EquuSearch and the Power of Volunteers

The excellent blog Classically Liberal has a stunning post up about the creation of TexasEquuSearch, a volunteer search and recovery team that tracks down missing people. The group came about after family members of missing persons grew frustrated by often dismissive and ineffective police efforts.

Bob Smither, the Libertarian Party candidate who had a good run for Rep. Tom DeLay's old seat in Texas, was instrumental in the group's formation by Tim Miller.

Laura's father, Bob Smither, is a Libertarian Party activist and believes in the power of private co-operation to solve problems. He and his wife, Gay, founded the Laura Recovery Center to assist in the search for missing persons. The Center is also an entirely private organization that takes no tax funding.

One day Miller was working with Smither at the Center when they started talking. Smither suggested to Miller that, since he was an avid horseman, he might be able to organize a volunteer horseback search team. Miller agreed and word was spread. Soon Miller had 45 people regularly attending monthly meetings.

But some volunteers didn't have horses. But they had boats, planes, even helicopters. Others had all terrain vehicles with night vision and infrared equipment. Some were certified rescue divers.

Out of his own frustration with the police, and from Bob Smither's libertarian vision for solving problems, Texas EquuSearch was born. It now has 2,500 members and has helped people, not just in Texas, but around the world. Miller says that their goal is that "no family has to experience the feeling of hopelessness and loneliness if a loved one should ever disappear." It is a mission they take seriously and one they perform long after the police have moved on to other matters.

More here.

Hat Tip: Jim Peron of The Institute for Free Enterprise.

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  • squarooticus||

    To quote Hoppe:

    "Once the principle of government - judicial monopoly and the power to tax - is incorrectly admitted as just, any notion of restraining government power and safeguarding individual liberty and property is illusory. Rather, under monopolistic auspices the price of justice and protection will continually rise and the quality of justice and protection fall. A tax-funded protection agency is a contradiction in terms - an expropriating property protector - and will inevitably lead to more taxes and less protection."

    http://www.lewrockwell.com/hoppe/hoppe7.html

    Sadly, these people are required, under penalty of armed robbery, imprisonment, and ultimately death, to continue paying for the demonstrably poor quality of protection provided by the state even as they have to consume extra resources to mount a productive search.

  • ||

    "It is a mission they take seriously and one they perform long after the police have moved on to other matters."

    Yes, the police have to set up speed traps, break down doors looking for evil drug users and inanimate substances to protect the children, unless the children disappear. I guess police can't make any money finding missing persons, so they go for the easy targets rather than fighting real crime. Nothing to see here folks.

  • ||

    So the same libertarians who say that taxes should be kept low and government run as cheaply as possible also complain when the police don't have the resources to pursue every single case to its conclusion?

  • squarooticus||

    No, Dan, the rational libertarians among us recognize that any group---including the government---with a monopoly will become less efficient and less effective over time.

    Government, with the longest running monopoly, over the widest array of critical services, all backed up by the threat of force, is unsurprisingly the most inefficient and ineffective service provider of note in the history of mankind.

  • ||

    Yes, Dan T. Had you read cliff's note, you might have gotten his point that the police are currently wasting a very large portion of their budget on arresting people who have not violated the rights of others.

    Perhaps if they weren't spending millions to arm their SWAT teams to be fully prepared for the threats that 80-year-old women pose, they might have enough cash to, oh, look for victims of actual crimes, like murder.

  • CLS||

    Dan T: Actually I wrote the article in question. And nothing in the research I read inidcated that the police didn't pursue these cases because of a lack of resources. Exactly where do you get the information that they refused to pursue these cases, or leads, because of that? Certainly in the Laura Miller case it was that they simply didn't care. They dismissed the concerns of Tim Miller. The ignored him when he noted the girls medicine was still at home, and she wouldn't run away without it. They ignored him when he asked them to see if there was a link between his daughter and another girl who was found dead (there were several links). The police were buraucratic bunglers not poverty stricken do-gooders hampered by fiscal restraints.

    On the other hand the EquuSearch has no access to taxes, no state funding of any kind and relies on volunter help. Without a budget, without state support, they do what the cops can't or won't do.

  • ||

    No, Dan, the rational libertarians among us recognize that any group---including the government---with a monopoly will become less efficient and less effective over time.

    Government, with the longest running monopoly, over the widest array of critical services, all backed up by the threat of force, is unsurprisingly the most inefficient and ineffective service provider of note in the history of mankind.


    But in the context of searching for missing persons, the government does not have a monopoly, as the EquuSearch example illustrates. Last I checked, anybody is free to search for a missing person and I think it's very common for the police to enlist the help of volunteers to conduct thier searches.

    You are right that governments are inefficent, but you are wrong in assuming that's always a bad thing. After all, it's always inefficent to provide a service to somebody who does not have the means to pay for it.

