Militarization of Police

Policing is Too Important to be Left to the Government: Economist Ed Stringham


"Because police are so important, I think that we should abandon the idea that government needs to provide it." says economics professor Edward Stringham. "Wherever we see government it's not helpful, it's bureaucratic, it's not serving its customers and I would say that especially applies in the area of police."

Stringham is the L.V. Hackley Endowed Professor for the Study of Capitalism and Free Enterprise at Fayetteville State University and co-author if the 2006 Reason Foundation study "No Booze? You May Lose: Why Drinkers Earn More Money Than Nondrinkers."

At FreedomFest 2011, Reason's Matt Welch sat down with Stringham to talk about privatizing security, real world examples in the United States and why this won't lead to police protection only for the rich.

Held each July in Las Vegas, FreedomFest is attended by around 2,000 libertarians and advocates of limited government. spoke with over two dozen speakers and attendees and will be releasing interviews over the coming weeks.?Check out our other interviews from FreedomFest here.

About 5:30 minutes. Shot by Zach Weissmueller and Jim Epstein and edited by Meredith Bragg.

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  1. Welcome to this edition of Matt Welch’s What Happens in Vegas Ends Up on YouTube.

    And just don’t hire Hell’s Angels.

    1. Why, what could possibly go wrong?

  2. Because police are so important

    They are?

    1. Forget it, he’s rolling.

    2. Do you really think we don’t need any police? What about private security? Like it or not some people will not act peacefully without the threat of force. Businesses employ private security to keep their property safe. There are people out there that will rob, steal, assault, murder… What is your solution to that problem?

      1. Universal gun ownership and private militias.

      2. Private security is fine; so are people in, say, a community banding together for security as well.

        But you’re shifting the goalposts, of course. Do police prevent robberies, theft, or murder? No. They clean up after it.

        1. Do police prevent robberies, theft, or murder? No. They clean up after it.

          Bingo. I know some cops, and they freely admit this.

          1. While I agree with you for the most part. I don’t think you can claim that the police don’t prevent some crime from happening.

            1. But the crime they commit themselves cancels it out.

              1. that’s true.

        2. That is true most of the time. We do prevent some, but our presence in one area usually just drives the crime to other areas. Of course visible patrol is just one part of what the police does. Are private militias or communities banding together going to clean up after those crimes? Do accident reports? Follow up investigations? First responder medical care? Assist motorists? Damage to property reports? Theft reports? The list goes on and on. I know violent crime makes headlines and obviously traffic enforcement is visible to everyone, but that is literally less than 5% of what I do on a weekly basis.

          1. Sounds like the insurance companies would have to hire their own lackeys instead of mooching off of the state.

          2. I think you’re actually undermining your case.

            I’m trained in EFR, as everyone can and ought to be. Why would we need police for that, of all things?

            Meanwhile, motorists can be assisted by AAA or, you know, other motorists.

            Accident, damage to property and theft reports? Insurance companies.

        3. You don’t believe that the threat of fines, imprisonment or execution deters crime?

          1. Certainly not universally. First, there’s no guarantee you’ll get caught or convicted. Second, some people don’t really get the whole consequences thing.

            1. You can’t simultaneously argue that Campaign finance laws will have a chilling effect on speech and that laws against murder, theft, and trespassing have no deterrent effect.

              That’s like me saying “Obamacare will have no impact on the economy becuase there’s no guarantee you’ll get caught or convicted, and some people don’t understand consequences anyway”

              1. When did I say they have no deterrent effect? I only pointed out that the deterrent effect is not 100%.

                1. If it were 100%, we wouldn’t need prisons.

      3. There are people out there that will rob, steal, assault, murder… What is your solution to that problem?

        Good thing we have cops or we’d have to worry about all of those nefarious characters.

  3. I think people should be able to form their own militias and neighborhood watches. If poor people could do this, you would see a lot less crime in poor neighborhoods.

  4. i am good with this

  5. I’m a big proponent of smaller government, hell almost no government, but I do think that law enforcement is one of the few jobs that the government should be doing. I know that government law enforcement is just as susceptible to corruption as private, but at least in theory the government is supposed to protect the interests of everyone. Private law enforcement in theory would only protect the interests of the company that owns it.

    1. steeliv,

      Public or private you are going to run into the same problem. The police are going to act in their own best interest. If the police were private it would be much easier to get rid of a corrupt police force, than one that is public and has unlimited funds and soveriegn immunity.

