Sunday, May 20, 2012

And now, for something completely different...

RoboCop portray's a failed policing system in a dystopian future - photo Sony Corp.

While governments in the UK are taking the remarkable step of hiring security to privatize police, something equally remarkable, and almost unnoticed, is unfolding in Detroit. 

Resident groups, fed-up with declining resources, a cash-strapped police department and crime and disorder, have decided to take advantage of a recently updated Michigan law - the Home Rule City Act - and hire their own private security to police their neighborhoods. Council has yet to approve the proposal. 

The Act allows neighborhoods to levy a service fee on residents for private security. In America, neighborhood's hiring their own security is not new. Allowing neighborhoods to tax themselves to fund it…that is!  

Drastic times call for drastic measures! Really? Without clearly thought out public policy? Without proper hiring benchmarks? Without quality control for training and selection? Who will do that? The Detroit police? How can Detroit police monitor, control, or audit quality of neighborhood security when they are too cash-strapped to deliver services themselves? 

Pythonic thinking to solve the privatization crisis

In a stunning leap of Monty Python logic, I'm told the British Home Office thinks it can do all that quality control, monitoring and auditing of UK police privatization themselves. After all, as this Pythonic thinking goes, they did it for public police…that is to say the same "inefficient" public police the government is now privatizing. 

In other words, more bureaucracy to control outsourcing due to funding shortfalls for inefficient policing from government funding. Blimey! That circular logic makes one's head spin. It's the Ministry of Silly Walks through and through.

And how's that working for them? I just read news that a former division of Hallibuton Inc was a leading bidder to privatize UK police services. That's Halliburton - the same military-industrial giant of Iraq infamy. The same Halliburton implicated in the Gulf Oil spill a few years ago. 

There is nothing wrong with private security (in fact the opposite) as long as it is administered properly and monitored for quality by qualified experts. But does Detroit really want in on this game without well-thought policy mechanisms? 

Is it just me, or does the dystopian RoboCop future seem just a bit closer today?

6 Replies so far - Add your comment

Anonymous said...

Sorry Greg, but I have to comment that I DO NOT place the blame for police privatisation (since we are talking about the UK, I'll use UK spellings) squarely on the shoulders of the government.

Rather, I think the police - especially the robo-cop cult - have to take most of the blame as we see the decline of public policing.

How long have the police services and the police UNIONS been warned that if they don't stop treating "community policing" as swear words that their jobs would be outsourced? Yet what did we hear from the moaners and complainers? Oh, the public don't understand us. Such belly-aching is akin to teachers saying , "these kids have to change because they just don't appreciate my teaching style." Or doctors saying: "oh, why can't these people get the illness I like treating." You get the point.

One takes the community as one finds it -- and one should spend a career making that community a better place to live.
Instead what do we hear from the dysfunctional robo-cops? : whinging about how the community doesn't understand their role as community guardians! As the kids say, pppllllllleasssseeee!

In most policing agencies it would be fair to say that internal perception among sworn employees is that a position in SWAT is much more desirable than one in Community policing or race relations.

Make no mistake, I'm not condemning your average police officer: he or she wants to do the right thing by their communities, but I think policing has been transformed and influenced much more by the militarisation cult than by the "softies" who want to do community outreach and neighbourhood meetings. Just look at the uniforms if you don't believe me. Consider where the employees want to work if you don't believe me. Consider the levels of dysfunction WITHIN police agencies (among police themselves) if you don't believe me.

My tag line is "there is no place in policing so dangerous as INSIDE the station." The internal gossiping, the back-stabbing and the ineffective management is an indictment of a noble profession in crisis! So, they are my complaints. (Solutions to follow)

Gerry C

Anonymous said...

Follow-up with solutions:

Here is what I propose to fix them:

My solutions:

Double the pay for police officers and demand an undergraduate degree with a problem solving focus. We should ignore all that nonsense about the danger of "book smart cops" that the unmotivated and uneducated try to use to justify their lack of education.

Being uninformed is a sure method of getting it wrong, so how anyone can argue against tertiary education is simply beyond me. We've let the education nay-sayers get away with that "common sense" is somehow synonymous with lacking a degree.

Make policing a real profession with professional obligations and responsibilities. (IE: on-going professional development like engineers,lawyers, doctors, nurses, etc are required to do.)
Hire fewer police to take level one calls and more "level 2 & 3" private call responders.

Put these new "elite" police on performance contracts. Put term limits on their jobs. Don't worry about filling them. There will be lots of the private level 2 & 3 folks who will want to move up and become sworn officers who make better money in my scheme. If they don't grow and improve professionally, they don't keep their jobs. If they don't engage the community and focus on the community being safer, they would move to another job after their term expires.

