Dhaka (The Daily Star/ANN) - Reflection demonstrates that any large, modern, and industrialised society needs a professional police force, operating on a 24 hour basis and providing a standardised and accountable service; and professionals must be paid for their services.
The extreme example of making the police service self-financial is through privatisation; and no one has seriously suggested that the entire policing operation be put out to tender. Policing is the responsibility of the State; and some of its activities could not be made self-financing. However, there are already private security companies making a handsome profit out of doing things which were once a police responsibility, such as a secure transportation of money.
More policing activities could be transferred to the private sector. The policing could be allowed to charge for some of their activities, whilst providing others as a social service. For example, the police could charge for the cost of policing a football match. If they are to be organised on a business-like basis then they could think in a business-like way. Using their surplus capacity, the police could enter into a competitive tendering with private security or other companies for the work which either organisation could do.
There are many potential difficulties here. The image of the force for the police to begin charging for their services, or some of them, on a serious basis, would alter the image of the force and the public perception of its role.
Police Officers themselves might find it very difficult to accept the commercial outlook necessary to making this work. They have, after all, spent their working lives in the public service, providing something which is free at the point of delivery.
Police procedures and structures would need to be changed. Far more information would be needed about costs. Managers, rather than senior police officers, would need the appropriate training and experience to make the new system work. Who would be accountable for its success?
Clearly a great deal of thought would have to be given to the implications of a commercially-conscious police force. However, it is clearly a way of reducing public costs, and lessons might be learned from other public service organisations which have begun to charge for part of their activities.
A great deal of police work is concerned with investigating crime, and much of recorded crime relates to theft. If the police are successful in catching thieves (or convicting drug-peddlers or fraudsters) then they should be paid a proportion of the recovered or seized.
However, the implications of policing being paid for on the basis of successful criminal investigation are profound; and it is unlikely that the police force could survive in anything like its present form, were this principle generally applied.
Serious consideration of either voluntary or commercially-orientated policing soon indicates that, whilst both activities may help defray costs, there is no real alternative to regarding policing as a public service, which must be paid for out of public money.
Public money comes from two main sources - national and local. National revenue and expenditure vastly exceeds local; and the police are a major source of national expense. Therefore, the police should be paid for on a national basis, out of nationally-raised public money, which is raised by a variety of means, and is under the control of the Treasury whose officials are accountable to Parliament.
On a practical note, unless the finances of local government were drastically improved, they would be unable to meet the real costs of policing. The solution, as so often in British public life, is a compromise; policing is paid for out of a combination of local and central funding.
In UK, whereas, in the past there was an almost even balance between central and local sources of revenue, with the Home Office providing fifty-one percent, that balance no longer applies. Central government now supplies ninety-one percent of police funding; and police work can no longer be described as a locally-funded activity.
Police financing is at a crossroads. Under the old system the State, with local government, provided a fixed amount of money which the force spent. The force was able to say how it had spent the money, in terms of where the money had gone; but expenditure was not linked to performance.
"We have spent more money on you than ever before, and still crime has gone," says the politician: and what can the police officer answer? Paradoxically, there is a case here for emphasising local options, and local community, including politicians and journalists, may be able to ward off nationally-based criticism; and if a police officer has control over his/her own budget, s/he will be able to respond to local needs more readily.
The police, traditionally, do not rent out their assets. However, times changes; and there are plenty of progressive-minded police officers around, who want to make the best use of their assets, and realise that it means a new approach is needed.
To summarise: traditionally, a police force had very little real control over its finances. The income it generated for itself was minimal. The income it received was very tightly controlled. Getting it was a cumbersome process and the money trickled down to the police force was rather like water flowing down a hillside through an elaborated, linked, and artificial lagoons.
The disadvantages of the present system are many. Even as the money is finally available there is very little possibility of its flexible use. What had been bid for had to be spent, in its original categories; and the operational police commander was kept on a very tight shoestring as far as financial resources were concerned.
The system is characterised by lengthy accounting periods, unrealistic forecasts, and tight controls at all levels. It discourages initiatives and leads to illogical behaviour, such as spending money simply to get rid of it. The government recognises all these faults, and intends to reform the whole system and link expenditure to performance.
The writer is a columnist of The Daily Star.