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Police privatization in Great Britain

While many in the United States fear our health care system may become like the British, apparently many in Britain fear something similar for their public law enforcement agencies. Debate has emerged recently in Great Britain because of large-scale proposals to privatize many responsibilities typically assigned to patrol officers.

“Oh my God,” some have gasped in a properly clipped British accent, “we’re becoming more like the Americans everyday. We must to move to Scotland,” where, apparently, they are NOT becoming more like Americans.

In March of this year reports surfaced in the British press that some politicians and police professionals were considering a privatization scheme for two large police forces, those in West Midlands and Surrey. These emerged in the wake of similar proposals for Lincolnshire. The company at the forefront of these efforts fashions itself the “leading international security solutions group.”

A Massive Company
G4S is one of the largest private employers in the world. The company boasts having over 650,00 employees scattered in at least 125 countries. In the U.S. alone they have 50,000 employees and, in 2002, purchased the well-known Florida-based Wackenhut. More than half of G4S’ business comes from contracts with governments and major corporations. They run several prisons in the UK and their security guards will be ever-present at the upcoming 2012 London Olympics.

G4S is a publically-traded security business, run by businessmen and not law enforcement professionals. A quick review of G4S’s corporate leadership in the US shows that not a single North American executive’s biography advertises any background in public safety or law enforcement.

The British privatization proposal, which has support from the Home Office (a governmental department with authority over immigration, security, and order), envisions the delegation of many police functions, to include administration, patrolling, and, in some cases, detention (not arrest) responsibilities.

No Laughing Matter
Many rightly believe that maintaining order and protecting the public are the responsibilities of the government and not private enterprise. However, these proposals are gaining some traction in political circles as a way to cut costs.

While this is no laughing matter, perhaps we can appreciate this “poor sod” who returns to Great Britain from a time away and discovers his police force has been privatized. 

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