G4S boss predicts mass privatisation of UK police forces

G4S, the scandal-haunted private security firm, is one of the world's largest companies, with 657,000 staff. It's about to get bigger, according to G4S's UK/Africa chief David Taylor-Smith, who predicts that the UK's police forces will begin to privatize, turning duties over from public employees (who are, theoretically, accountable to the public) to private mercenaries and security staff, who will be accountable only to G4S's shareholders. Matthew Taylor and Alan Travis report in The Guardian.

Taylor-Smith said core policing would remain a public-sector preserve but added: "We have been long-term optimistic about the police and short-to-medium-term pessimistic about the police for many years. Our view was, look, we would never try to take away core policing functions from the police but for a number of years it has been absolutely clear as day to us – and to others – that the configuration of the police in the UK is just simply not as effective and as efficient as it could be."

Concern has grown about the involvement of private firms in policing. In May more than 20,000 officers took to the streets to outline their fears about pay, conditions and police privatisation. The Police Federation has warned that the service is being undermined by creeping privatisation.

Unite, the union that represents many police staff, said the potential scale of private-sector involvement in policing was "a frightening prospect". Peter Allenson, national officer, said: "This is not the back office – we are talking about the privatisation of core parts of the police service right across the country, including crime investigation, forensics, 999 call-handling, custody and detention and a wide range of police services

G4S chief predicts mass police privatisation


  1. Effective and efficient are not always good words. In terms of policing, I would think the most “effective and as efficient” method would be to have all crimes punishable immediately by execution at the officer’s discretion and no oversight or accountability of officers whatsoever. Very efficient and effective in terms of apprehending and stopping criminals. And you can’t prove it is not. In terms of policy and laws, the most effective and efficient are zero-tolerance because they require no brainpower to evaluate and guarantee the maximum punishment for any infraction – no matter how many extenuating circumstances.

        1. Except Judge Dredd had prisons.

          Anyway, I have long thought about writing a short story allegory on a society that functions through EVERYONE serving time on some sort of community service or day release imprisonment. Even the cops, judges and politicians. Through their youth kids rack up time on their adult sentences and then they are convicted at 16 and begin working toward the reduction of their sentences … of course pretty much everything leads to more time being added. And it all came about through “If you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to  fear”.

          Way off topic now.

        1. If the punishment for stealing bread is the same as the punishment for murder, expect to see a lot of dead shop keepers.

  2. And the world inches closer to the cyberpunk future of fascist corporate hegemony. Only it’s not cool and dystopian. The sky isn’t the color of television tuned  to a dead channel. It’s just bleak, if only you’d look up from your glowing rectangle of consumer pacification.

    1. In London the sky usually is the colour of a television turned to a dead channel (depending on how old the tv is)

      1.  Right around the time I first read Neuromancer, we had just purchased a new TV that showed a blank blue screen instead of static.  My initial impression was that Chiba had a relentlessly cloudless deep blue sky.

    2. I was a corporate fascist dystopian back when it was cool, but now it’s just old and busted.

    3. Every time I suggest we have a regime change and point at moves towards a tyrannical, controlling government (that I view as fascist ) who is only “telling us what to do for our own good because they know oh so much more than we do,” responses start yelling about godwin.

      Well, damn it, maybe they do deserve to have that creeping tyranny consume them.

      The only problem is that by the time the majority realize that we’re fucked, mate, the governments will have ripped open all forms of private communication, disarmed everyone, and installed CCTV in every room (for our own safety, of course).

      There’s no way to force a regime change if the government has all the cards, people.

      1. ‘Regime change’

        Look how well that worked out for every country that has experienced it recently. Iraq, Egypt, Lybia – none benefited from their ‘regime change.’

        What we need is a new model of organizing society. We need to get rid of the damned regimes, not change the figureheads.

    4.  My wife and I read that novel.  Funnily enough, my generation thinks of that color as “static/snow” as Stephenson intended, but I’m willing to bet that more than a few of the kids think of that color as royal blue.

