As the Boundaries Between Public and Private Policing Become Increasingly Blurred, It Is a Matter of Urgency That We Close the Accountability Gap Between the Highly Regulated Agents of the State and the Barely Regulated Agents of Private Security’.

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Title: ‘As the boundaries between public and private policing become increasingly blurred, it is a matter of urgency that we close the accountability gap between the highly regulated agents of the state and the barely regulated agents of private security’. Critically explain and discuss this statement.

There may be widespread agreement that the boundaries between public and private policing are becoming increasingly blurred, (Johnston, L., 1992; Stenning P. C., 1993; Nallah M., 2002; Boija J., 1998; Hakala, J., 2008) but the suggestion in the title of this paper that the public police services are ‘highly regulated’ while private police services are ‘barely regulated’ requires some justification before it can be accepted at face value. This paper will examine the respective scopes of work of public and private policing with particular emphasis on whether and how each category can be defined and with reference to the historical antecedents of both modes of policing, and it will then identify whether the boundaries between the two are clear and specific or ‘increasingly blurred’ as is stated. This paper will then go on to examine the degree to which each area is regulated and accountable, before examining whether the statement above can be justified by the evidence on the ground. On the balance of the evidence put forward it may then be possible to support the demand that unaccountable private security should urgently be regulated.

The institution of public policing is frequently seen as starting with the establishment of London’s Metropolitan Police in 1829 under the then Home Secretary Sir Robert Peel who ‘swept away the assorted gangs of parish constables, inquiry agents, soldiers and roughnecks who gave the streets of London what little order they enjoyed”, ( The Economist, April 1997) . However, as Beattie (2007) points out, such an assessment would be unfair on the efforts of many prominent actors in the eighteenth century who had recognised the problems of criminality in those cities expanding under the effects of the Industrial Revolution and who were determined to do something about it. In London by this time twenty three parochial night watch acts had already been passed, the majority prior to 1790; this had established a system of night watchmen throughout London’s parishes, with some of these posts being paid for from the public purse by George II as early as 1737 (XX). In 1749 Henry Fielding, as London’s Chief Magistrate, had appointed six men to act as full time runners or ‘thief-takers’ and Sir John Fielding, who succeeded his half brother Henry, then established and ran this group as the Bow Street Runners until his own death in 1780. Other Chief Magistrates developed and expanded these forces establishing Horse Patrols, Foot Patrols and Day Patrols initially under private arrangements funded by wealthy merchants and prosperous business interests but increasingly under the aegis of the Bow Street Public Office. Across the country by 1800 Scotland had already established its own City of Glasgow Police pre-dating the Met Police by nearly thirty years, London had passed the Marine Police Bill transferring the small Thames river force from the private to the public domain and increasing its manpower, and in 1814 the Peace Preservation Act contributed to Ireland forming the Royal Irish Constabulary six years later (XX). Public and private policing therefore existed together long before the advent of the Metropolitan Police and shared many of the same antecedents although since the profit motive drove some of the early policing operations of the ‘thief-takers’ it was sometimes difficult to separate the law breakers from the law enforcers; as McMullan put it, (cited in Ayling & Shearing, 2008: 93), some of the early forms of policing “linked the underworlds of London crime, the private trade in police services and the administration of criminal justice into a mutual toleration and protection society.”...
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