The Future of Public/private Partnerships

By Youngs, Al | The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, January 2004 | Go to article overview

The Future of Public/private Partnerships


Youngs, Al, The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin


Doctors and nurses, attorneys and paralegals, parents and day care providers, presidents and aides--all people need support and assistance to accomplish their goals. Why should public law enforcement agencies be different?

Today's police departments are under monumental pressure to perform, keep crime rates low, and do it all with fewer resources. Agencies can accomplish this seemingly impossible mandate by forming supportive partnerships with private security providers. (1)

A Historical Perspective

Privatization of law enforcement activities is not a new concept. Perhaps, the monopolization of policing by government is an aberration. (2) Only in the last 100 to 200 years has government effectively monopolized policing, which is not uniform across all countries. In Europe, for example, France led the way in the systematic nationalization of policing in the 17th century. Nationalization followed fitfully throughout the rest of continental Europe, concentrated largely in towns and often deferring to the private authority of the landowning aristocracy. In England, policing remained largely in private hands until well into the 19th century. In the United States, where cities gradually governmentalized policing in the middle of the 19th century, private policing never really died. The constituent states did not begin to develop organized police forces until the early 20th century, and the national government did not do so until approximately a decade later. While the 1960s characterized a period of indifference toward private security and the 1970s one of changing perceptions and some mistrust of the industry, the 1980s and 1990s most likely will be regarded as the era of collaboration and joint ventures between public law enforcement and private security. (3) Individual and corporate citizens policed by public law enforcement also increasingly are becoming the clients of private security, as illustrated by increases in the use of corporate security and the number of gated communities.

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Lower Crime Rates, Higher Costs

In the late 1990s, serious crime continued to fall in the United States, (4) reaching a 25-year low. The potential that criminals will receive punishment and that they will serve a longer amount of time both are higher today than in the last 30 years.

The economic boom of the late 1990s, which increased wages and rates of employment, impacted the reduction of crime. But, on the other hand, criminal punishment also increased. Compared to 1996, the probability of going to prison in 1997 for murder rose 13 percent, while it increased 1 percent for rape, 7 percent for robbery, and 11 percent for aggravated assault. (5) Once convicted, prisoners now stay incarcerated longer. Compared to the 1980s, the median sentence served by prisoners has risen for every category of serious crime except aggravated assault. (6)

Potential criminals respond to incentives. (7) Crime decreases when expected punishment increases, and the reverse proves true as well. To achieve an even lower crime rate, law enforcement must continue to make crime less profitable by further increasing expected punishment. But, higher arrest rates require more money for police staffing, equipment, and procedures. (8) Higher conviction and sentencing rates require more resources for prosecution and criminal courts. The need for more prison space also increases, and, although the cost of building and maintaining more prisons is high, the cost of not doing so appears to be higher.

The Time for Privatization

The hope of the public, as well as the goal for police departments, is to continue lowering crime rates. However, achieving this requires more policing and more cost precisely when law enforcement agencies face serious recruitment problems, additional equipment costs, a decrease in tax revenues, and legislative restrictions denying access to any surpluses.

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