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Don’t Blame Private Police for Public Errors

by | Sep 26, 2022

Don’t Blame Private Police for Public Errors

by | Sep 26, 2022

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There have been many calls of late to “defund the police.” None of them have been aimed at the private police. All of them have been targeted at the public sector, governmental police. Are these demands justified? Not very.

Yes, there are more than a few bad apples in the long thin blue line. This goes, undoubtedly but to a much lesser extent, for private police forces as well. There always are some problems with large staffs with numerous employees. There are in the United States some 900,000 full time police officers, and almost 100,000 part timers, employed at all three national, state and local levels. Private security guards, at 1.1 million, outnumber their public counterparts not only in the U.S. but in many countries in the world as well.

But still, the very divergent mass reaction to these two different armed guards may shed some light on the case on behalf of the private alternative. What are the arguments?

No one is compelled to pay for the private police. The same cannot be said for the public variety. The citizenry is taxed for their salaries and expenses. If you don’t pay, after a few increasingly harsh letters from the IRS someone in a blue uniform with a badge and a gun will come for a “visit” with you. No such occurrence occurs in the market place. It cannot be denied the consumers pay for protection service, indirectly. When they go to a mall or a large grocery, one or more private guards will be on duty. The costs of hiring them figure into your bill, just as do the costs of the lighting, the cleaning, the salaries of the clerks who ask if you “want fries with that?” Yes, you pay in both cases, but one is a voluntary system (hermits pay nothing), the other is not.

The public police are bound to enforce all laws. Many of them are mischievous, immoral, rotten, evil, you name it. For example, they arrest people for victimless crimes, concerning drugs, sex between consenting adults, gambling. This creates havoc, perhaps even more than they quell by enforcing civilized laws such as prohibiting murder, rape, theft, kidnapping, etc.

In sharp contrast, private armed guards are invariably hired to deal with the latter set of behaviors, not the former. Why should the owner of a private emporium—a mall, an amusement park, a sports arena, a hotel—care about anything other than the comfort and safety of his customers?

Breonna Taylor would still be alive to this day had private, instead of government police, been in charge of the drug bust that ended up killing her: they would have refused to make that arrest.

Then there is an automatic safety net underlying private but not public officers. If they err, they can be fired and competing police companies can be hired in their place. It is quite a bit more difficult, well-nigh impossible, to “fire” a public police department and hire another one instead. Indeed, research uncovers no such occurrence ever taking place.

Let us not allow widespread dissatisfaction with public police to impugn their private counterparts. Let us have more of the latter, particularly if we have fewer of the former, as seems to be the practice under the Biden administration.

About Walter E. Block

Dr. Walter Block is the Harold E. Wirth Eminent Scholar Endowed Chair in Economics at Loyola University and a senior fellow at the Mises Institute.

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