The policing family already includes police officers, police support staff, Police Community Support Officers, Special Constables and volunteers.  It appears that family is soon to grow a little larger once West Midland and Surrey Police have completed their procurement process to find someone to outsource services to by 2013.

Brought to the public attention by the Guardian on 4th March 2012 is the news that the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) approves of this move to bring in outsiders to conduct criminal investigations, patrol neighbourhood and detain suspects.  They also suggest that all other forces in the country will follow to some degree in the coming years of tight budgets.

They report Greater Manchester Chief Constable (CC) Peter Fahy, who is also the ACPO Lead on Workforce Development, as saying that only “radical and fundamental” change would allow forces to cope with the “enormous challenge of the financial cuts” and maintain the protection of the public.  There were elements in a criminal investigation that did not need to be done by a police officer. (There is no reason why) others could not help protect the public and bring offenders to justice.”

They add the support of former Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Lord Blair, who says that “swaths of police tasks’ do not need to be carried out by fully trained officers. These include guarding prisoners, searching woodlands, preparing routine witness statements and providing intelligence analysis to murder inquiries.  “Many forces have employed their own non-police staff to undertake this sort of task but have been unable to do so in sufficient numbers because of the need to employ a fixed and ever increasing number of officers within a fixed budget.”

He also points out that the outsourcing “would allow the private sector to provide staff who can carry out routine and repetitive tasks at cheaper rates and, perhaps most intriguingly, to provide temporary access to skilled staff – such as murder inquiry teams – which can be hired for incidents that are rare in most forces but for which all forces must permanently retain a group of very expensive staff. This would then allow the chief constable, satisfied that he or she has commissioned these kind of services at a cheaper rate, to spend more of the budget on those parts of the service that require, because of their complexity, their impact on public safety or their centrality to the police mission, to be carried out by fully warranted officers,”

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In an attempt to calm public concern, CC Fahy pointed out that private security staff were already patrolling public spaces and managing major public events, licensed by local authorities: “Private staff monitor CCTV covering public space, private companies transport prisoners to and from court and store detectives detain shoplifters.”

The intention is to ensure that highly trained and professional police officers were spending time on activities which require their skills, expertise and values. He added “While there are a number of tasks in a criminal investigation, such as gathering CCTV evidence or checking phone records, which do not necessarily need to be done by a police officer, the investigation itself would be overseen by a police officer in much the same way as a doctor oversees treatment of a patient although other healthcare professionals carry out particular tasks.”

However, not everyone is so agreeable to the proposals.

Bob Jones, Chair of the Finance Committee of the West Midlands Police Authority, was one of five members of the police authority who voted against the (privatisation) trial.

Lynne Owens, the Surrey Chief Constable ruled out the use of private firms to patrol neighbourhoods: “Any suggestion that a private sector company will patrol the streets of Surrey is simply nonsense. It would be no more acceptable to the public than it would be to me.”

The Police Federation warned that it was “an extremely dangerous road to take”.

But on the other hand, a Home Office spokesman said: “We are determined to do anything that will help the police to become more efficient and better able to fight crime. We have been very open in our support for the police in taking these decisions.”  So it will probably happen regardless of any fears people may have.

The question is, how will this affect your novel.  It could in theory get some private individual, with no current police training or authority to get deeply involved in some complex and/or nasty crime and investigation.  Could that someone be another Miss Marples?

If the doctor analogy quoted by CC Fahy were to follow along the same lines though, would nurses be involved in the more complex issues that supposedly remain the responsibility of the GP and save a village or small town from some life threatening virus?

Just as the Crime Writing Association’s “Murder Squad”

tour the country providing advice to aspiring writers of crime fiction, could there be a private Murder Squad brought in by the local police force to handle their first murder in 30 years (I’m not sure where that may be as every force has them more frequently than that)?

The choice is yours. You may well manage to get one of your novice/private detectives into real policing activities in the not so distant future.  How come they don’t feature in science fiction or do they?

Don’t forget to book your place on the Crime Fiction – Making it Real weekend workshop March 2012

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