Friday, November 06, 2009

Private Sector Cops


£3.50 per week - cheap at the price

Back in 2006 we blogged how the well-heeled residents of leafy Primrose Hill in London had got so fed up with the Met's non-policing of their streets, that they'd clubbed together to hire private security patrols. For £1,000 pa per household, they were getting high visibility 24/7 patrols, and a "meet and greet" service if they came home late.

At the time it was a novelty, but with the public sector police having pretty well given up on our streets, we predicted a rosy future for private sector suppliers.

Since then the business seems to have spread far and wide, expanding from the poncy areas of London to as far afield as problem estates up North. Here's a report today from Darlington:

"For longer than they can remember, the law-abiding residents of Skerne Park have been plagued by teenage thugs. But in recent years the problem has become much worse. In the last 12 months alone, antisocial behaviour in their area of Darlington soared by 20 per cent.
Now the residents are hitting back by employing a 'private police force' (pic above)... They are paying £3.50 a week each for patrolling teams of wardens equipped with head cameras and wearing high-visibility uniforms. They will react to calls as well as monitoring the estate by car. So far more than 300 residents have backed the scheme."
In Southampton, a private security firm has recently offered the same service to local residents for just £3.15 per week. Their uniformed officers are equipped with handcuffs and stab vests, and the service includes "dedicated patrols of eight officers up to 60 times every 24 hours in every community that signs up, special patrols outside schools, escorts to shops and banks, emergency response to alarms and other incidents, and dog handlers to disperse street gangs."

No, I promise I'm not making this up. The business does seem to be booming (eg see here and here).

And it isn't just local residents who are hiring these companies. Commercial businesses have also been driven to club together in order to make their areas safe - as in this example from Bognor Regis (Bognor Regis, for goodness sake).

Right now, the biggest growth potential seems to be with councils hiring them in a deperate attempt to head off residents' anger at having been abandoned by the regular police.

In Tameside, Greater Manchester, the Labour Council has already hired a firm to patrol with dogs in one trouble spot. Billericay Council is seeking a firm to patrol the yob-plagued area around its town park. And Ramsden Bellhouse Parish Council has hired a private firm to patrol the parish at a reported 50% saving compared to the official police.

All of which is entirely understandable.

But it's also deeply troubling.

For one thing, who exactly are these private security people? The industry has a somewhat chequered past, and one of the key players has recently been charged with impersonating a police officer. Prospective buyers most certainly need to beware.

More fundamentally, WTF should we have to do this at all? WTF can't the real police do the job we pay them for?

We're currently spending around £19bn pa on the police. That's around £750 pa per household, or just under £15 per week. Yet the police are so inefficient and/or misdirected that they can't even provide these desperately needed local street patrols, which we now know would cost us £3.50 or less on the open market.

Roll on elected sheriffs. We need to re-establish some local power over our local police.

Their priorities should be our priorities - not those of Whitehall or some unelected quangocrat.

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