Set criteria for a police officer's job and how she or he carries it out day to day. I'm not talking about accounting for the fluidity of calls: instead I'm talking about core competencies that are measured on a rubric over three and four years of an officer's performance.

Hire more middle aged women with strong communication skills. Conversely, hire fewer alpha males with self defence capabilities. We can teach the middle aged communicators how to take care of themselves physically. We have had little success in getting the robo-cops to communicate in positive terms with their clients, namely their community members.

What I have written above will not be popular with police who love the robo-cop approach, but I'm ok with their scorn. Just remember, asking police for a high school diploma in the 20s would have been unthinkable.

Asking them not to take bribes in the 30s would have been madness. The wrong people are trying to lead policing right now. The right people - folks like YOU Greg - need to stand up and take the lead.

Everything changes. Policing will change. I'd rather see the change driven internally by good leaders than government bureaucrats who are obviously incapable of understanding police officers, their jobs or what they face day in and day out.

The officers who want to work with their communities deserve our support. Let's get the more money and respect! The ones who prefer better weaponry need to be encouraged to go elsewhere. They are a cancer for future of public policing. Forgive the hubris, but to reword Shakespeare, "their way madness lies!"

Gerry C

Anonymous said...

Thanks Gerry for that thoughtful and passionate reply. Thanks also for offering me up as a leader in policing, but I'm not sure I'm not sure that's for me. I know some exceptional leaders in the police ranks. For example, I'm working currently with an exceptional group of US police leaders through Bill Geller and Darryl Stephens on a Bureau of Justice Administration future of police leadership project.

Sadly, those leaders are the exception, not the rule. I get the feeling there is too much careerism and not enough gumption in police leadership. Too many take the reins of power to control their organization. When they pull those reigns they discover no one at the other end! They just don't get that leadership is more than control, charisma, and cracking jokes. Maybe that's a criticism of political leadership in general?

But I suspect you were not referring to leadership as a noun (what one gets paid to do) but rather a verb (what one does). On that score, I think we all have an obligation to step up.

As to blame, there is ample supply for to go all around. I prefer to think ahead. And that is an exciting, and dangerous, landscape.

As you say, one vista forward might be trimming policing down with higher pay for fewer specialists and more diverse and educated qualifications. The more general non-emergency workload can indeed be more efficiently tackled by a private/public hybrid - but only if it is properly vetted, audited, and controlled by thoughtful public policy. I think the social enterprise, not-for-profit sector can best fill the void between private and public.

The other, more dangerous, vista is RoboCop, especially what is going on in the UK.

Isn't that the ultimate irony! RoboCop is based on the work of sci-fi genius Phllip K Dick (Bladerunner), and his work goes back to Anthony Burgess's 1962 novel "A Clockwork Orange"…remember that story of an ultra-violent future Britain in which private security and technology become their (failed) answer to crime.

Here we are 50 years later...fiction becoming fact! Shame on us.

Gregory Saville said...

Incidentally, in case it wasn't obvious, the above reply to Gerry C is by Greg Saville. Sorry - software glitch. Google blogspot is misbehaving of late.

Tim Hegarty said...

Good to "hear" your voice in this. On this blog as well as other blogs/sites that I follow, posters are regularly lamenting the state of policing in North America and Great Britain, and not without good cause. Iv'e done it myself. Here's my challenge for the two of you, as well an anyone else out there. Where is it working? For surely it is in many places. And to humor me, where in the States? Tell me where, and I'll go there to see it. Tell me where, and I'll send others there to see it. Tell me where, and maybe we can find out why. Maybe we can find out how to make it happen in other places. I'll even start with a few places that I think are doing some great work. Redmond, WA. Redlands, CA. High Point, NC. Who's next?

Gregory Saville said...

Tim - your question brings to mind the Iron Curtain, apartheid, smallpox, the Irish civil war, and cigarette smoking in restaurants, airlines, and everywhere. When I was a kid all those things existed. Today they are gone. Many said those things would never vanish. They were wrong.

Whenever turbulent change happens those in the current paradigm rarely suspect it is underway and fewer still can imagine what it would look like.

As usual, you ask a penetrating question that challenges us all. None who want sustainable safety in the turbulent years ahead is excused from trying to find an answer.

The agencies you mention are, no doubt, further along than others. However many look only like agencies with effective programs and as you know programs have a beginning, a middle, and an end. In our future the catchword must be "sustainability". For that to happen we must fundamentally rethink the current configuration of public safety.

Obviously police will still apprehend criminals and attend emergencies. Where I believe the fracture lies is in delivery of all the remaining services - traffic, neighbor disputes, crime prevention, general patrol, and on and on.

Who can say what that future will look like? There are some intriguing new models underway. Thankfully folks like you are asking the right questions.

But see it or not, like it or not, a new, more cost-efficient and effective public/private hybrid must emerge. Otherwise we'll go broke.