The Guardian August 4, 2004


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.

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