  3. Let me guess.

    Their uniforms will be copyright and trademarked, and if you take their picture they’ll have the right to confiscate your camera, any computer that could possibly have received the image, and your eyes.

    1.  in the US today it is illegal to video tape someone being arrested.(a somewhat recent development) also its now legal to hold someone indefinitely without trial.
      i think we’ve all forgotten rule of law…

      1. Well, it is not necessarily for the protection of the police.   A couple of weeks ago a girl was murded in Emden , Germany.  The police arrested a young man as the prime suspect and withheld – as is customary – name and other data which would identify him. 

        Some citizen journalists identified the suspect – filmed him, even – and his name and address were made public. Shortly afterwards a lynch mob had been organised  on Facebook and appeared in front of the police station. 

        The young man was cleared afterwards, the true killer was found a few days later. (Not on trial yet, but it’s really unlikely that he turns out to be innocent.)

        Also interesting was the media’s take on the issue: They were gung ho about the first suspect and deeply committed to reveal him, but once the truth came out, they concentrated only on the mistakes made by the police.

        1. This is where things get complex. Suspects should have a right to anonymity for this very reason – so it becomes difficult to draw the line when recording the police…

        2.  in issues like this i like this quote from thomas jefferson “I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty, than those attending too small a degree of it.” the right to record law enforcement officers is an important one. imagine how the civil right movements would have been if no one could record the police brutalizing the protesters, if these videos didnt come in over the television and draw people to act. how can police who brutalize suspects be brought justice if no one can record the activity? the ability to record police activities, even if they may have unfortunate side effects, is VITAL to progress and to keeping the police honest.

          1. Thank you. The case in Illinois comes after the article I linked to. I do hope laws against recording are relaxed as times goes by.

    2.  Better than that – they’ll be protected from Freedom of Information requests because of “Commercial Confidentiality” (which along with State Security, are the only types of privacy which our ‘elected’ plutocrats respect).

        1. Surely, because Dollar is used in Robocop, we ought to use Pound in British terms? Quid is only ok if it was “buck” in Robocop.

    1.  Of course it could just be a corporate psychopath trying to talk up shares to pump up his bonus. Which is more likely the UK public accepting privatisation of the police or a corporate executive lying to improve the value of stock in a company.

  4. Can’t believe they never saw Robocop!  Here in USA we already have a prison-for-profit system spinning out of control, adding a layer of investor-controlled cops onto that would be awful!  Everyone would get thrown into prison until a balance point is reached where there aren’t enough taxpayers left to pay the incarceration industry (which we’re dangerously close to already).

      1.  Unfortunately, it’s turning into the bad universe described in the beginning of L. Neil Smith’s “Probability Broach.”

        Too bad there’s not a Confederation we could escape to.

        1. You mean the universe with Hoovercraft and talking apes? Man, I *hate* talking apes. 

        2. Come to think of it, the USA Win escaped from was anti-business, anti-corporation and anti-property rights.

          Entertaining as L. Neil Smith’s writing is, he suffers from the usual  blind spot regarding libertarian fantasies: They somehow never address the problem on how people and corporations with big money simply buy their own armies.  And in such a world, they not only buy their own Hawaiian islands, but simply write out checks for the net wort of any murder victim, if the case get to court at all.

    1. Hey, remember that time you used your personal computer to read this story on the interwebs?

    2. Why do only the bad things from science fiction come true.

      Because we don’t read enough science fiction.

    3.  Like handheld turn-by-turn GPS, the internet, commercial space exploration, ambulatory robots, photorealistic computer graphics, augmented reality, and the end of the cold war without world war 3?

  5. Come on, there’s lots of things wrong with this idea, but accountable only to their shareholders?

    Private security companies are primarily accountable to their clients. Which would be the government, in this case. Exactly the same as the police.