  • ||

    Dan T: Actually I wrote the article in question. And nothing in the research I read inidcated that the police didn't pursue these cases because of a lack of resources. Exactly where do you get the information that they refused to pursue these cases, or leads, because of that? Certainly in the Laura Miller case it was that they simply didn't care. They dismissed the concerns of Tim Miller. The ignored him when he noted the girls medicine was still at home, and she wouldn't run away without it. They ignored him when he asked them to see if there was a link between his daughter and another girl who was found dead (there were several links). The police were buraucratic bunglers not poverty stricken do-gooders hampered by fiscal restraints.

    Sorry, CLS, I was not able to access your blogspot site and read the entire story. So I did assume that lack of resources does play at least some role in the reason not all missing person cases get solved. Actually, I still think that, the Laura case notwithstanding.

  • squarooticus||

    But in the context of searching for missing persons, the government does not have a monopoly, as the EquuSearch example illustrates. Last I checked, anybody is free to search for a missing person and I think it's very common for the police to enlist the help of volunteers to conduct thier searches.

    Technically they do not have a monopoly on missing person searches, but since you still need to pay them whether you use them or not, I think it's a distinction without much of a difference.

    You are right that governments are inefficent, but you are wrong in assuming that's always a bad thing. After all, it's always inefficent to provide a service to somebody who does not have the means to pay for it.

    This statement makes no sense. Surely you are not arguing that inefficiency is a good thing? Rather, it sounds like you are (poorly) arguing that even inefficient is better than nothing, which I argue is a false dichotomy: let people keep the money they earn from peaceful commerce and spend it the way they see fit, and you won't be forced to choose between "little" and "nothing."

    In this case, if a privately-funded missing person search firm weren't trying to compete for the limited dollars remaining after the government takes its cut in tribute/protection money/whatever you'd like to call it, there might be a market there for a much more effective and efficient industry.

    General bottom line of my initial posting is that while I see a lot of people here (here!) calling Hoppe names and generally dismissing him, it seems like every other story vindicates his viewpoint that government---and especially democratic government---is simply incompatible with the free market and individual liberty.

  • ||


    This statement makes no sense. Surely you are not arguing that inefficiency is a good thing? Rather, it sounds like you are (poorly) arguing that even inefficient is better than nothing, which I argue is a false dichotomy: let people keep the money they earn from peaceful commerce and spend it the way they see fit, and you won't be forced to choose between "little" and "nothing."


    Rather, I'm saying that while inefficiency is usually a good thing, it's only one of the qualities that you might consider important. A private search company will be more efficient than the police department, but part of the reason is that they won't have to spend any time looking for people who will not be able to pay up. Is that a good thing?

    In this case, if a privately-funded missing person search firm weren't trying to compete for the limited dollars remaining after the government takes its cut in tribute/protection money/whatever you'd like to call it, there might be a market there for a much more effective and efficient industry.

    More likely the reason that such an industry doesn't really exist is that most people who are likely to have a loved one go missing are not going to be able to afford the thousands of dollars that an effective search would cost.

    General bottom line of my initial posting is that while I see a lot of people here (here!) calling Hoppe names and generally dismissing him, it seems like every other story vindicates his viewpoint that government---and especially democratic government---is simply incompatible with the free market and individual liberty.

    I dunno, it seems like government has done more to protect both than anybody else has.

  • The Wine Commonsewer®||

    So the same libertarians who say that taxes should be kept low and government run as cheaply as possible also complain when the police don't have the resources to pursue every single case to its conclusion?

    I complain because I am taxed to support the Sheriff's Department in my county and they are not coming. For any reason. Last time I called in a fire I got a busy signal on 911 for 10 minutes.

    More on topic, no police department anywhere in this fine country will take any missing persons report seriously. In fact, it is SOP to refuse to even allow a missing persons report to be filed for at least 24 hours after the person has gone missing [citation needed].

    The police have many resources and they choose to allocate them in a manner that is not consistent with liberty.

  • The Wine Commonsewer®||

    Certainly someone will say something like calling 911 to report a fire? What has that to do with police?

    In anticipation, I will point out that 911 is a universal number and if it is busy when you call to report a fire it will also be busy when the home invasion practitioners are busting down your front door.

  • The Wine Commonsewer®||

    Nick, this is a great piece. Thanks to you for posting it with the link and thanks to CL for writing it.

    This may not stir up the comments like some items do but it is of the utmost importance to point to stuff like this and say: This is what can be done without the government.

  • ||

    More on topic, no police department anywhere in this fine country will take any missing persons report seriously. In fact, it is SOP to refuse to even allow a missing persons report to be filed for at least 24 hours after the person has gone missing [citation needed].

    Saying that a person actually has to be missing before they can be considered missing is hardly the same thing as saying they don't take such reports seriously.

