Deregulate the Policing Market
Priti Patel (the UK secretary of state, akin to the US’s attorney general but with a much wider purview) has been recently considering new laws to tackle a spate of dog thefts across the country. The crime wave has been spurred by lockdown measures, with many people desiring “covid pets.”
This increase in demand for pets, especially dogs and puppies, has led to an increase in prices, with some puppies now costing as much as £1,883. Most Austrian economists will not be surprised that the “the bureaucracy is expanding to meet the needs of the expanding bureaucracy” but where a problem is presented that seemingly needs a solution, what else is to be done?
In this case it’s existing regulation (prelockdown) that is causing the most major problems for this not to be a state issue. It's about crime and how it pays. According to the most recent data (as of July 2019), only 7.8 percent of all reported crimes in England and Wales end in a conviction.
The usual calls when this happens are for more police to be dropped on the streets, as if this were some God Simulator computer game where spawning enough units eventually gets the job done while the economy shuffles on certis paribus. But this is the real world, and the economic constraints of resources, funding, training times, and acquiring competent applicants exist.
So what is the alternative? Deregulate the policing market. Why should we leave a government monopolist police to concentrate on petty theft and dog napping when rape convictions are at their lowest point ever? Private police forces already exist in the UK, mostly in response to state budget cuts (another argument against monopoly is that the state’s ability to “giveth and taketh away” on a whim often does not correspond to local demand).
However, the role of private police forces needs to have the support of the home secretary in regard to jurisdiction. This became the issue with the port authorities (who have had private police in the UK since the 1840s). Delivering criminals from the port to custody meant breaching a “mile radius” zone of jurisdiction and so making it illegal to bring a criminal to justice! Luckily the powers of the constable were increased to ensure this was legal.
Private policing, being nothing new, adds a whole host of benefits to the area of policing as well, including increased conviction rates and reduced costs. There are opportunities for communities to have their own police from their own backgrounds (the UK police are still not trying to understand why young black men won’t join the Met [Metropolitan Police] or why nationalists won’t trust the PSNI [Police Service of Northern Ireland]).
The state police are needed at the moment to deal with serious crimes: rape, murder, child grooming, and abuse. These serious damages to person are in a rational society detestable, and no one, excepting the most lunatic fringes of liberal academia, would want to see their perpetrators roaming the streets. Whether these are sent for treatment or punishment is another debate, but their exclusion from society is accepted by most.
So let’s give the private police a chance to prove that this is a market that can not only reduce the government’s time and money, but can have an exponential amount of positive externalities. We can begin to let people trust their own police, run by them for their community, in accordance with the laws of the land, of course. This is not a call for miniwarlords, just a way for the market to prove its efficiencies over the state.
It’s unlikely, given the new Tory (see Labour) method of tax and spend that an actually viable, free market solution will be picked up. However, getting this conversation started and offering solutions that are more than just “stop and search” or “hug a hoodie” is important. We must look to all the options before our police force is given powers they don’t need to fight crimes that are none of their concern or dwindle into a restricted, powerless force that simply protects the wealthy and is mistrusted by everyone else.