The United Kingdom is now the most unequal country in Europe. A fate that logically should have befallen a much smaller country has arrived on our doorstep. The wide-ranging implications of such economic inequality have spawned a vast array of literature in recent decades. More unequal countries have citizens that are less healthy, less wealthy, less educated and they produce a societal system which is less democratic and more polluted. One of the lesser known, but nevertheless disturbing implications among these, is the impact upon law enforcement. Rapidly, England is becoming a country with a two-tier police force.
“My Local Bobby” sounds like a cheerful 1960s police campaign for better community engagement in policing. But it’s not. Instead, My Local Bobby is a brand new private police force taking the wealthy streets of London by storm. Their website boasts a “new concept” of “crime deterrence” on London’s streets. In reality, the concept is rather simple: fast efficient policing, for the right price.
So how does it work? Individuals can sign up singularly or within a group to gain access to an elite force of ex-police and intelligence officers operating in their neighbourhood. This service does not come cheap. Most clients pay a staggering £200 per month for the added protection. For that money wealthy residents of areas such as Belgravia, Mayfair and Chelsea can have private officers escort them home from tube stations, investigate crimes and respond within minutes to emergency calls.
Any paying customer to “My Local Bobby” also has access to a state-of-the-art mapping system provided through a mobile app. This gives them real-time updates on patrols in their area. An advert for this service on their website shows a friendly officer who has “found a Rolex” just off Eccleston Square. To contact these patrols, customers can then choose from an SMS, WhatsApp or even a Face-Time option.
This development has emerged in the context of vast police cuts following seven years of fiscal austerity in the UK. In order for the country to “live within its means” as we were infamously told by Conservative and Liberal politicians, the UK police force has been reduced to staffing levels not seen since 1985, despite a ten million increase in the UK population.
The Met itself, in charge of policing for Greater London, has seen a £600 million funding cut. London, the most populated capital in Eu-rope, has recently lost 700 detectives. If this was not bad enough, there is abundant empirical evidence that more unequal countries have higher crime levels. A deadly cocktail of declining police numbers and rising inequality is increasingly turning London into a more violent city. The murder rate of the capital has now even overtaken that of New York. In response to this, increasing numbers of wealthy Londoners are turning to private security. This detached strata of society is now insulating itself in a cocoon of private services ranging from health to education . N o w security services too are being privatised.
The tax cuts many of these residents have so eagerly enjoyed over the past seven years is now catching up to them with a society that is quickly turning in on itself. Is there any wonder that the liberal wealthy simply cannot understand political developments such as Brexit and Corbyn? Tax and public service cuts on this scale have seen the development of a less civilized society. The rich must now insure themselves against the new normal through an ever increasing bill of private services.
The idea of communal payment for security is one that many readers will identify as a common sense idea. We’ve been doing it in the UK for a very long time with something called a public police force. The ludicrous nature of this private security development is that the gilded cage the wealthy are constructing for themselves is not re-ally in their interests. Instead of an open, welcoming city that all residents can enjoy at any time of the day, the wealthy are retreating into ivory towers while resentment boils in neighbouring boroughs.
It should be of no surprise to us if, in the not-too-distant future riots, erupt once more in London. A new private police force is a prime indicator of economic inequality that is spinning out of control and tearing apart the very social fabric that once made the UK capital such a great place.