Private Security is No Scarier than Public Police

wvpI talk a lot about private security or private police and how these could replace government to prevent crime, bring criminals to justice, and protect innocent people. I started doing some research to see how many private police forces are already out there, and what they are all about. A Huffington Post piece was one of the first I read. I assumed it would be casting private police in a bad light, and so it did.

Police Brutality

The article mostly focused on Detroit, and talked about how evil greedy businessmen saw the—gasp—opportunity to profit off of Detroit’s misery! And one of these companies has bought 2 million square feet of real estate which it patrols with private police, and monitors with 300 cameras in and around the buildings. This, in the eyes of the HuffPo reporter, is a bad thing, because then only the rich will be protected! While if we let the government steal our money to pay for police, everyone will be equally unsafe, and that’s  more fair.

The author apparently ignores the fact that it is bad for business to have crime in and around their company, storefronts, workplace, etc. Therefore everyone within the vicinity would be protected in order to attract more customers, and not scare anyone off.

Interestingly, the concerns HuffPo raised about private police are playing out on a larger scale with public police: no accountability, the rich get better treatment while the poor are not sufficiently protected, and innocent people could be beaten or killed. The article then links to various cases of “private police” overstepping their authority.

Two of the cases involved security guards. One of these security guards was not working when he shot and killed a man who he was arguing with outside of a gas station. He has been charged with the man’s murder. The other security guard was fired from the school he worked at after attacking a boy with cerebral palsy who slapped and spit at the security guard. In each of these cases action was taken against the security personnel; they were treated as anyone would be for their unjustified actions. Contrast this with public police who routinely murder and attack innocent people without provocation, keep their jobs, and are not charged.

At worst the private security companies seem to be as bad as typically government police. The only case having to do with Detroit private security was one in which mall cops killed a man who they were restraining with force and pepper spray. The man had been “acting suspiciously” and was told to leave the mall. When he returned the next day, he allegedly threatened to kill someone, after which the incidents leading to his death unfolded.

But Eric Garner had not even threatened to kill anyone when he was suffocated to death by NYC police in July. He was suspected of selling cigarettes illegally, and video footage shows he did not react violently when a team of police confronted him, not in the act of selling untaxed cigarettes, but after Garner broke up a fight (isn’t that the cops’ job?). The man is seen with his hands in the air moments before police attack and kill him. The police officers at the center of the murder still have their jobs with the NYC police department, and have not been charged.

False Arrest

The HuffPo article also raises concerns about false arrests by private security personnel. Again, this information focuses mainly on mall cops who are tasked mostly with thwarting shoplifters. It seems that in actual incidents of false arrest, when a mall security officer detains or uses excessive force against a subject, the victim routinely receives awards in civil court. In fact, even when the victim was guilty of shoplifting, they still sometimes won in court after suing the security company, because of the excessive force used in detaining or interrogating the suspect.

Again, let’s contrast this with public police. There was a case of a man who was arrested and held for over twelve hours, all because he helped a bicyclist who had crashed. She was using the man’s phone when he was approached by responding police (who he had called), slammed to the ground, handcuffed, and arrested because he wouldn’t leave the scene immediately, even though the women who crashed still had this man’s phone. No action has been taken against the officers responsible.

There were also false arrests of reporters covering the Ferguson protests. In fact there are too many such cases to even properly give perspective here, like the high profile case of a New Mexico man who was given forced enemas by police and doctors who claimed he was hiding drugs. He was not hiding drugs, and the searches violated even the ridiculous warrant that authorized his detention. Other cases include assaults by police when people will not show their ID, and rape by police of people pulled over during traffic stops.

In response to the arrests of three law enforcement officials in Oklahoma for sexually assaulting women while on the job, an Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper told women they can avoid getting raped by a cop if they simply follow traffic laws.

Raw Story first pointed out on Tuesday that Capt. George Brown, a state trooper, shared a few tips for women in an interview with local NBC News affiliate KJRH. Brown told the KJRH anchor that women can keep their car doors locked and speak through a cracked window if a trooper approaches them. If the trooper asks a woman to get out of the car, Brown said, she can ask “in a polite way” why he wants her to do that.

But the “best tip that he can give,” the anchor said on air of her interview with Brown, “is to follow the law in the first place so you don’t get pulled over.”

In the past month, a Tulsa County Deputy, an OHP trooper and an Oklahoma City police officer have all been charged with repeatedly raping and sexually assaulting women while on the job.

Anyone who has dealt with police knows how ridiculous it is to suggest only cracking the window, or asking an officer why you must exit the vehicle. This type of “resistance” will be met with extreme anger and aggression by police, likely assault, and probable charges of resisting arrest.

Are Private or Public Police Worse?

What exactly is the case that private police would be worse than public police? From the information I have read, it seems private security is more often held accountable than public police. Further, public police simply investigate their own incidents of police abuse which, surprise, often “prove” police acted according to procedure. And the incentives for behaving appropriately are stacked towards the private sector, where private police will be fired or prosecuted for violating rights, if for no other reason than protecting the profits of the company.

And in the most egregious cases of private security violating innocent people’s rights, the “private” security firm is hired by the government. This means they are not delivering a service in demand, but rather having stolen money (tax dollars) fund their enterprise. This makes them essentially the same as public police. The private police have to keep customers happy and not land themselves in too much civil litigation. The government can ignore their “customers” because they force us to fund them, and have the courts on their side. The more fragmented the system, the more likely it is that competing interests hold the others accountable.

Copblock, an organization dedicated to holding police accountable for their actions, sums up this sentiment.

I have never had a conversation about private protection services without the other person quickly bringing up Blackwater.  I think the biggest reason for the association is a misunderstanding of what a free-market anarchist means by the word private.  I will start by stating what a private company is NOT.  It is not a company that is funded by force through taxation.  It is not a company that has been granted a monopoly over a particular service by the government, and it is not a company that has been granted special legal protections against liability. 90% of Blackwater’s revenue comes from government contracts paid for with stolen money.  Blackwater’s “customer” is not only spending money that is stolen from you and me, but they are spending it on something very few people would actually fund voluntarily.  Would you personally hire Blackwater to kill people in Iraq?  Blackwater is essentially the same type of institution as your local police.  They are both funded through force and perform “services” that few that are forced to pay for those “services” want or need.  Blackwater is NOT what I am talking about when I discuss private protection services.

So, to be clear, I am not advocating a system where a municipality uses stolen money to hire the lowest bidder and then grants them the same immunities and privileges that the police now enjoy.  When I speak of a private company providing protection services, I am talking about a company that competes among other companies to attract individual customers.  Companies could package different services then sell them to willing customers.  Maybe you feel comfortable with providing your your own security, so you would only be interested in paying a company to investigate a crime that you were a victim of after the fact.  In reality, even now, you really are your own best security.  A private company no doubt would have better response times, but even they cannot be everywhere.  Nevertheless, maybe you don’t feel comfortable protecting yourself so you would be willing to pay more for a company that promised to respond to any panic calls within a certain amount of time – a promise they would be liable for if they broke, unlike your local police.

And finally, here is something that blew my mind. Despite hearing everyday about abuse by public police, there is hardly a murmer about private security force misconduct. Now I assumed this might just be because there were so few private police, but I have learned that there are almost 3 times as many private guards than public police officers in the U.S. Accountability to the company means they perform better, and abuse less.

If you feel safe, you might not have your local cop to thank after all… and these days, he’s the one making most of us feel unsafe.

11 thoughts on “Private Security is No Scarier than Public Police

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