This blog is mainly about the governance and future of policing and crime services. (Police & Crime Commissioners feature quite a lot.) But there are also posts about the wider justice system. And because I am town councillor and political activist, local & national issues are covered a little, as well.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Police for hire?

A couple of weeks ago, Police Professional published an excellent article (by Parkinson & Johnson) beginning with this paragraph:
Last week, following the publication of a Court of Appeal judgment, it was revealed that the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) had agreed to assist Virgin Media in a private fraud investigation. In exchange, Virgin Media had agreed to give a cash donation to the police amounting to 25 per cent of any compensation recovered in the private prosecution that followed. During the investigation officers involved had used restricted powers, including their powers of search and arrest.
Let those words sink in for a while....

So, a fraud was (strongly?) suspected. The investigation required police powers to uncover all the evidence. It was not of great public concern but mattered a great deal to the company in question. The police were paid a portion of the 'bounty' (re)gained.

The article asks and prompts some important questions, which I summarise as:

  • Could this be the beginning of wealthy benefactors skewing police resource deployment in their favour?
  • Could the police service (especially a strapped for cash one) end up chasing after the cases where there are financial rewards and leave others behind (which might be causing more harm)?
  • Since corporate fraud is unlikely to attract much public attention, do the companies suffering it have to do so in silence, hire private investigators (with no legal powers) or will we see more cases like this in the future?
  • How will all this play out in the public domain: will such sponsored action on fraud attract more or less public trust and confidence?
So what now? Are such investigations destined to become yet another income stream for the police (like adverts on the sides of police cars?) or do we have a moment to pause and think what are the choices, options and decisions...
  • Should the police ever take money for what may be termed standard policing work?
  • Should the police make a point of targeting even more criminals whose ill-gotten gains can be sequestered for the public purse?
  • Should private investigators be given extra powers so that companies can hire commercial entities to do these kinds of fraud investigations? 
  • Should large corporations be required to take out insurance policies against fraud which would provide cash for the police investigating such crime?
  • Has anyone spoken with the wider public as to what they think?
  • If the police do more of the same, how will they ensure that other parts of policing are not losing resources?
  • Should the police always make a surplus in such instances and then plough that 'profit' back into less well funded community policing (say)?
  • If companies can 'hire' the police, could a rich landowner do likewise to recover an expensive combine harvester that has been stolen (and pay for the privilege)?
  • Is there a argument for making in house investigators special police officers on a temporary basis so that police powers can be legally deployed?
  • Should more be done to persuade the public that fraud, embezzlement and tax evasion are not victimless crimes?
  • What strategic investment should the police now be making into becoming more commercial as it were... a lot, little or none?

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