Police have been privatised by stealth

woman police officer's hatThe privatisation of the police reaches a new low in the New Year with the launch of the insurer-funded, £3m-a-year, 35-officer insurance fraud unit. Coppers won't get off their backsides unless somebody pays them to.

The police got a taste for charging to tackle crime they should have been tackling anyway from speed camera partnerships a decade ago. Now everyone has to pay twice for policing.

Insurers pay (out of our premiums)

Insurance fraud costs the industry £1.9bn a year - or £44 for every policyholder - but to get the police to take it seriously the Association of British Insurers (ABI) has had to pay for its own bobbies on the beat. The ABI then gets to sit down with the rossers and decide what the priorities are for investigation.

That's hardly surprising. Insurers had to come together in 2008 after the police failed to tackle a spate of thefts of construction and agricultural plant that was being taken from building sites and farms and shipped abroad. Can you believe the police couldn't even stop villains nicking huge, great, yellow, Caterpillar and JCB diggers and dump trucks?

Well they couldn't. Recovery rates for stolen plant were running at just 5%. The Met Police gave lame excuses until the industry caved in and funded a unit that runs to two officers and a researcher in London and one officer in Southampton Docks.

Digging deep

The Plant and Agricultural National Intelligence Unit (PANIU) was hailed as the "world's first ever national police unit dedicated to investigating thefts from both the construction and agricultural Industries".

In its latest report, PANIU says: "For the period October 2008 to June 2011 PANIU has directly assisted Police throughout the UK with the recovery of £6.9m worth of stolen machinery. To date 270 items of property have been recovered with an average value of £25,000 per item.

That's great, but isn't it what the police should have been doing anyway?

Speed camera cash cows

Finding stolen diggers wasn't the first bit of cash on the side that influenced the way the police behave. That was the lucrative business of speed cameras.

police officer with speed camera gunAccording to the department of Transport, the first speed camera partnership started in 2001 – when seven were formed. By 2003/04 there were 35 such partnerships covering the whole of the UK. These groups kept the revenue from speed cameras to pay their costs and only passed on to the Treasury what they couldn't spend.

That meant the partnerships were able to pay the police extra to catch speeding motorists. And boy did they do that with a vengeance. Get robbed in the street and you'd be waiting ages for copper to turn up but drive at 34mph in a 30 zone and you'd be having your collar felt quicker than you could say "Top Gear".

The government eventually realised that allowing the partnerships to keep the cash from fines was unethical and made them hand over all the money straight to the government from 2007.

No money, no work

The police drastically cut the amount of time they spent out with speed cameras. Official figures show that the year before that ruling, they collected £114m. That fell in 2007/08 to £104m and for the last year of figures – 2008/09, had plummeted to £65.7m.

In case you are in any doubt about whether speed cameras were about raising cash or safety, here's a line from the latest road accident statistics. "The number of people killed in road accidents reported to the police fell by 17% from 2,222 in 2009 to 1,850 in 2010. This is the lowest figure since national records began in 1926."

All those officers hidden behind bushes with speed camera guns were nothing to do with road safety and all to do with revenue generation.

Tax disc taxation

Once the boys in blue had got a taste for getting extra money for things they used to do for free there was no stopping them. I was staggered a few years ago to discover the police had ceased notifying the DVLA about untaxed cars. The reason given was that the DVLA refused to hand over any of the cash they got as a result of the police info.

The police had to be given an incentive. Now, the DVLA explains, if the police clamp a car for having no tax, the police get to keep the fee for releasing the car (the DVLA gets the tax revenue). If a driver pays a surety on the promise of buying their tax but fails to return with the tax disc within a fortnight the police get to keep that cash too.

The boys in brown envelopes

If this were anyone other than the police we'd call it a crime. We taxpayers have already coughed up about £10bn a year to fund the police, yet if we want them to tackle any crime it seems we have to find a way to pay them a second time. We're being robbed by the very people supposed to protect us from daylight robbery.

The Home Office told AOL Money it could not comment on police forces' external sources of income and the Association of Chief Police Officers has failed to answer specific questions all day.

Perhaps I should have offered to pay them for their answers? Only then might I have got a response.
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