The rise in private policing
Much as I have an intense distrust of the police, owing to their historic bias towards the protecting the rich and their interests, I have to say that, given the choice, I’d rather have a state-run police force than a private security firm patrolling the streets. So it was with some anger that I read a BBC report raising the issue of the growing trend in private policing in Britain.
The story appears to be something like this: residents of an estate read in the papers that their aren’t enough police on the streets. A local security firm tells them they can pay a few pounds a week for an employee to be sent round on foot patrol. There are little checks on their power other than any CCTV cameras that might have been placed in the community and the mobile phone cameras of passers by. We are likely to see such patrols focusing on the more well-to-do areas of towns and cities, leaving the poorest to fend for themselves.
But its a little hypocritical for police leaders to be making such claims. Within the British Transport Police are several officers provided directly by train and bus company funds and tied to those services. It is only marginally better than a protection racket, in as much as no one has yet been told to pay up or have Bad Things happen, but it can only be a slippery slope. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t see this as some kind of a thin-end-of-wedge scenario, I just think its a bad road to even look down.
I was surprised to notice when out with Street Angels in York that a security guard is now positioned almost a clear 10 meters from any club, more or less in the middle of “Suicide Square”. This shocked me, because it shows that we are accepting blindly the message that we need private security on our streets. Its one thing to tell individual clubs to pay their own door staff, in order to reduce police call outs, but to have them paying people to stand in a public area must raise concerns.
Yes, there are problems with life in Britain that are caused by the uncaring actions of others. Some people really do make life hell for their neighbours. But we must ensure that the values behind our approach to crime become more focused on giving the greatest punishment to those creating the greatest misery. Would corporate policing result in the charges that should be being bought against the top brass of Britain’s banks, for instance? It would be a step in the wrong direction.
With the G20 policing, we saw utter contempt for due process in bringing those at every level of the police force back under public control after their violent and wholly unnecessary rampages. But with private policing, would we even have had an inquest? Had they not been police but mercenaries of the banks themselves (for things might be bad, but they’re not actually that bad), would they have shown any mercy whatsoever? I definitely think not.
It should also be noted that, whilst some of these street patrols are nothing more than licensed security guards in hi-vis jackets pacing along streets, some are actually being given powers to carry out police functions, such as moving people on. We must ask where this will stop. Is “empowering the citizen” not really a way of giving power to the corporations who can afford to get their personnel through the bureaucracy of becoming licensed? Do we really want to become more like Colombia and less like a free, fair and just society?