Thursday, June 21, 2012

Serve the Private Profit Margin

You don't have to look hard on the internet these days to find someone going on about the prophetic nature of RoboCop. Maybe not when it comes to cybernetic police officers - not yet, anyway - but in terms of the ongoing decay of Detroit, Michigan and the growth of corporations seeking to take over parts of the public sphere for pure profit, sometimes it seems that every day brings us closer to a world of corrupt corporate executives and robots unable to climb stairs and privatized police forces.

You might expect that to all be happening in the United States; in that, you'd be wrong. Instead, the spectre of a police force that is accountable not to a government and citizens but to a board of directors and shareholders is emerging in the United Kingdom, where the local head of G4S - a private security company, probably the world's largest employer you've never heard of, and the official security provider for the upcoming 2012 Summer Olympics - has gone on record with his prediction that by 2017, much of what British police services do today will then be done by private agencies.

It's already begun, of course, with the United Kingdom battered by recession; earlier this year, the Surrey Police and West Midlands Police entertained bids for a seven-year, £1.5 billion privatization scheme. While supporters are mainly drawing attention to "middle and back office functions" that would be given over to private companies, a contract note made public by the Guardian indicated that some of the fields up for privatization included beat patrols, management of high-risk individuals, the investigation of crimes, suspect detention, case development... you know, the sort of things that are at the core of police work. Though the plans have been put on hold, and were unpopular with citizens and police officers alike, I can't help but think this is a juggernaut that's going to keep on rolling. The first stabs have been taken, there's blood in the water, and the corporate sharks are circling.

This badge was worn by my grandfather, Les Parkinson, in the Manchester City Police from 1939 to 1968. This news would probably make him turn in his grave if he hadn't been cremated.

They're already working to shape the discussion in their favor. David Taylor-Smith, G4S's head of UK operations, tried to cast aspersions on opponents of privatization, saying that "the thought that everyone in the private sector is primarily motivated by profit and that is why they come to work is just simply not accurate... they are primarily motivated by pretty much the same as would motivate someone in the public sector."

I don't think anyone's questioning the motives of the actual people on the line there, chief. Generally speaking, someone who works a job will want to do well at that job, if for no other reason than they'll be fired if they don't. This is not about the employees - this is about the bosses. Bosses that will cease to have even a theoretical responsibility to the actual citizens, because keep in mind that G4S is publicly traded on the stock exchanges in London and Oslo, and it is the duty of such companies under capitalism to make as much profit as they possibly can. In some circumstances this sort of setup is all right, but when these companies are providing necessary services - services like policing and criminal justice - "service" and "profit" are incompatible. One of them's gotta give, and I'm pretty sure which one it'd be.

It's ridiculous, that's what it is. Policing is one of the core responsibilities of a state. If things have got to the point where you think you can't afford it, where you're seriously considering farming out not just back-office stuff, but actual boots-on-the-ground, to entities that exist solely to make money, then that's it. You're done. You have failed as a state. Well done, dudes.

Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie saw all this coming, of course.

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