NSW corporate rent-a-cop scheme
Bob Briton The Carr Government dropped a bombshell recently with the announcement that from now on businesses will be able to hire police from the Department as de facto security guards. The restrictions that used to prevent corporations hiring police for these functions were lifted the week before last with the gazetting of amendments to policing laws. The arrangements had been the subject of trials involving several companies over the past two years. The coup was announced by Police Minister John Watkins who added that the new "income stream" would not be used to cut public funding. The minister was replying to the least significant of the many objections being raised about the cops-for-hire scheme. Even Opposition police spokesman Peter Debnam from that most notorious mob of privatisers, the Liberal Party, felt obliged to point out the most obvious: "It is effectively privatising public order and further entrenches public order for the rich. This is the police service saying they will work for anybody as long as you send us a proposal, we are available for hire". The Sydney Markets is to be the first private organisation to hire police to patrol their premises. Mr Watkins insists that there are sufficient safeguards in the system and that an "emergency opt-out" provision applies to the deals. This means that, should there be a policing emergency elsewhere in the community, police can leave their private patrolling duties. A refund would be sent to the contracting company for the gap in the service. For the time being, the duties in question are additional ones for the NSW police. There is a danger that the arrangements will have officers working beyond the limits of their already long and anti-social hours. Companies will pay $81.40 an hour to the Department while officers will receive an average of $45.10, according to an AAP report. Another "safeguard" mentioned by Mr Watkins is that the hiring entity "has to be a company or an organisation and they go through a very tough process". The police will not serve as bouncers at pubs, clubs or casinos. Apparently Commissioner Ken Moroney is to have the final say on applications to hire police officers. The government has not taken up the more serious objections such as those raised by Peter Debnam and Greens MLC Lee Rhiannon about the privatisation of core police functions. Ms Rhiannon has protested at the obvious potential for conflicts: "What if the manger of the private company that is paying the police officer breaks the law? A police officer defending a private company's property at times would act differently from a police officer who is acting in the public interest. "For example at a public protest the police work to maintain order and safety. But if the protest was outside the headquarters of a corporation that used hired police you would have to expect that the public would come off second best". The Greens MLC insists that the government has not demonstrated any circumstances, such as a crime wave, that would justify the highly irregular private policing scheme. The move entrenches a "user pays", "fee for service" attitude to policing matters. Once the principle is set down, the requirement for individuals to pay for the police attendance at a robbery or other crime against their property or person becomes the next step on the same path. The changes also put the police in competition with existing private security companies offering the same service. This will warm the hearts of those wanting to advance the cause of privatisation underpinning national "competition" policy. Some of these advocates will eventually argue that there is no need for a public institution at all! The scheme helps break ground for privatisers in other states with regard to their police forces and for the Australian Federal Police.