      1. How would it be easier? Can you get rid of the private security of say, Microsoft on their private land? Sure you can boycott the company, apply that kind of free market pressure, but you would need a large effort. How is that any easier than voting in new government officials to do something about the corrupt police force?

        1. If police corporations were hired by the populace to police an area of a city. If that corporate police force were doing things that the populace didn’t like. For instance if the police were targeting minorities in a minority community. The populace could choose to hire a different police force to protect them.

          1. That’s just contracting out your police force. I see your point, but that kind of thing already happens in a lot of counties’ sheriff’s departments. The citizens don’t like what the sheriff is doing and they elect a new one. Consequently most of the deputies that worked for the old sheriff either are fired or move elsewhere. A simpler solution might be to implement this on the municipal level as well. Have the Chief of Police be an elected position. What would be the difference be in electing a new police force or hiring one?

      2. That is why you remove the “unlimited funds” and “sovereign immunity” from them by repealing laws that put them there in the first place, plus enacting laws with more oversight and stiffer penalties for misconduct.

        1. “That is why you remove the “unlimited funds” and “sovereign immunity” from them by repealing laws that put them there in the first place, plus enacting laws with more oversight and stiffer penalties for misconduct.”

          Yeah, good luck with that.

          1. You think that is less realistic than privitizing LE?

    2. Private law enforcement in theory would only protect the interests of the company that owns it.

      Hey Steeliv, you keep making good arguments for private police and law enforcement. Currently, it seems that gov’t police forces (and their POA’s) are protecting their own interests, at the detriment of the public. They also seem to push strongly for more legislation, the result of which is the WOD and increased criminalizing of the public.

      1. A related, and I would argue bigger, problem is communities protecting their own interests and using their law enforcement to do it. It’s not a coincidence that police often arrest what middle/upper class people would deem as “undesirable” people. They do so at the direction of business interests. Those cops that are harassing the skateboarders? They got called there to get rid of them by a local business owner. How is this going to get any better if the police force itself was a private company?

        1. I guess private security could run skateboarders off of private property. In business districts with multiple storefronts, the businesses would own the sidewalks/streets with a tenant-in-common arrangement. They would then be able to police the district with private police, paid for by business district dues. It is actually a better arrangement this way. My tax dollars don’t have to pay to enforce laws I don’t care about against people I won’t encounter (“undesirable people”). If I remember correctly, you are a police officer, too?

          1. Yes I am, and that is true. I don’t know about other cities, but this happens quite often in mine. Private interests hire police officers to work extra jobs and basically work as a private security force, backed up by their authority as police officers. The taxpayers don’t have to pay for this, the business or group of businesses foot the bill. My main problem is where would it stop. Do we want our police officers to have authority given by the state and therefore the people with the state seal on their badge, or do we want their authority given by a private business with the corporate logo on their badge?

            1. I gotta’ hand it to ya’ steeliv, you got brass balls coming into H&R. Some of these folks can be pretty harsh on the police. But you seem genuine, and you argue in good faith, so thanks for your contribution.

            2. I’d a thousand times rather have the corporate logo. If I don’t like them, I don’t have to shop there or frequent that location. With the gov’t boys in blue, I don’t have any choice; I’m under their thumb everywhere, at all times, against my will.

        2. Because they’ll just run them off and not arrest them? They have no interest in them other than getting them off private property.

    3. Allowing cops to become cliquish has been a disaster, though. Police work should be a militia sort of job, part-time and limited duration, either volunteer-based or a civic duty like jury duty (this would also serve as a hedge against encroachment on second amendment rights, since most places would have an active bona fide militia and a larger percentage of citizens would have to become competent and confident with firearms). It shouldn’t be something that could devolve into the sort of “us vs them” mentality that exists on both sides on the blue line in so many places.

      As far as investigation, both the accused and the state should have a crack at forensics, and cops should simply secure the crime scene and prevent tampering. Detectives as we know them would just work for the prosecution directly, since that’s practically the case anyway.

  6. in theory the government is supposed to protect the interests of everyone


    Private law enforcement in theory would only protect the interests of the company that owns it

    Just like the public law enforcement protects the interests of the government and politicians that own it?

    I can’t believe you could write those two sentences with a straight face. Are you our newest sockpuppet?

