Are Private Police Private?

An e-mail criticizes one aspect of my blog on private police for the statement that “Private police are a real victory for libertarianism”. It will help to add nuances.

They’re not a victory if they really are a disguised form of public police, funded by taxes, and that’s what John W. Whitehead says they are in this article. If they are genuine private police, which means they are entirely funded by voluntary means, then they are a victory. If they provide services in demand, such as protection that tax-funded police do not, then they are a victory. They are not a complete libertarian victory if they enforce anti-libertarian laws, follow through on an anti-libertarian justice system, or break laws in their enforcement.

What are the facts? I do not know how many private police are really private and how many are not. Whitehead refers to a Washington Post article to support his statement that “most private police officers are either working for private security firms that are contracted by the government or are government workers moonlighting on their time off.”

Moonlighting police who are paid by voluntary means on their time off are functioning as private police. They’re libertarian-kosher. Personnel contracted by government are not libertarian-private. I don’t know how many fall into these two opposing categories, and Whitehead does not say.

Turning to the Post article, it does not contain material that supports Whitehead’s statement. Nowhere does it either claim or show that most private police are contracted by government (in which case they would not be private). The Post article actually contains material that says private police are really private. Here are some quotes (snippets):

“…federal officials now ask the bank’s own investigators to do the work…”

“Some of the most sophisticated private security operations have expanded in part because of shrinking local and federal resources.”

“There is a limit to the amount of law enforcement you can expect taxpayers to support…”

“Target Corp. and other local companies paid for a wireless video camera system in downtown office buildings…”

“…the Wintergreen Resort has a private police department with 11 sworn officers…”

“…charging $35 per hour, the firm has contracts with four apartment complexes, a bowling alley, two shopping centers and a pair of private nightclubs.”

There are borderline cases. One is when a municipal authority hires police, and the Post article mentions such a case: “…the transit authority hired Wackenhut Corp. police to work in the main terminal in tandem with city police officers stationed on buses.”

For further reading in this area, there is always wikipedia. For a position on private policing, see here.

The statist nut, that policing must be a government monopoly or a service that must be provided publicly and funded through taxes, has been cracked open. This is a libertarian win. It’s a partial win, but still a win.

The most important matters are that the private policing be funded privately (voluntarily) and that entry be open to newcomers. Freedom of entry and the profit motive are major safety valves of customer control that can limit abuses and mal-functioning business models of policing. It’s also important that private police not be co-opted into government sinecures. This is a danger because private police are working within a framework of public laws and justice systems. Public-private partnerships are also a factor.


8:08 am on March 6, 2018