Constables for hire: the history of private 'public' policing in the UK

Williams, Chris A. (2008). Constables for hire: the history of private 'public' policing in the UK. Policing and Society, 18(2) pp. 190–205.




Most currently accepted theoretical generalisations on the state of British policing conclude that there is an innovative and ongoing blurring of the boundaries between the public and the private sectors. Many make reference to the practice of the private purchase of police services from public police forces, and some explicitly claim that this is a relatively recent innovation, growing in frequency. Yet this practice is not new; it has been a feature of public policing throughout the period of the 'criminal justice state' (c. 1825-1975). The origin, extent, visibility and development of the practice is described here, suggesting that historically it comprised a significant aspect of the British system of policing in many areas, and has always been structured by legislation, although in the period between 1950 and 1970 it may have reached a relatively low point. Accounts of policing which stress the relationship between privatisation and 'late modernity' thus need to be questioned.

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