The Spread of Private Policing

Sopana Selvachandran

The proliferation of private policing does not offer a fair and impartial means of crime regulation because participation in private security markets like CCTV, DNA, home drug tests and nanny cams are all vested with an interest in making profit. The private sector organizations that carry out these tasks are only accountable to the consumer and to no other parties. In the end, it only benefits people with money who are able to purchase these products and disadvantages a large part of society that relies on public police and lacks the resources to pay for private services. It is not impartial and favors those who purchase the commodity.

Private policing started to increase in Canada as a result of evolving urban spaces: An increase in mass private property and communal spaces, coupled with changes in governance relationships due to the increasing commodification (marketization) of civil services. The evolution of the neoliberal state has changed the role of policing to one where the public police were no longer expected to take full responsibility to provide policing services.

Neoliberalism emphasizes non-intervention from the government through privatization of government functions to private sector providers, and rejects regulation in free markets as inefficient. The shift in the police role is due to changing mentalities of governance, and the urge to privatize public agencies in the effort to promote economic prosperity. Because of the neoliberal ideology, the concept of policing has become a “product” or service for sale in the marketplace. We are, in short, witnessing the emergence of an uneven patchwork of policing and security provision, which is increasingly being determined by the ability and willingness of consumers to pay.

Private provision of services in the area of criminal justice and security is often problematic. For example DNA had been used in the past to find the suspects of many cases; however recently DNA matching has started to be supplied by private companies. The methods are unreliable, and often performed by technicians and not doctors. Also private companies have less transparency in method since by definition they are done privately, and there is no agency to overlook the process, as is done in police labs. A prime example is the rape and murder case of Dawn Ashworth in the mid-1980s: the real offender did not want to participate in the test, so he paid a friend to give fake evidence at the DNA lab. In 1987 Joe Castro stood trial for murder, and his lawyer attacked the methodology of the private lab with such success that the weight of the DNA evidence was vastly reduced.

This example shows that DNA evidence can be unreliable from a private source. Sometimes DNA is the ultimate evidence in a case, so basing that evidence on monetary worth alone, begs the question as to whether access to justice is only available to those who can afford it. DNA labs and technicians are also a commodity that can be purchased by individuals who are wealthy enough to buy their way into “injustice.” Because of these special privileges for certain groups, there can obviously be possibilities of mistakes, both knowingly and unknowingly when using DNA samples from private companies.

Another example of private policing technologies is CCTV, also known as closed circuit television. In watching such footage, the message of the dominant culture that crime is an individual responsibility and doesn’t have to do with social commissions prevails. This totally changes our perception of crime control. CCTV is not a fair and impartial method of crime regulation because the poor are disadvantaged. The crimes of the lower class are more visible while street-level life is ubiquitously monitored, and the upper and middle class areas of the city ignored. It is almost as if the poor are targeted, and by default those demographics that are predominately poor. Installing CCTV allows the private security to target and possibly criminalize lower class individuals as the cause of crime and ignores other classes. Another reason it is not fair is because people are always watched. The stigma of freedom is removed and no one knows when and where he or she will be watched and are not able to go about their daily routines normally without the worry or irritation of being surveilled, especially when they do not have criminal intents.

The final example of unfair crime regulation is nanny cameras. Hiring nannies is a private solution for social issues such as the length of work outside home, which is to replace it with relatively cheap domestic labour and then the nanny cams will show the parents everything they need to know. Parents have nanny cameras installed because they fear what can happen when they are not around. Private policing has altered the role of policing by becoming a commodity, which can easily be purchased, rather than a spread of police, which is supposed to be easily accessible to anyone in the public. The private police have become solutions for the social issues, which use money rather than the traditional, police framework to solve social issues. The main social issue is that people have to work more hours and spend more time away from the home to make ends meet. The people who are able to afford it can purchase nanny cameras but the working have no means of purchasing these commodities because they are relatively expensive, therefore not made available to everyone.

In conclusion, the increase of private policing in Canada is not fair and impartial because private policing only benefits people who have the monetary capacity to afford it. More importantly, it targets those who are in the lower class and points to the idea that the lower class is responsible for crime in society. All three examples of DNA collection, CCTV and nanny cams have showed that upper class citizens are able to use private agencies to their own advantage because private organizations have a vested interest in making a profit as opposed to the public police who are publicly funded and not based on a consumer market.

Sopana Selvachandran is a Master’s of Public Policy candidate for 2015.  She previously achieved a Bachelor of Arts (Hons.) in Criminology from York University. Sopana has expressed a keen interest in a wide range of research including, but not limited to social, immigration, criminal justice and environmental policy.

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