    1. That’s why I qualified it with “in theory”. You know you can vote out the politicians that run your local government right? What can you do to get rid of the owner of the business you don’t like? Or the CEO of the corporation that you have a problem with?

      1. Uh…switch to another security priovider?

        That was such a dumb question that you must be a sockpuppet. Good try, but you’re overdoing it. Subtlety is key.

        1. You’re assuming there would be another security provider. And if there was more than one security provider in one area how would they work together? They would be competing companies. What if I commit a crime in an area protected by one company but I live in an area protected by another company? Would they work together to solve the crime and extradite me? Or would government have to get involved? All I’m saying is you would be trading in one set of problems for another one.

          1. Bruce L. Benson has written about these issues for 30 years. Here is a link to Amazon for his book To Serve and Protect.

          2. How is this any different then a suburban police force working with city police. Or if you don’t like that example the County sheriff working with the city police. or the DEA working with a city NARC squad.

            1. It’s different because those aren’t competing interests. The city police force and the county police force aren’t business competitors. They work together because they’re all cops that live in the same community. Now if two competing companies separately ran a city police force and a county police force, what would be their incentive to work together? One company might want the other one to fail so they could take over that contract.

              1. Oh, I see your angle. Well, yes, the competition might make one agency try to run the other out of business. That’s a good thing. The measure of the most successful police agency is that agency which solves the most crimes. So if the end result is an agency that prevents and solves more crimes, while still delivering the standards the customer contracted, it’s a win-win-win type deal. Probably though, both agencies will cooperate on a minimal level, because sharing industry information is useful to both firms.

                1. I’m just not convinced. The opportunity for corruption is already bad enough when budgetary issues are tied to your results, frequency of crime, etc. What will happen when your very existence as a company is based on how many arrests you make or tickets you write? The opportunity for corruption and manufacturing “crime” to enforce is very great in my opinion.

                  Many people already live under the assumption that a low crime rate means we have too many police. So what happens when the private company feels they need to justify their existence? I know it happens when a government force needs to justify their budget, but how much greater is the pressure when you have to justify your entire business contract?

              2. This would go back to the populace hiring the police force. If the police corporations in area were letting criminals get away because of rival business practices they could be fired for being infective.

  7. Stupid, not thought out at all. Theoretically, these private security forces would get their authority to legitimately use force from the government. So they’d just be the same as police, only overpaid and serving wealthy interests at the expense of all social concerns. But we’re well on our way to turning education into a for-profit enterprise, so why not all other core functions of government?

    1. Yeah Tony it is a good thing the government run police don’t oppress the living fuck out of poor areas so neurotic white liberals like you can be protected from wild black men. Jesus Tony, you don’t even try most days.

      1. Who says privatizing that function would make it any better? There are huge problems with criminal justice in the US… mostly a result of the influence of private corporations and their political influence.

        1. Because the poor areas could police themselves and hire police that were answerable to the community instead of unions. But since you think poor people are inferior and can’t function without the help of liberals, you probably don’t understand that.

          1. So it’s police unions that are responsible for poor/rich disparity in incarceration rates and urban crime rates? How does that work?

            1. There will always be a rich/poor disparity there. Rich people have the means to hide their crimes more effectively.

              1. Especially when the police are on their payroll exclusively.

            2. It works real simple. Rich white scared liberals like you vote for law and order politicians whose job it is to make sure poor people are kept in their own neighborhoods.

            3. You’re responsible, Tony. It is on your fucking shoulders. You vote for the shitbags that perpetuate this shit because taxing the rich is more important to you than people’s lives.

              Millions of young black lives ruined don’t concern you as long as you can stand on a street corner hurling invective at the infamous Koch brothers.

              1. Reforming criminal justice is one of my top concerns. The politicians who are responsible for its abuses are the ones who are in the pockets of industries who profit from the system and who also don’t like the prospect of millions of people convicted for using drugs voting in elections. What do you want to do about that? Oh yeah, call unlimited corporate donations to politicians “free speech”?

                1. Oh yeah, Citizen’s United is the reason all of those minorities got obscenely long mandatory prison terms in the 90’s. If you truly want to blame a corporation then blame the fucking prison guards union.

    2. You’re right, again.

      Imagine the dystopian nightmare we’d find ourselves living in if cops spent their time protecting private property instead of roughing up black kids over pot.

      The horror, the horror!

