At the end of every shift, police officers call their loved ones to assure them that they “made it through another day without injury,” begins a recently published paean to the police. This sermon regarding the supposed virtues of unconditional support for the police ends on a similarly melodramatic note: “From 2000 until 2014, over 700 officers were unable to make that call because they did not survive their tour of duty on that last day.”
Since that figure averages out to roughly 50 on-the-job fatalities a year, that end-of shift ritual is rooted in self-preoccupation rather than a rational assessment of occupational risk. It would be more reasonable for a logger, a commercial fisherman, a roofer, a farmer, an electrical services worker, or a construction worker to make such a phone call, given that these genuinely heroic people in the productive sector face far greater risks of death or injury in the workplace than police officers do.
While law enforcement is statistically much safer than depicted by police unions and related pressure groups, police officers are sometimes killed or severely injured in the line of duty, and occasionally some of them do so in genuinely heroic defense of innocent people threatened by criminal violence. The same is true of private peace officers who provide security services through market mechanisms, rather than a state-imposed monopoly.
Every premature and unnecessary death is a particular tragedy — and by this metric, law enforcement is a much safer occupation than working as a private security guard.
In 2012, there were 48 police officers who were “feloniously killed,” according to the FBI. In the same year, according to one tabulation there were 114 confirmed on-duty deaths of private peace officers, at least 84 of which were homicides. This year to date there have been 21 recorded deaths of private security officers.
One account citing California’s Bureau of Security and Investigative Services reports that last year there were 112 violent deaths of private security officers in one southern state. In a single month.
It’s likely that relatively few of those on-the-job deaths came about in circumstances calling to mind Horatius at the bridge. Some of them probably did, however. Yet none of these privately employed peace officers — whose sole mission is to protect persons and property, rather than to enforce the will of the political class — was publicly commended for acting in defense of the innocent. Those deaths were not marked with pious editorials demanding that we prostrate ourselves in reverent grief over the sacrifice of a “hero,” even though few things are more genuinely heroic or honorable than keeping a solemn promise to defend another person, even at the risk of one’s life.
As is the case in every field of human endeavor, there are unreliable and irresponsible people in the private security field. Quite a few operators who meet that description are off-duty or retired cops who can’t overcome the privileged mindset and violent habits that come naturally to servants of the predatory class.
When private security operatives fail to perform their contracted services, the market will punish them and reward their competitors. When they commit an act of criminal violence, they can’t take refuge in “qualified immunity,” invoke their “Garrity” privileges, or wrap themselves in a special, union-composed, occupation-specific “bill of rights.” They’re liable to prosecution on the same terms as any other citizen. The companies that employ corrupt or abusive security operatives can’t deflect inquiries into their conduct by describing the question as a “personnel matter,” then carrying out an internal investigation designed to exonerate the officers.
Private security agencies cannot claim or exercise the ability to retaliate against their critics. They can’t force the public at large to pay for their services, or impose fines, imprisonment, or physical injury on those who want to un-subscribe from it. They cannot detain or abuse people on the basis of suspicion.
To provide the service for which they are paid, private security personnel must put their client’s interests ahead of their own safety, and avoid violating the rights of the innocent. And when they fail, they go out of business. Government law enforcement agencies, by way of contrast, react to failure by demanding more money, power, and privileges until they bankrupt the municipal corporation that employs them.