Security firms bid to become ‘private police’

Paddy Tomkins: Front-line services demand real policing. Picture: Julie Bull
Paddy Tomkins: Front-line services demand real policing. Picture: Julie Bull
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PRIVATE firms would be hired to investigate crimes, patrol neighbourhoods and even detain suspects under a radical privatisation plan being considered by two of the UK’s largest police forces.

West Midlands and Surrey are inviting security firms to bid for contracts, worth £1.5 billion over seven years, to run some services that are currently carried out by officers.

Those successful would be handed a wide range of responsibilities, including detaining suspects and responding to incidents – but would not be able to arrest suspects.

All services that “can be legally delegated to the private sector” are potentially up for contract, according to a briefing sent note to the interested companies.

Last night senior police officers north of the Border said varying degrees of outsourcing was likely once after the new Police Service of Scotland is launched in 2013.

Paddy Tomkins, former chief inspector of constabulary for Scotland and former chief constable of Lothian and Borders Police, said bringing in private firms to run back office functions and run vehicle fleets was likely, but said front-line services must be maintained by officers.

He said: “This is a conversation that should start now, and not in a few years time. There are plenty of areas in the public sector, including the Ministry of Defence, who deliver kit and others services to those on the front line. These are equally high risk, high importance public services, as the police forces are.

“We should be thinking as broadly as possible about how to get the best value for taxpayers in delivering services for communities.”

Tomkins believes the public would not be opposed to greater private sector involvement as long as front line services are delivered by officers. Their time is still taken up by back office functions which the public would find “genuinely puzzling”, he said.

However, functions being explored by forces in England go too far, he added.

Other senior police officers in Scotland believe more radical changes are needed.

One police source told Scotland on Sunday: “As we reach a stage where we’ll be seriously curtailed for money, we have to start thinking outside the box, looking beyond the systems we’ve had in place since the 19th century. Once the Police Service of Scotland comes in, it’ll only be a few years, perhaps 2017, until we’ll see really radical changes.”

Police community support officers already employed in England and Wales are likely to be brought in and forensics eventually contracted out to private laboratories, he said.

The source added: “Private patrols and crime investigation is a step away yet, but it’s stupid to think that won’t be a very real option in the future.

“As recently as 25 years ago bringing in private stewards to police sporting events was absolutely unthinkable. Now it’s all stewards from private security firms backed up by with a few dozen police at most.”

The move south of the Border has sparked fears about privatisation in the police force.

Ben Priestley, Unison’s national officer for police and justice, said the two forces’ plan is a “dangerous experiment with local safety and taxpayers’ money”.

West Midlands Police Chief Supt Phil Kay, who is overseeing the project, said: “This is about how we deal with the challenging conditions that we face and how we look to innovative ways to try and continue improving on delivering the service that we provide to communities.”

A Home Office spokesman said private companies will not be able to arrest suspects, and will not be solely responsible for investigating crime.