Police forces hire out officers to private firms to make millions

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A GROWING number of Scotland's police are being hired by private companies, hospitals, universities and other outside groups, raising fears that public service may be "corrupted" by the pursuit of money.

Football clubs, film production companies and drinks producers are among the bodies that, combined, are paying Scotland's police forces millions of pounds every year for the use of officers and equipment.

The Scotsman can reveal one force last year raked in more than 5 million in deals that saw scores of officers taken from their normal duties to perform extra tasks, including policing shopping centres, sporting events, festivals and film production.

The move has raised concern that the primary duties of police – to serve and protect the public – could be compromised as forces forge closer links with the private sector.

In Lothian and Borders, the number of times police have contracted out serving officers and vehicles has increased from 11 in 2003-4 to more than 60 in 2007-8.

They include dozens of deals with film production companies to close streets and provide security for filming in the capital. Filming projects that used up police resources included The Da Vinci Code, The Adventures of Greyfriars Bobby, Rebus and Hallam Foe.

According to figures supplied to The Scotsman under freedom of information laws, the force generated 5.5 million from these external sources in 2007-8 – compared to around 140,000 in 2003-4.

Other forces have also seen a significant growth in deals with the private sector and other outside interests.

In Strathclyde, police have been paid to send officers to hospitals, concert venues, housing associations and school campuses.

In 2007-8, the force received more than 1 million in total from Celtic and Rangers to police the inside of their grounds during matches.

The Scotsman has learned that senior officers are carrying out a review of arrangements with the Old Firm clubs to reduce the deployment of officers inside the grounds.

In Tayside, the value of contracts has risen from 100,000 in 2005-6 to 436,000 last year. The deals were funded by local authorities to provide extra patrols in communities blighted by antisocial behaviour.

And in Fife, police last year received more than 13,000 for "sponsorship" of seven vehicles to Diageo, Shell UK, Stagecoach and other organisations.

Every chief constable in Scotland has now been issued with new guidelines on when it is appropriate for forces to hire out police officers.

Margo MacDonald, the independent MSP, said the growing practice of contracting out officers was a worrying trend.

She said: "Just because the police are called upon to exercise crowd management when there is a big football match, it does not mean they're duty-bound to provide customised services for any other group.

"There is a real danger here that the public service ethos will be corrupted. The police is a service that should not be bought by any individual or group."

Police chiefs often use overtime to ensure personnel are not "abstracted" from duties – but this is not always possible.

Tom Halpin, acting chief constable of Lothian and Borders, also said the full cost of providing police services would not always be charged if it was prohibitively high.

He added police were increasingly forming partnerships with councils to provide extra officers to tackle antisocial behaviour.

And he denied the increased links with outside bodies were creating a two-tier service. He said:

"It's not about providing a better service to the elite than to our less-fortunate neighbours."

WE ARE entering an era of "mixed economy" of policing that will lead to increased competition between a wide range of security providers.

The growing involvement of the police in commercial security is indicative of things to come. The future dilemma will be achieving a balance between public and private interests.

Legislation enables the public police to generate income by selling various aspects of their services, which includes the "patrolling function".

When this happens in the policing of the "night-time economy", concerns arise that resources are being pulled into policing those areas of criminal disorder that have occurred as a direct result of the commercial and leisure industry.

This is a point picked up on by government policy that has been instrumental in encouraging these businesses to pay towards some of the police costs.

Police can charge for providing services at sporting events, pop concerts, carnivals and fairs. However, the danger is there is some "opportunity cost" to the policing of our communities when this happens, as either the officers or supervisors are "abstracted" from their normal duties. Even when on overtime, their involvement will have a negative impact on normal duties.

Why should it be left solely to the police to provide security and reassurance?

In the United States, large shopping malls and theme parks use their own private police to ensure security. Individuals who are a potential threat are ejected or excluded. Only when this fails does the public police and the criminal justice system get involved.

• Dr Daniel Donnelly is a senior research fellow at the Centre for Criminal Justice and Police Studies at the University of the West of Scotland, and author of Municipal Policing in Scotland.

A lengthy charge sheet

RECENT deals struck by Scottish police forces with outside bodies include:

• Old Firm games – 1 million a season

• Hibs and Hearts games – 265,000 a season

• Filming Rebus – 6,000

• Patrolling Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park – 1,600

• Edinburgh Airport – 1.7 million

• Edinburgh shopping centre patrols – 1,200

• Stagecoach – 13,000

• Sponsorship of vehicle by drinks giant Diageo – 775

• Filming The Da Vinci Code at Rosslyn Chapel – 5,400

• Tiesto dance music show, Edinburgh – 11,000

• Royal Mile during Fringe – 5,000

• Great Winter Run, Edinburgh – 400

• Melrose Sevens rugby – 1,700

• Glasgow Royal Infirmary – 22,000

• SECC concerts – 56,000

• Filming Hallam Foe – 4,300