner ratio is such that on a wing containing some 88 prisoners, there may only be two staff on duty at any one time. Given that most private prisons are B category prisons and hold very serious and often violent offenders, it is hardly surprising that the lack of staff has resulted in prisoners exercising violence against each other; violence that has often resulted in fatalities.
The privatisation of Britain’s police forces, no matter which aspect of operational policing may be affected, cannot possibly be a good thing. More and more members of the public distrust the police, particularly after the continuing revelations of the Leveson inquiry into relationships between the press and the police and after also seeing so many police officers arrested or dismissed over the last 12 months or so for unlawful activities.
The sad fact is that if some police officers are corrupt under the present system, things will only get worse with the increased involvement of private enterprise. Just as it is morally wrong for companies to make a profit out of locking up individuals, so it is equally wrong for profits to even be taken into consideration at all when dealing with the protection of the public and the execution of justice.
At present, the Home Secretary and her team of ministers, together with David Cameron and his millionaire Cabinet are all saying that front-line policing will not be privatised. The government claims that it is the “back office” jobs that may go to private companies but as we all know only too well, this government, like its predecessor cannot be trusted.
Chief constables on the other hand are making it very clear that unless these back-office roles are subcontracted out to private companies, front-line policing will in fact be detrimentally affected to the extent that there will be less officers available to protect the public.
It has also been made clear that one of the police roles currently undertaken by specialist officers, that of managing serious and sex offenders who have been released into the community, may now be farmed out to private companies. In the view of TheOpinionSite.org, this would be a disaster as already the police have difficulty in gaining the trust of offenders released into the community. The likelihood therefore of such an individual being willing to trust an employee of a private company is considerably less, the result being that the offender is more likely to go underground.
It has been argued, with some justification, that there is simply too much policing in Britain. Whether one agrees with this view or not, it is hard to disagree with the opinion that a great deal of current government policy regarding policing is based on pressure from lobby groups, charities and the general disillusionment of a public that has been taught to believe that every stranger they encounter may be dangerous.
With organisations concerned with their own viability, especially charities who campaign on public protection issues and in particular the protection of children, it is not difficult to see why successive governments have felt themselves forced into coming up with semi-secret mechanisms such as MAPPA (Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements) in order to supposedly supervise and monitor “dangerous” offenders in the community.
Eventually, with the probation service already providing very little constructive help to released offenders, it has fallen on the police to take responsibility for the supervision of ex-offenders in the community. All of this costs money and, as we are all only too well aware, that money has now run out.
TheOpinionSite.org believes that the government, instead of trying to privatise the police, should instead thoroughly review our current justice system, as Ken Clarke has proposed and for which he has been criticised, and get rid of anything that cannot be proved to be effective. This includes any unnecessary supervision or monitoring of offenders that have been labelled as “dangerous” when in fact, they are nothing of the sort.
One should always remember that the risk assessments carried out on offenders when they leave prison are often undertaken by very young, trainee psychologists and probation officers with little, if any experience of real-life.
These false assessments of risk, often swayed by political influences, have resulted in a complicated and hugely expensive matrix of processes designed to reassure the public but which in reality have little practical affect.
For example, there is little point in having any supervision or management of ex-offenders living in the community if the only action that can be taken is available after an offence has been committed rather than before. Nor is it possibly correct or effective to treat all offenders in the same way when, quite obviously to most people, everyone is in fact different.
Most people would agree that whatever form it may take, any privatisation of Britain’s police is a bad thing. Whilst police forces may be in the situation where they have to save money, the real cause of the problem is that there is simply too much criminal law in Britain today.
Much of this unnecessary, ineffective legislation – together with its enormous costs – could be removed without detrimental effect to society if prime ministers and politicians could take their eyes off the headlines in the tabloids for just five minutes; but, as British politics is inextricably and lamentably linked with so-called justice and law and order, MPs of all parties prefer to stay clear of radical decisions which, although they may be to the benefit of society in the long run, are politically dangerous.