As forces (and indeed the entire criminal justice system) become more involved with private partners and third sector providers to deliver policing services, is there a danger that transparency and accountability will be reduced?
Even collaboration between forces requires a significant amount of debate, agreements and legal documents to make it work. When you add in results based measurement and payments to commercial bodies, there is a danger that the mechanisms for proving those results and for making those payments become difficult if not impossible to follow for the non-lawyer. At best the size of contractual documents, and the legalese wording in them is off putting; at worst some companies will insist on confidentiality in contracts to protect their profits and commercial secrets.
Chief Superintendent Matt Greening from Hampshire notes in his blog when talking about the merger of Scottish police forces, “As collaboration picks up speed some forces will soon reach a tipping point where joint working has taken them so far that merging is the inevitable next step.” I suspect that mergers and increased collaboration with other police forces is one tactic that forces will follow; another is increased collaboration with the private sector reaching a similar tipping point where from a public perspective it will be difficult to see where a police force ends and a private contractor begins.
So am I saying that all private contracts are bad, and all private companies are out just to make a profit? Absolutely not! What I am saying is that the companies that are involved in this market need to keep their ethical and moral standards high, and not hide behind legal contracts which could reduce rather than enhance transparency. As more and more of what was once core policing becomes deliverable by the private sector, it would be good to see a real push from the leading forces and companies involved towards open and transparent arrangements, delivering real partnerships based on openness, trust and above all the principle of transparency and accountability for the public.
This is achievable, desirable, and I suspect that the public expect nothing less.