Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Do It Yourself Public Services- Policing

The real fire's next door

As our hopeless clod-hopping rulers drive Britain's public services ever deeper into the high price/low output mire, we schmuck citizens must somehow cobble together our own do-it-yourself services.

Yesterday, the Times had a useful update on policing (htp BG).

Regular readers will recall previous BOM dispatches from the mean streets of Primrose Hill, where residents got so pig-sick of non-policing by pc PC Blair's Met they went out and hired their own private security firm to provide street patrols (see here).

All over London, and possibly other cities too, such services are booming. It started in extremely rich areas like St John's Wood and Regents Park. But it's spreading rapidly: six companies now operate in London alone:

"1st Class Protection, which patrols 26 streets in northwest London, adds another every month or two, and is now receiving inquiries from residents in middle-class districts such as Edgware, Totteridge and Bushey.

Assaf Cohen, 35, runs 1st Class Protection with Olga, his Belarussian assistant, from an estate agent’s in Hendon. Since 2003 he has built a team of 35 trained guards, including several former Israeli soldiers, a former lieutenant-colonel in the Slovakian Army, a former Lithuanian police officer and Olga’s husband, a former boxing champion from Belarus. To judge by his BMW convertible, he is doing very nicely. He says that streets usually approach him after particlularly nasty crimes have persuaded their residents that the police can no longer protect them and they must take charge of their own security."

And the cost?

"Cohen charges £10 an hour a guard. His customers pay from £1,000 to £7,000 a year depending on how many households participate and how long each day they want a patrol."

The services are by all accounts a very effective deterrent. Once a road has a patrol, the bad guys leave it alone to find easier pickings in the next unpatrolled road.

And therein lies a familiar old problem from A Level Economics- the Free-Rider Problem.

Because once your road has its patrol, why should you pay? Given that it's virtually impossible to exclude you from benefiting, why not just free-ride? Which is precisely what toff Times journo Camilla Cavendish herself bravely admits doing.

The security companies have responded by issuing plaques for payers to put on their walls. They're not exactly those "Armed Response" signs you see in front gardens in Beverley Hills, but they're very reminiscent of the pre-fire brigade insurance plaques you can still find on old buildings in London (before they worked out that a fire next-door in an uninsured building can be just as dangerous to the general neighbourhood as a fire in an insured building).

And what about those poorer people in the street next door who now get a double dose of crime because of the muggings and break-ins displaced by you?

For most of us, policing on an ad hoc private sector basis is Very Worrying. It's fine for the very rich to erect gates and hire Russian-style body guards to surround themselves. But what about the rest of us?

If only we could have proper policing accountable to local people via directly elected sheriffs and proper banging up for bad guys (eg see here).

Now, why can't we have that again?

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