      1. You’re telling me if alcohol and tobacco industries could buy their own enforcers they wouldn’t go after pot smokers all the more? All you’re doing is removing the middleman (Congress). The prison-industrial complex, which depends on locking more people up for profit, could run quite a smooth operation.

        1. Jesus Harold Christ you’re a dumb son of a bitch, tony.

          1. Premise: weed is illegal because of corporate lobbies. You guys think you can rid us of the influence of corporate lobbies on public policy by removing the public policy element. It’s absurd.

            1. weed is illegal because of corporate lobbies.

              Good one, tell me about the troof behind 9/11 next!

            2. Premise: weed is illegal because of corporate lobbies.

              BWahahahahahahahahahaha – woo, good one.

  8. ….surprised he doesn’t point to that shining example of Blackrock.

  9. Oh no, for-profit enterprise! Why, they might actually deliver a product to their customers at a cost agreed upon by both parties, and we just can’t have that.

  10. The problems of self-interest exist regardless if the government or private interest does the contracting. I find it basically undeniable, however, that private companies are more transparent, more accountable, and have greater motivation to perform than any government agency, at least to the extent that the government doesn’t co-opt them, ie. security contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    1. So the security contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan, which are clearly less accountable and transparent than the US Armed Forces, not to mention more expensive, are all those things because of government interference? Yet the armed forces, which are superior on these counts, are a government agency. I don’t get it.

      1. Tony, those contractors are doing a “job” that should not be done in the first place. And they are being paid by tax dollars paid by people who don’t want them to do it. People are being FORCED to pay them.

    2. Regarding the security contractors, it’s not the citizenry that hires them, it’s the federal government, so it should be no surprise they have a tendency to act like assholes.

  11. Jesus, what a terrible idea. There is inevitably more corruption and abuse of power under private/corporate rule. Virtually all of our Constitutionally-protected liberties are trumped by the sacred and unassailable (to Libertarians and conservatives, at least) Private Property Right. Consider that you must now submit your bodily fluids for examination and approval for virtually every job there is, and that your 1st, 2nd, and 4th Amendment rights must be automatically surrendered at the property line. Consider that there are already numerous examples of our justice system being manipulated against the individual in order to increase the profits of the private prison industry. One can hardly fathom how much worse it would be if the police were also privatized.

    Power over others leads to abuse, while greed leads to corruption. Adding a profit motive will do nothing about the former, but will definitively increase the latter.

    This is what doesn’t jibe about the kind of mainstream Libertarian ideology touted in venues like this. What I identify with in libertarianism is the ideal of the minimizing collective power over the individual. But corporations are a collective power too, and ones that don’t even have the pretense of being accountable to the public or acting for the sake of the greater good. You can’t vote out a corporation.

    I know there are those who will make the usual “invisible hand of the market” counterpoint, but this would presume a significant choice of providers (of private law enforcement) be available to all members of the public, and that there’s no kind of industry-wide collusion amongst these providers (which happens all the goddamn time). Not to mention the many, many other problems with the idea (like companies actually manufacturing crime in order to increase their demand, or executives and major shareholders getting special consideration in law enforcement matters?ala Robocop, etc. etc.).

    Seriously guys, there is a limit to the advantages of privatization, and this definitely crosses the line.

    1. The “private” prison system? The CA Correctional officers union is one of the biggest, if not the biggest political contributors in the state.

    2. …like companies actually manufacturing crime in order to increase their demand…

      Much like law enforcement unions, and law enforcement management lobbying for more stricter drug laws, mandatory sentencing laws, and draconian registration/residence laws for ex-felons. Or the same parties opposing laws that a majority of voters approved. All in the name of “stirring up a little business”.

      1. So you are arguing against the public system by accusing it of acting more like a private system? How that work?

        These examples of police union lobbying is just to improve “job security” for these public employees. Imagine how much worse it would be when a quarterly revenue report is at stake….

        1. Probably a lot better than it is now, with elections, pensions, benefits and legal privilege at stake.

        2. I’m arguing that the same problems and conflicts you see with the private system are endemic in the public system as well. Why not try some new policing methods instead of the legacy methods?

          1. I agree that something different needs to be making law enforcement more accountable to the public it polices.

            But increasing the motive of our domestic security entities to act MORE out of self-interest (profit) seems counter-intuitive.

