In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Privatization of Policing

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Conceptual Treatments
  • Government and Privatization: The Intellectual Debate
  • Scope of Police Privatization
  • Contemporary Accounts
  • Economic and Operational Issues
  • Accountability Issues
  • Legal and Constitutional Issues
  • Sovereignty Issues
  • Crime and Public Safety Issues
  • Public-Private Policing
  • Terrorism and Extremist Violence: Private Policing Implications

Criminology Privatization of Policing
James F. Pastor
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 June 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 June 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0136


Privatization of police is quite controversial. It has strong opposition from wide-ranging viewpoints and interests. These criticisms have economic, operational, accountability, legal/constitutional, and sovereignty concerns. Each has powerful and compelling logic. They also are posited by powerful and passionate detractors. On the other side of the debate, advocates for privatization tend to see any such criticisms in a more dispassionate, pragmatic manner. Many, if not most, of these views, center on the notion that the status quo is not working, or is not adequate to provide for sufficient levels of public safety services. In the end, this debate may center on those who desire to preserve a government “monopoly” on policing versus those who desire to expand the notion of public safety to private-sector personnel and firms that provide “security” services. The former tend to advocate for government-based solutions, while the latter advocate for market-based solutions. Consequently, the privatization-of-police debate represents a larger worldview oriented around whether government or market forces are the primary solution to human and societal challenges and problems.

General Overviews

There are a number of texts on police privatization. In this context, general overviews are works that provide sufficient scope and depth to this wide-ranging topic. One of the most comprehensive general treatments is Johnston 1992. Additional general overviews of merit are Pastor 2003, Button 2002, Benson 1990, Donahue 1989, and Jones and Newburn 1998. Each of these texts delves into the notion of private policing, as well as the larger issues surrounding privatization.

  • Benson, Bruce L. 1990. The enterprise of law: Justice without state. San Francisco: Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy.

    Benson approaches privatization from an economic orientation, analyzing the criminal justice system, not just private policing. His economic analysis of public versus private justice is both intellectually fair and comprehensive. In doing so, it is an important contribution to the privatization literature. His data and logic are compelling. The book is suitable for upper-level undergraduate students, and for graduate students in criminal justice.

  • Button, Mark. 2002. Private policing. Devon, UK: Willan.

    Button examines the origins of private policing, including its definitions and classifications. The work is a concise account of private policing, placing it into context with public police. It also delves into the changing relationship between public and private policing. This dynamic foretells greater emphasize on private policing in the future. Suitable for both undergraduate and graduate students.

  • Donahue, John D. 1989. The privatization decision. New York: Basic Books.

    This is a thorough and balanced account of the issues relating to privatization. Donahue concisely develops the pros and cons of privatization in a manner that is both broad-ranging and understandable. He delves into each of the issues relative to privatization. In doing so, Donahue provides the scope and level of analysis of this significant subject. The book is a must-read for privatization researchers. It is suitable for both undergraduate and graduate students.

  • Johnston, Les. 1992. The rebirth of private policing. London: Routledge.

    This book is the seminal account of private policing. It provides an excellent overview of police history and the emergence of private police, with a provocative analysis of private policing in relation to state social controls. The author also compares private policing to public policing, providing insight into the advantages of private policing. It is a must-read and is suitable for both undergraduate and graduate students.

  • Jones, Trevor, and Tim Newburn.1998. Private security and public policing. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    In an early empirical study, Jones and Newburn examine the growth of private policing and its relationship with, and implications for, public policing. The authors effectively rethink the meaning of “policing” in light of the advent of private policing. The book provides an insightful comparison and contrast of the approach and work product of public and private policing. It is suitable for both undergraduate and graduate students.

  • Pastor, James F. 2003. The privatization of police in America: An analysis and case study. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.

    Pastor analyzes the relevant issues of privatization and applies these to a private-policing case study. This book provides an overview of historic, economic, and operational issues, but places particular emphasis on the legal and functional implications of private policing. The author’s research included riding along with private police officers as they patrolled public streets on the South Side of Chicago. This methodology provides groundbreaking insight into and analysis of this subject. Suitable for both undergraduate and graduate students.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.