Walking the line on police privatization: efficiency, accountability, and court decisions

Source: Pace William Rawlins & Sung-Wook Kwon, International Review of Administration Sciences, September 2016


This research reviews key issues in the privatization of local police services by discussing economic and political pressures for police privatization and concerns regarding the quality and accountability of privatized police. In particular, the authors explore whether the cost-efficiency sought from police privatization outweighs a critical side effect of a growing confusion regarding police oversight and significant uncertainties in accountability. They analyze court decisions in the US dealing with the question of whether constitutional protections extend to private police conduct. Relevant court decisions suggest that the confusion may grow even worse and local policy makers may need to pay more attention if they decide to privatize police services.

Points for practitioners While police privatization occurs at all levels of government, this research focuses narrowly on the municipal level because there are significantly more local police agencies than at any other level of government. This study first clarifies the motives behind police privatization and then brings to light the side effects that may occur, especially accountability issues. This will act as a guide for local policy makers because accountability and cost-efficiency are major concerns when considering police privatization. Local officials can more comprehensively consider the demand for privatization of local police services and potential legal issues caused by the privatization effort.