We can offer you a certain amount of protection… for a small fee, of course

Last week I stumbled across yet another article that horrified me, except this time it was not an ill-conceived rant against societal progression, but a piece of excellent digging carried out by The Guardian (excuse the shameless left-wing plug!). The police departments of the West Midlands, which is worryingly my home turf, and Surrey have proposed contracting out some of their workload to private security companies. But surely only mundane tasks, only the bureaucracy, I hear you cry. Some of it is indeed just the behind-the-scenes stuff, like “managing forensics, providing legal services, managing the vehicle fleet, finance and human resources.” This makes a certain amount of sense: bureaucratic bits are necessary to make a business run smoothly, so giving out these to someone else would surely free up police time for doing their job, like patrolling and detaining people? Think again. Also listed in the proposal are “investigating crimes, detaining suspects, developing cases, responding to and investigating incidents, supporting victims and witnesses, managing high-risk individuals, patrolling neighbourhoods, managing intelligence.” Basically, everything except actually arresting people, which they are not legally allowed to delegate.

So, at least we won’t end up with the personal interests of a company getting into and staining police neutrality, right? Wrong. “Detaining suspects” and “managing high-risk individuals” come awfully close to a bouncer approach, and without police training, we are surely at risk of having money-grabbing thugs “detaining” our prisoners. Perhaps that phrasing was a little emotive, but the point stands: if a company that solely exists to make money (just as all companies do, of course) is managing our safety and carrying out the first stage of our justice system, how can we be certain that their policing powers will never be used for personal gain, such as removing or undermining competitors, or creating business for themselves by inciting criminal activity? This may sound far-fetched, but the reason why we have neutral systems like the police in the first place is to prevent any possibility of falling down this kind of slippery slope. Can you ever truly trust a mercenary?