I was reading through the comments on a recent diary, as I am sometimes wont to doing when I'm not studying, when I came across this article. Guardian writers Travis and Tailor happened upon a little-known West Midlands and Surrey, UK push to deliver police spectrum services through private security contractor Kellogg, Brown and Root. In my naivete' I thought to myself, "That could never happen here."
That's the problem. It already has. More below the squigglydoo.
Private security companies have enjoyed exponential growth in the last ten years as contracts for nearly every function of the military have been doled out by the DOD for security services in Afghanistan and Iraq. Some of the most famous of these modern-day gunslingers have reached the national stage, and, rightly, have earned a place on the list of the villains of popular fiction. The private security firm Blackwater immediately springs to mind.
What isn't happening on the public stage is much more perverse. Public policing by private companies is an encroaching idea that hit its public heyday in 2005 when the DOJ hosted a summit regarding private entity public policing through the Offices of Community Oriented Policing Services, an office of the DOJ designed to manage just this type of collaboration. The shocking news this report--and the linked 2011 report--related, that up to 85% of our public infrastructure was secured by private security companies, didn't make the news. Neither did the fact that Florida, Minnesota, California, Louisiana, Massachusetts, and others already contract with private companies to perform policing services.
Oakland, California is one of many municipalities like Boston, Massachusetts that are handing over general policing responsibilities to private armed guards. But, why should we care? If one man with a gun is as good as another in preventing crime, should there be a distinction? The recent slaying of Treyvon Martin in Florida should be ample evidence of the faults in that argument. Police, as a government agency, are more or less responsive to the needs of citizens. They are an arm of government and can be held accountable through the policy implementation of elected officials. Even in a system like ours, where single-position-representation is manipulated so often to disenfranchise voters, police brutality has a consequence and is corrected, if slowly, by the power of the ballot.
Private companies have no such measure of accommodation for when policing goes drastically wrong. Our experience in Iraq with private security should be instructive. The list of abuses is long. The idea that the market will mandate quality assurance, should, at this point, be laughable. Adherence to the inane supposition that cheapest is best has been our economic downfall in the last 50 years. As more jobs were outsourced, quality suffered through lack of service competition as price became all-important. Simply put, paying your loafing brother-in-law to mow your lawn might not get the job done quickly, but at least it kept your sister happy by getting him out of the house every once in a while.
There are qualities to every transaction that cannot be quantified, as we have already seen in the area of public policing. The more integrated an officer is within the community, the more likely that officer will be responsive to the needs of that community. Professionalization of police forces have already led to spectacular abuses like the video taped beating of Rodney King that sparked, arguably, the most vicious riots in Los Angeles history. One doesn't have to wonder long how the King debacle would have been further incensed by a private police force not beholden to the community they serve with policy memoranda outside of public scrutiny, and dedicated only to the profit motive. A police force even more motivated to violently inhibit public documentation of abuses is only one probable outcome. A return to Medieval Feudalism the penultimate tragedy as armed force met armed force to control public opinion even outside the natural human tendency for vengeance.
We already exist in an economy of ideas where the majority of media is controlled by a few select corporations. A scenario of cooperation between two great moguls quickly comes to mind: the media and the police. This is not an alarmist attribution. May Day protests around the globe have received atrocious pre-publicity, and almost no post-reporting. A news consumer must sift through the propaganda to find even one Occupy view expressed whereas favorable public airwaves accommodation for Tea Party tax abolishionists is the norm. Imagine if that same media conglomerate were allowed to protect, as they would naturally do, their own militant security arm. Corporations no longer have to act beyond the law when they are the law. This argument should be plain.
Proponents of private police agencies argue that responsiveness is can be effectively managed by the market. This cannot be believed. The offender that can simply offer more profit to an entity whose goal is to maximize profit is proof of the fallacy of market correction. A police officer who not only is allowed to take bribes, but encouraged to do so is the result of the profit motive. I don't have to try too hard to imagine what Ted Bundy would have done if he were allowed to exist inside such a system of law and punishment. We would still be counting the bodies.
Private industry does not discriminate beyond that central measure. The profit motive is the only motive allowed. Even a single-payer system of policing means fewer resources for high crime areas. This should be plain from our collective history. As competition is introduced into such a system, the problems of expenditures becomes systemic. Higher costs for the poor to ensure lower levels of service are not just likely, but are mandated by mathematical probability. Contrariwise lower costs for the wealthy and powerful, and the ability to hold hostage a contract for such services almost demand that the rule of law not be adhered to. A single prominent figure, with social, and financial leverage could conceivably extend that authority globally. A fair playing field in such a competitive policing system is absolutely impossible.
We call it a civil society because we do have some laws that are still equally applied to all individuals. If you kill someone, you will go to jail, or spend your ass broke trying to stay out of jail, and then, most of the time, you still go to jail. By introducing private police into an imperfect system, we're allowing the rebirth of feudal lords. The notion "might is right" becomes the norm, not the exception. The faction willing to expend the most resources becomes the victor. And 1% of the population, the psychopaths among us who have no loyalty beyond their own benefit (4% among CEO's according to Dr. Tom O'Connor, Professor of Criminal Justice), are the willing army of the new feudalist corporate regimes.
1% of the population may not sound like much, but still represent 3.8 million individuals within the U.S. alone. Our entire military contingent, including reserve and DOD personnel only comprises 2.3 million. These numbers are offered for comparison alone, and are not meant to inappropriately alarm readers. The majority of psychopaths in this country are in some kind of legal trouble. This does, however, present an opportunity for unscrupulous employers within the private policing industry. Blackwater should be again instructional. While 'regulation' is read as 'stifling growth' in our public debate, this does present a major problem with a very simple solution. Wholly public security is possible inside a merit-based governmental system. It is the only way to identify and marginalize a notoriously recidivist and difficult to diagnose section of the population.
This may seem oddly farfetched. Private control of police seem beyond the scope of rational experience, but we already live with the early effects of the introduction of such a system. The rich contract their own security, and schedule arrests when deemed absolutely necessary. The poor are left to poor police response, more aggressive police tactics, and a higher rate of imprisonment. The primer-spot offender profile is the norm. The wealthy have a voice that commands media attention, the poor whimper meekly in the shadows. An active imagination is not mandatory for an understanding of what's likely to come from private security police contracts.
What we've seen in our economic system is only a taste of what can come to those who simply wait. The war against private policing is tomorrow's battle against the powerful who would use that power exclusively to their own ends. Not just liberty, but civil society hangs in the balance. Demand of your representatives that private corporate policing meet a drastic end now.