As the Conservative-led coalition government begins to implement cuts to the police service, a vehement tirade against police privatisation has arisen.
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary has estimated that 16,000 police officers will be lost during the austerity period’s spending review, 90% of whom will come directly from front-line services.
John Apter, Chair of the Hampshire Police Confederation, warned last year that the 20% cuts to the police service – as prescribed by the government – would see “454 fewer police officers across Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.”
Figures from the Common’s Library reveal that 51 front-line officers in Hampshire have been lost since 2010. Alan Whitehead, Labour MP for Southampton Test, warned, “We are at the start of what is potentially a very serious reduction in the presence and availability of police officers on the ground in Southampton.”
In order to save more than £50 million by 2015, last month Hampshire Police were forced to close Bishop’s Waltham police station’s front desk. Faced with similar desperate circumstances, other police forces have resorted to extending the role of private companies in policing.
West Midlands and Surrey police are currently involved in negotiating a £1.5 billion contract with private security firms which would allow these companies to take responsibility for – amongst other tasks – investigating crimes, detaining suspects, developing cases, responding to and investigating incidents and patrolling neighbourhoods.
Ben Priestley, the Unison National Officer for Police Staff, urged caution, explaining that private companies “are accountable only to shareholders, not local citizens.”
G4S, a private security firm, already carry out local authority and resident street patrols, run town centre CCTV schemes, serve court warrants, protect crime scenes and are responsible for court security and immigration services. The company recently secured a £200 million contract with Lincolnshire police, under which half the force’s civilian staff are to join the private security company, whilst also permitting G4S to build and run their own police station. In addition to this, call handling is about to be transferred to G4S thus allowing them to take control of the deployment of forces. With the Co-Operative currently possessing a 1% share of the £7,397 million company, police privatisation could allow for lucrative, competing interests to surface. For example, priority may be given to pursue shoplifters of the Co-Op over those of smaller, independently run businesses.
In an interview with the Wessex Scene, PC Steve Blanford of Southampton’s Safer Neighbourhoods Team expressed his concern regarding the profit-driven motives of private security firms. “Anything that’s run for profit exclusively can lead to that being a factor. It would be naïve to suggest that it’s not going to be a factor that would be important to those companies”, he said.
Whilst Hampshire Police are currently not involved in any negotiations with private security firms, the potential threat of corporate adventurism playing a significant role within the Hampshire Constabulary looms as a means of compensating for the savaging cuts to the police service.
PC Steve Blanford explained: “Clearly we need to change, things need to be done differently and it’s how we secure that financially, the best possible way, whilst maintaining the best possible service for Southampton.”