  • ||

    The 24 hour thing only applies to adults.

    Police departments are generally supposed to take action right away on missing children if they have not shown up where they were supposed to be - ie where their parents thought they were supposed to be.

  • squarooticus||

    A private search company will be more efficient than the police department, but part of the reason is that they won't have to spend any time looking for people who will not be able to pay up. Is that a good thing?

    Yes, it's too bad that (say) 10% of people wouldn't be able to afford private missing person searches without outside charitable help; but I argue that situation is still far, far preferable to one in which all missing person searches are both ineffective and costly. (And note that I don't even refer to the loss of liberty inherent in being taxed for such lousy service.)

    As far as I can tell, you are arguing that all people, regardless of means, should receive the same quality of service, regardless of how lousy it is. I mean, except for the politically well-connected, who invariably receive privileges not accorded to the rest of us.

    Generally, all privilege is distributed in exchange for some currency. If that currency is money, then the poor may lose out, but it's more likely that charity will pick up the tab in truly needy cases. If that currency is influence, then everyone but the elite class is screwed. And trust me, the poor still get screwed, because they have the least political influence of all... and in this case, charity doesn't help.

    Which is preferable?

  • The Wine Commonsewer®||

    Saying that a person actually has to be missing before they can be considered missing is hardly the same thing as saying they don't take such reports seriously.

    And what defines actually missing? 24 hours?

    I suspect you didn't read the CL post. Otherwise you would realize that while this father was being assured that his daughter would soon call home, she was actually fertilizing wildflowers along with two other girls of roughly the same age who disappeared in a similar manner. Had the police taken even the slightest interest in his report they may have been able to connect some of the dots.

    Worse, the father built a pretty good circumstantial case and was completely and totally rebuffed by the police.

  • The Wine Commonsewer®||

    Isaac, you are correct about the 24 hour thing except that it generally applies to anyone over the age of roughly 15. The police will take it more seriously if it is an eight year old.

    In this case the girl was 16 and, if you read the article at CL, you know exactly how seriously the police took this father's report. For two years they ignored it. Death toll: 3 girls.

  • CLS||

    I didn't comment on Dan T's remark "they won't have to spend any time looking for people who will not be able to pay up." The reality, which eludes him, is the EquuSearch doesn't charge to search for people. And still they look for people the police give up on. They are supported by voluntary contributions.

    People have this wacko idea that private must mean that everything is charged for. Freedom means voluntary not coercive. And sometimes the voluntary is on a charge basis and sometimes it isn't.

    I was in San Francisco in 1989 for the quake that knocked down the Cypress Highway and the Bay Bridge along with many homes and buildings. Over and over the city services failed and private, voluntary action sprinted into place to do what the government couldn't do. My Walgrens started giving out free batteries and flashlights to those who needed them. The restaurants spontaneously closed (due to no power) and moved to the parks where they gave the food away. The Shuttle services to the airport started riding up and down the main drags giving people free rides. Voluntary is the hallmark of the free society. And sometimes voluntary means charitable giving and help. Often it means that.

  • ||

    Excellent points by CLS! (BTW, I used to get lots of spam from people trying to sell you to me.)

    Also, this reminds me of a classic (from the old Postrel Golden Age!) Reason article about the Royal National Lifeboat Institution:

    http://www.reason.com/news/show/29503.html

    Check it out, Dan T.!

    Excerpts:

    The David Robinson is one of 272 lifeboats assigned to 210 stations in the British Isles run by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. The lifeboats are called out some 5,000 times every year to offer assistance in marine mishaps. According to its records, the service saved an average of three lives a day in 1993 and has saved more than 124,000 since its founding in 1824.

    But running the lifeboats and paying the thousands of rescue workers does not cost British taxpayers a penny. The Royal National Lifeboat Institution is a private organization, supported, as it proudly says on its letterhead, "entirely by voluntary contributions" and managed by its own trustees and staff. The RNLI will rescue you whether you are rich or poor, whether you have donated to it or not. ...

    Since the 1890s, left-wing activists have pushed to have the RNLI nationalized on the ground that the state ought to run all public services. These campaigns always founder on the hard rocks of fact: The RNLI beats government emergency services hands down. ...

    Then there is the advantage of volunteers, who cost less than full-time government staff and are more dedicated to serving the public. In most of Britain's government-run emergency services, employees have formed unions that go on strike, interrupting the vital services of ambulances, fire brigades, and hospitals. A strike at the RNLI is hard to imagine. Unlike a government agency, a voluntary group like the RNLI cannot force people to pay for its services. It appeals to the public's generosity, and it can do so only by behaving in a generous way itself. ...

    Reviewing all these advantages, the government's own officials down through the years have quietly agreed with the sentiment expressed by Jack Stapley when I asked him why the RNLI avoided government support: "We feel service would deteriorate if it was government-funded."

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