Public and Private Policing

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Public and Private Policing
The growing privatization of police services is a global phenomenon. It was first widely noted in the United States in a 1972 Rand Corporation study commissioned by the National Institute of Justice. Several years later, Stenning and Shearing observed that a “quiet revolution” toward private policing had occurred in Canada. South documented a similar trend in both western and eastern European countries. And an update of the original Rand assessment in 1985 concluded that private security outspent public law enforcement by 73 percent and employed two and a half times as many people. Public and private policing have many similarities, as well as differences and the distinction between public and private police are often blurred. Private policing, while emerging as a new industry, is not a new phenomenon and predates the existence of public police as witnessed today (Wilson 1994, p. 285).

There are at least three reasons for the dramatic increase. First, in both post-industrial and developing nations, there has been an increase in what Stenning and Shearing call “mass private property”: shopping malls and gated communities. These spaces have traditionally fallen outside of the domain of public police, although this is now changing. Second, the fear of crime among those with property has grown faster than government’s willingness to spend more money on police protection. In many countries, this fear of crime among the propertied classes was intensified by the transition from authoritarian to democratic rule. Third, private police forces have often placed a higher priority on visible patrol than public police, hoping to deter crime through their presence. As early as 1971 Scott and McPherson worried that private policing might infringe upon civil liberties with impunity. Formal and familiar mechanisms exist around the world to hold public police accountable for their actions, but accountability mechanisms for private police are less well understood and often emanate from private rather than public institutions. In many cases, the state has little power or incentive to hold private police accountable. Stenning, however, believes that the inadequate accountability of private police has been overstated; marketplace competition, consumer pressures, demands of organized labor, and potential civil liability, he argues, compensate for lesser state regulation and oversight.

Public policing has been known to have a monopoly on policing until the increased trend of private policing in the United States. Public police consist of the governmental department charged with the regulation and control of the affairs of a community, now chiefly the department established to maintain order, enforce the law, and prevent and detect crime. Private policing refers to that policing activity of crime prevention, detection and apprehension carried out by private organizations or agents for commercial purposes. Private policing may be defined to include those people who work for a security company or are employed by an individual or firm to carry out security work, crowd control or private investigations. In seeking to describe the policing activity of private police, however, most functional definitions stem from the perceived role of the public police (Nalla & Newman, 1990). Private police look and behave like public police and describing their function often involves a comparison of the activities and responsibilities of the two. Despite the differences, public and private police tend to mirror each other to a certain extent (Nalla & Newman, 1990). Private policing is provided by a private individual or organization, rather than by a public body or the state like public policing is. Private police are seen to be concerned with the protection of personal and corporate interest while public police represent the interests of the public and seek to enforce the regulations of the judicial system. The police are...
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