    (The police are not accountable to the public, only the government)

    1.  Yeah, I’m sure that the mercs and the politicians will repeat that incessantly. Yet I’m guessing (a shot in the ‘historical’ dark) that their behaviour will not correspond with their language-model, bwahahahaha!

    2. If you feel that the police should answer to the public, as I do, you would not want another set of masters for them. At least the police are theoretically accountable to the people, in a democracy, but even that slender hope would be gone under the new model.

      1. I am not a fan of private police forces, but at the same time, I could almost see them being MORE accountable.  

        Police are simply not even a little bit accountable.  Every single police system I know protects police and gives them almost unlimited discretion.  The best you can hope for is that in some industrial democracies blatant bribery is kept under control.  Other than that, police have absolute no accountability.  

        Watching the various police brutalities in the US during the Occupy movement have shown that even if you catch the fuckers ON VIDEO doing something horrible, the best you can hope for is that they get a paid vacation for a couple of weeks.  How much worse could private police be?

        If anything, you might actually find more accountability with private police.  A politician will not go out on a limb to strip protection from police or weed out the corrupt, but they might be willing to simply not re-sign a contact with a particularly corrupt, brutal, or unpopular police force.  Private corporations might be more willing to kick problem employees to the curb rather than endanger their contracts.

        It makes me a little bit ill, but our public police force is so bad I could almost see a private one being better.

        1. In theory, the cops could be even more accountable, but once politicians are relieved of responsibility for managing things like this, they won’t necessarily accept it again, and the public and private players will have an easier time dodging responsibility when things go wrong. In time, pollies will simply say that the private sector has expertise the public can’t match, so they will openly defer to the corporate cops. 

           There’s a strong likelihood that escaping responsibility and winning friends in the corporate sector is the reason that privatisation has become so popular among politicians in the first place.  After all, after 30 years or so of privatisatiing core state functions (water, power, prisons etc), where are the shining examples of success, where better services were delivered to more people for a lower cost overall? As opposed to, say, the rampant criminality of Haliburton, Blackwater and Enron.

        2.  You’re speaking as though the political action groups of the private policing companies would not have already bought and paid for enough tame politicians to allow them unhindered actions and growth.

        3. “How much worse could private police be?”

          Three words. Blackwater/Xe/Academi. Their idea of “problem employee” is “the ones who talk about the illegal stuff we do” not “the ones who randomly shoot civilians because they can”.

    3.  i dont know how it works in the UK but in the US we elect our sheriffs, and our sheriffs in turn run the police in that area(hirings, firings, etc)
      so the local police are directly answerable to the people in that township, im not sure how it works on the state level and i believe the leader of the FBI is selected by the president.

      here in the US we have often had issues with the government’s use of third party contractors for civil issues (not the least of which being that the company is loyal to any government they are clients for, in the case of 3rd part intelligence agencies this has meant government secrets being sold to foreign nations by said agencies, or spying programs being developed on US dollar and sold to foreign agencies.)

      now both mercenaries(i like that better than privatized police, let just be honest that’s what they are) and police officers are accountable to the public in that they can both be sued. though mercenaries may have a special place in that they are not police officers so perhaps certain laws pertaining to police conduct won’t apply to them.

      1. Look, whether security services are publicly provided or privately provided, their power can be abused either way.  Even democratic election is no guarantee that abuses will be checked – see Arpaio, Joe.

      2. We don’t elect anyone in the police. The chump we elect as prime minister tends to stick a horribly incompetent politician in charge of the police, currently Tharesa May.

        1. This government has introduced Police and Crime Commissioners. These are to be elected and will have the power to hire and fire Chief Constables.
          The job of the Home Secretary, as far as I can see, is to try to keep middle England and the Tory faithful at the annual party conference happy.

          1. “The job of the Home Secretary, as far as I can see, is to try to keep middle England and the Tory faithful at the annual party conference happy.” Don’t forget destroying our freedoms!

            Hah, so we’ll have someone else to vote for that will lie and sleaze their way into power and will likely ignore the best interest of the people – and of course give as much power and money to their friends and corporate interests. But at least we’ll be able to swap them for a carbon copy.

