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Mark Button on Private Policing

Prof Mark Button has brought out a second edition of his 2002 book, Private Policing. As the new parts of the book, for example on cyber, show, much has changed in the 17 years since. Here we digest the start of his book; which begins with definitions; because policing is more than what the police do.

The state police deal with incidents (keeping peace), conduct patrols (prevention and surveillance), undertake investigations (investigation) and apprehend offenders for breaches of the criminal law. Sometimes they may apply summary sanctions (penalty notices) or pass on those with sufficient evidence to prosecutors for criminal prosecution or other bodies for sanction (sanctions) (the extent of investigator/prosecutor separation/co-operation does vary across jurisdictions). Those found guilty by the courts are then subjected to punishments. As Mark says, many bodies engage in these processes, including private security companies; and regulators, such as in the UK the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). As examples of different policing bodies, he offers the British Transport Police, largely funded by private companies; the National Crime Agency (NCA), which is funded by the state with a specific focus upon specialist crimes relating to organised crime (and others), as well as the Department for Work and Pensions fraud investigators, who constitute a state-funded body dedicated to policing benefits fraud. In the USA, many universities have their own police departments.

Charities or not-for-profit bodies fall under the umbrella term NGOs. The investigation of crimes against animals is a common area, with many charitable organisations responsible in several countries for this function, such as the RSPCA in England and Wales; and bodies policing sports, such as the Tennis Integrity Unit (Mark is a co-author of Sport, Fraud and Corruption, see Professional Security review of 2014 here).

The vast majority of public police are distinguished by wearing a uniform and working for organisations largely funded by the state via general taxation. They also hold special status such as ‘constable’ in the UK or ‘peace officer’ in the USA, with associated special powers of arrest, and search.

In sum, a range of definitions and classifications are central to understanding the complex web of private policing in many countries. There’s a debate over what constitutes public and private. In terms of policing, Mark suggests the debate is best served by considering the degrees of ‘publicness’ and ‘privateness’ rather than the absolute. He offers a spectrum of policing from those that exhibit the greatest degree of ‘publicness’, to the most ‘privateness’: four distinct categories: ‘the public police, hybrid policing, voluntary policing and private security’.

Private Policing, second edition, published by Routledge, paperback priced £29.99.


1. What is Private Policing?
2. Explaining Private Policing
3. “Extreme Profitshire” Revisited: The Public Police and Privatisation
4. State Public Policing Bodies (Non-Police)
5. Specialised Police Organisations
6. Non-Governmental Organisations and Policing
7. Voluntary Policing
8. The Private Security Industry and Policing
9. Corporate Security Management
10. Security Officers and Policing
11. Plural Policing the Case of Patrol
12. Private Investigation and Policing
13. The Regulation of Private Policing
14. Private Policing: Concluding Comments.

Picture by Mark Rowe; Bow Street in central London last year; once a famous and historic magistrates court, now sold.


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