Markets in Policing - ESRC Seminar Series

About the project

For some time, public policing has been shielded from debates about privatisation and the greater involvement of the private sector. Recently, however, austerity measures, a maturing private security industry and changes in land-use and property ownership have created a climate in which the political terms of the debate have shifted dramatically in favour of greater marketization of public policing.

Developments in the UK have been marked by the absence of rigorous debate about the implications of and limits to greater private sector involvement in public policing. There has been an absence of systematic academic, practitioner and policy deliberation reflecting on insights from research, as well as comparative experiences across the globe.

This seminar series will seek to stimulate an evidence-based and principled debate among policy-makers, senior practitioners and academics about the appetite for, and limits to, private sector involvement in public policing. It will explore a number of themes and issues concerning the organisational, cultural and moral limits of markets, as well as the politics, ethics and regulation of private sector involvement in policing.

In so doing, it will bring together key representatives of different interests and organisations to explore the parameters and regulation of markets in policing.

Whilst the UK is very much at the forefront of reforms, the series will also explore cross-cultural and cross-jurisdictional issues regarding the appetite for and limits to private sector involvement in policing, notably in Europe and North America.

This project is part of the N8 Policing Research Partnership.

Aims of the project

The aim of the research seminar series is to bring together a core group of leading commentators from various organisational interests and disciplines to engage with prominent national and international experts to explore a series of themes and issues in a structure dialogue concerning the organisational, cultural and moral limits of markets, as well as the politics, ethics and regulation of private sector involvement in policing. The series will produce findings and conclusions for wide dissemination throughout its duration and it is intended to shape and influence policy debates.

The specific objectives are:

1. To engage key national policy-makers, senior professional practitioners, other relevant user communities and international scholars in a research-informed and principled debate about the nature and implications of greater market involvement in public policing services both in the UK and internationally.

2. To contribute to debate and understanding of the conceptual and policy implications of changes in policing heralded by greater private sector involvement in public policing and its ramifications for the public legitimacy and the cultural place of police in contemporary societies.

3. To stimulate a debate about the values and principles that might inform considerations of whether to outsource areas of policing to the private sector and what aspects of policing might be effectively delivered by others than the public constabulary.

4. To explore a number of theoretically challenging and policy relevant critical questions concerning the outsourcing of police services, and uncover those factors: (i) that are pushing and pulling police forces towards greater levels of outsourcing (e.g. financial crisis and politics of austerity and the potential to transform organisational culture) and (ii) that are placing limits upon police outsourcing (e.g. politicisation in the public domain and organisational resistance)?

5. To analyse and assess public-private partnerships, income generation schemes and outsourcing in a number of specified areas of policing including: public order; mass events; police custody; public-facing functions; cyber-crime and the internet; the night-time economy; and neighbourhood patrols.

6. To highlight and begin to explore the cross-cultural and cross-jurisdictional issues concerning the appetite for, and opposition to, the greater involvement of the private sector and markets in aspects of public policing, as well as to consider the different and alternative policy pathways via which various countries have responded to austerity in relation to the provision of public policing.

7. To impact on and shape policy and public debate concerning policing reforms by producing recommendations (published in a policy briefing paper) on the parameters for principles that should inform private sector involvement in policing.

8. To build capacity among Post-Graduate Researchers (PGRs) and Early Career Researchers (ECRs) working in the field of policing studies and a sustainable legacy in the form of a researcher-practitioner network focused on public-private partnerships in policing.

9. To forge multi-disciplinary and cross-sectoral networks that can exploit research opportunities through the co-production of research projects and the construction of sustainable international consortia.

Seminar series

The global financial crisis and subsequent austerity measures have added a powerful dynamic to the receptiveness of governments and police managers to the involvement of the private sector in searching for solutions to budget cuts and how to do ‘more with less’. Austerity has become the justification for a decisive reversal in the long-standing opposition to private sector involvement in policing as a means of making cost savings in the face of considerable cuts to police budgets. The advent of Police & Crime Commissioners (PCCs) – given their commissioning role, control of police budgets and accountability to the electorate – provides a further uncertain dynamic.

What should the parameters of the public police role be? What tasks should be performed by sworn constables with legal powers and which tasks might better be devolved to others? How should sources of police income generation and sponsorship be arranged and governed (Ayling et al 2009)? To what extent can private security be harnessed to public ends (White and Gill 2013)? To what extent will the marketization of policing herald further erosion to the idea of the police as ‘sacred symbols of national pride’ (Banton 1964; Reiner 1995), as a result of which they come to be seen as a more profane and politically contested organisation? These are some of the questions that will be explored in this programme of research and public policy seminars.

Programme of seminars

1. The Politics of Market Reforms in Policing - 17 April 2015 | LSE, London

2. Outsourcing Policing: Experiences from Police Custody and Public Facing Suites - 9 June 2015 | York

3. Innovations in Income Generation Schemes - 30 November 2015 | Southampton 

4. Markets in Patrol - 14 April | Leeds

5 & 6. Comparative Experiences from Europe and Beyond  - 11 - 12 July | Leeds

7. Regulating the Market for Policing - 4 July 2017 | Sheffield 

8. Relations Between Public Policing and Private Security: Future Prospects and Ethical Questions - 31 October 2017 | London

9. Future Funding Workshop - 11 January 2018 | Leeds

Download seminar presentations and programmes.