            Democracy in action.

            Personally I think we need more voting. I’m sick of making a decision once in a blue moon about who gets to make all my decisions for me. Until we can actually vote on important issues rather than fill petitions that get ignored, I’ll remain pessimistic.

            It’s times like this I remind myself of that least comforting of sayings, ‘ignorance is bliss’.

          2. Absolutely. You can vote for the Conservative chief constable candidate who’s in favor of privatizing the police. If you don’t like that, you can vote for the New Labor constable candidate who’s in favor of privatizing the police. If neither of those appeal to you, you can vote for the Liberal Democrat constable candidate; they say that they’re against privatizing the police, but will vote to privatize the police if that gets them into the governing coalition. But at least you got to vote on it. That’s the important part.

      3.  The system you described only applies to your area. In my area, the county sheriff has no ties to the various local police departments in the county.

  6. im sure if you get rid of all that due process, rights, restrictions against brutality, and fairness and kindness then yeah it will go a lot smoother. 
    one of the biggest problems with the police, in the US  anyways, is the use of quotas. police have to make a certain number of arrests, it forces police to be less forgiving, more knit-picky, and more pedantic to get as many arrests as possible. privatization of the police force is that x10. combined with another louse on the justice system privatization of jails (jails with no incentive to help people but incentive instead to make sure people come back to jails again and again) and you have a perfect storm of shit.especially if the private police and the private jails are owned by the same company, make sure more people go to jail and make sure than when they are in they dont get out easily and when they are out they come back.
    this isnt justice, its exploitation.

  7. The corporate loop expands. We can at last see what has been true all along, that private wealth is in control. With the public sector cops there was at least a pretense, (on rare occasions), of “justice for all”. Now even that is gone. We will all be slaving for one big conglomerate, WalMartExxonistan, where fealty will be expected, or you will be put into the outcast category and branded for life. Your facial profile will ring digital alarms when detected on the street and you will be whisked away to some unknown interrogation facility and kept there legally, (using the Patriot Act and similar legislation as the basis for the action). And nobody will be accountable, just like what happened with our recent economic meltdown.

  8. I simply cannot wait for this to happen somewhere and for Colbert Enforcers Inc. to tender for the contract. The public pressure would be immense – surely no politician could safely ignore it.

    1. So if George Bush signs a check to Xe to start bashing skulls and shooting people, then it’s all OK, right?

      One of the core misconceptions of our age is that being elected grants some some sort of legitimacy or mandate beyond what any of the electors had in the first place.

      Don’t worry, the fascist ‘privatization’ mentioned here will surely be signed off on by some crooked politician. So, you can sleep easy at night.

  9. When I was working private security, my trainer at the St. Louis County Metropolitan Police Academy made a point of letting us know that in the US, private security outnumber law enforcement by about 3 to 1. The numbers he gave us (as of about a decade ago, I don’t have more recent numbers, sorry) were that all government law enforcement personnel, total, from the US Attorney General down to the clerk that handles paperwork for the smallest town or county, totaled up to about 650,000. Which he compared to the 2,000,000 licensed private security officers, all of whom are, at least within the confines of their Designated Areas, deputized police.

    What has always struck me about those numbers is that we have semi-privatized our police, and we did so long ago. Roughly 3/4ths of our police work in the private sector only, safeguarding only the homes and workplaces of the upper middle class and the rich; those of us who can’t afford to pay private security contractors make do with the roughly 1/4 of our police who work in the public sector. And the public-sector police are ordered, by the politicians they report to, to spend most of their time guarding the property and persons of the middle class and above; the poorest half of Americans get by on the public sector police’s spare time.

    How well does that work? As Eddie Murphy pointed out roughly 30 years ago, go to any poor neighborhood in America and call simultaneously for the police, an ambulance, and a pizza. Observe which one arrives first.

