This age of austerity has seen cuts in all public services, including the police. We have also seen a rise in various forms of private policing and security, but the two are not connected. It is a sad fact that we live in an age in which violence is often the norm. In the 1960s, a schoolkid talking back to a teacher would have resulted in detention if not expulsion. Last year, a woman teacher in Leeds was murdered by a pupil, and this year another, a man, was stabbed in the stomach.
In the United States with its legacy of not mere stabbings but school shootings, metal detectors have long been the norm.
image source, flickr.com
Likewise, in 1960s England, shop security was left to the odd store detective; now there is CCTV, other special precautions including tags, and of course security guards, even for relatively small supermarkets.
The largest private security company in the UK and indeed the world is G4S, previously known as Group 4 Securicor. A public limited company whose origins date to the turn of the Twentieth Century, today it has over 600,000 employees, but bigger does not necessarily mean better, and for the past decade and more it has been embroiled in one controversy after another from using excessive force to fraud.
Not quite at the other end of the scale, this American company caters primarily for California residents, although it operates throughout the United States. Not to be confused with the UK firm of the same name, it has a big presence in Concord, which is said to be the best place in California to raise a family. With a population of around 122,000, Concord saw only one murder between 2012 and 2013; other crimes are also low, certainly in comparison with most major urban centres.
The size of the Concord police department has been fairly consistent the past few years with around 200 staff including 150 officers. This may sound a reasonable ratio, around one police officer for every eight hundred persons, but not according to First Security.
There is another advantage of employing private security companies instead of relying solely on the police. While in theory the police are public servants, in practice they are accountable to no one. In May 2014 police in Georgia raided a private dwelling at 2am expecting to find a drug dealer present. Instead they found an innocent family, and for some unfathomable reason one of them threw a stun grenade into the house, which landed in the crib of a 19 month old baby severely wounding him.
The victims sued, and were awarded a million dollars, over half of which was already spent on medical bills. The county picked up the tab for this outrage, something that is standard practice in the US and indeed worldwide. Which means there is no real deterrent for this sort of incompetence and at times criminality. A private company does not have this kind of blanket immunity, which means that First Security, or even G4S are more trustworthy than regular police officers, because any time they goof big time, they can be held to account in the civil courts. Not only that, but bad news travels fast, and any security company that does not deliver at least reasonable services at a fair price will soon go out of business.