He's still wearing the familiar blue uniform, but odds are your neighborhood cop has been stripped of some of his duties. A recent study by the National Institute of Justice found that private law enforcers and security guards far outnumber official police officers, as local governments, corporations, and homeowners increasingly look to the private sector for protection and law enforcement.
The NIJ, a research arm of the U.S. Justice Department, estimates that private law-enforcement agencies spend 73 percent more a year than the official police do, up from 57 percent a decade ago. They employ 1.5 million people and spend $52 billion annually, compared with 600,000 employees and $30 billion for public forces. The NIJ predicts that private security will grow at a rate of 8 percent annually for at least another decade—meaning that by the year 2000, private security expenditures will reach $104 billion, with public expenditures lagging behind at $44 billion.
As local governments tighten their belts, they're contracting out traffic control, animal control, special-events security, public-housing patrols, funeral escorts, and court security. Almost 75 percent of U.S. cities contract out the removal of illegally parked cars, says Nicholas Elliott of the Adam Smith Institute.
Private policing has caught on in the corporate world as well. Companies rely on private agencies to combat computer crime, industrial espionage, and other high-tech offenses. Businesses spent $148 billion on security guards alone in 1985, estimates Clemson University economist David Laband—and millions more on guard dogs, gates, and electronic surveillance equipment.
Homeowners are also eager to purchase additional security. Of the more than 90,000 homeowners' associations in the United States, the Community Associations Institute reports, 25 percent provide manned security and 15 percent electronic surveillance for their members.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Cops Out?".