    But this isn’t even considered scandalous! Most of us take it for granted that upper middle class people and rich people are entitled to 3/4ths of the police; after all, they own more than 3/4ths of the stuff that can be destroyed or stolen. If anything, we now have an entire political party in the US arguing that it’s scandalous that as many as 1/4th of the police are public-sector, that we need fewer public-sector police. I assume that the same argument is going on in the UK, as well.

  10. Compared to the astonishingly high level of police accountability we have now in the UK, US, and Canada, right?

    I, for one, would like to welcome our… Ah, fuck it. I’d not be happy about this if it were to actually occur, but I suspect the change wouldn’t be nearly as drastic as y’all seem to think.

  11. Did he predict one of his flock murdering the other three and making a half-hearted attempt to flee by crossing the US/Canada border in his own car without a passport?

    Did he?

  12. Can we assume that privatizing large parts of the police service will offer the same important cost savings as handing over core functions of the military to firms like KBR (Corporate motto: “Oops, did we overbill you again? Please call 1-800-WAR-PRFT for a partial refund.”)?

    1.  Or Blackwater.  “Oops we just took target practice on a bunch of Iraqi civilians”.

  13. I find this prospect frightening. The Thatcherism ideal of replacing publicly funded services with private enterprise takes cover under the assertion that ‘teaching’ people not to rely on the state is a good thing, but all it really achieves is less accountability and more profit for the already fat fat-cats. 
    Private traffic wardens already infuriate and exasperate me, thus the idea that potentially mine and others’ safety will be guarded by a company looking to widen profit margins, quite frankly terrifies me.

    1. Private traffic wardens already infuriate and exasperate me

      Well the grand example in the UK would be the wheel clamping industry, what we would call the Denver boot in the US.  They’re just straight-up criminals who can put a lock on your tire, on private land,  for no good reason, sometimes while you’re sitting in the car, and then threaten you if you don’t pay cash on the spot.

      1. Exactly- ‘legalised crime’ in a completely oxymoronic sense, existing only as a means of income for those not in need.

         Extrapolating this to wider law and order, I would worry about things like quotas on arrests and convictions, especially if targeting a specific groups or types of crime, for example drug possession. And also employees at all levels working for a commission based bonus system that wouldn’t be in the public’s best interests. 

        Modern society affords the rich, power to do pretty much anything even if it includes screwing anyone who hangs around long enough to get coughed on, (read: Joe Average) especially if it’s on private land AND government policy backed. Just look at big business or the UK’s current cabinet of multi-millionaires to see numerous examples of the disproportionate levels of power people far removed from the common man have to affect the man on the street. I really feel this is the crux of all problems people have with those that govern them. 

        There is already a ‘them and us’ relationship between law enforcement and the public at large, especially among the more deprived and vulnerable sections of society being fuelled perhaps by a feeling of powerlessness, loss of control and a lack of perceived protection and safety from a service existing to do just that. I suppose this is down to the usual under funding and/or bad management of funding and a damned if you do or if you don’t attitude to current systems.

        Privatisation of law enforcement won’t be good for the public, but will be marvellous for those already loaded and powerful, which is why it will probably be pushed through, as these are the people that make the decisions – frightening isn’t it?!

  14. This is going to sound a little snarky, but honestly it’s not intended to be.

    Folks in the UK may want to consider taking a little time off US bashing and take their own F-in’ bull by the horns. In the US we have experience with privatization and militarization, and it does not end well.

    Seriously, if this (or even its remote possibility) doesn’t scare the hell out of you, you’re not paying attention.

  15. Goes very nicely with for-profit prisons.  This is declaring war on your own people and I mean this very literally.  This is the final step to a fascist state.

    The Blackwater motherfuckers are trying to pull this in the USA as well, but so far they have been heavily resisted and were fought back by American patriots.

    Note that Blackwater keeps changing their name so they can sneak past the American public’s radar.  They changed their name to Xe and then to Academi.  Next name should be Treasonous Corporatist Bastards, Inc.

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