            1. But increasing the motive of our domestic security entities to act MORE out of self-interest (profit) seems counter-intuitive.

              I agree that profit motive can entice firms to short-term, quarterly results-type misbehavior. However, the one variable that is different between public and private firms is that I can fire a private firm. Therefore, their short-term profit motive is (hopefully) kept in check by a long-term desire for continued revenues. Public agencies have a built-in revenue stream, taxes collected through coercion, that can never be turned off. I can’t show my displeasure with the police by refusing to pay them with my tax dollars.

              1. Well that’s all well and good if you’re rich enough to do the employing yourself (and there’s nothing stopping you from doing that now if that’s the case). But we’re talking about a community police force here…which means the contracting would be decided and managed by some kind of representative system (city government, neighborhood association, etc.). So its really no different from the existing system, in terms of your “choice” (you can “fire” the decision makers via elections..but that’s about all the input you’d have).

                But now you throw profit, with its large range of potential extra abuses, into the mix as well. And, as others have pointed out, who do you go to when your being abused by the private police…if not a government law enforcement entity, and we’re right back were we started…

                1. Good points, man. I gotta’ go make dinner, so let me brief. I can fire a private firm in a phone call. I have to wait for the next election cycle, and garner influence with “the right people” to affect a change in the public sector. I would say that the time lag in performance feedback for the public sector makes the public sector less desirable. I think we both agree, there is room to experiment with how law enforcement is practiced in this country. Nice arguing with you, but I have to put a chicken breast in the oven!

  12. Enjoy your civil war, ending with the strongest security force as your new government. Our current government may suck, but that’s because the majority of people here are just fine with how much it sucks. People aren’t going to just start respecting each other’s rights just because of your anarchist unicorn fart fantasies. And your private security company can only protect your rights successfully if other people respect its authority or if it can force others to respect its authority. What on earth makes you believe that your rights-respecting security agency won’t be crushed immediately be the parasites’ agency? There are way more of them than there are of us, in case you haven’t been paying attention.

  13. We already allow prisons for profit. It is a disaster! You can read it in CCA’s own annual report — any change to policy regarding the war on drugs or illegal immigrants means they lose money. CCA is publicly traded. That means GROWTH is the key performance metric. Allowing the prison industry to set “growth” as it’s #1 goal is pure idiocy. It leads to things like judges locking up teenagers because they’re getting big payments under the table. It leads to things like prison company lobbyists dictating public policies in the criminal justice system. It is completely insane and totally incompatable with the concept of justice.

    Privatization of the police is taking this one step further. I would NEVER trust a publicly traded, for-profit corporation to “fight crime” or do things like use lethal force. The incentives are perverse and mankind too fallible.

    1. We already can’t trust the existing government institutions to do these things. Show me any large government agency whose accounting undergoes as much public scrutiny as a publicly traded company.

      The idea is checks and balances. Currently, the police force IS the government, so there is remarkably little incentive to reign them in.

      1. By “public scrutiny”, you are referring to government regulatory agencies …right?

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  19. I’m sold.

  20. Why not simply hold the police accountable for following the very laws that they claim to enforce? How many instances can you think of where the cop negligently (or intentionally) kills someone or destroys their property and doesn’t suffer any adverse consequences? The police forces, courts and DAs refuse to apply our laws to the enforcers of those laws. THAT’s what needs to change.

    1. Where is the incentive? The Correctional officers and police unions have our elected officials by the short and curlies.

  21. Because police are so important, I think that we should abandon the idea that government needs to provide it.



  22. Would private police forces be required to respect our bill of rights as government employees are? What capacity do they have for obtaining warrants? Do the same rules for things like probable cause, and use of deadly force the same as police now?

    If private police is required to follow the rules, then who polices the police? If one private-cop rough’s me up and does an illegal search, does that mean I would have to hire a private cop form another company to get justice?

    Point is, it seems like you would still need law enforcement at the government level, but to serve it’s true purpose which is to defend the constitution.

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  24. The constitution mentions “welfare” so it’s probably just some commie rag anyway.

  25. Bottom line, privatizing police means corporations spend the minimum amount required on law enforcement. No corporation will spend a cent more than is necessary. No corporation will expand it’s mandate infinitely where here is no profit. No corporation will protect shitty Corp-cops that cost them a shitload in lawsuits.

    Best of all, with limited budgets, all those bullshit pseudo military toys go away. A peaceful little burg here in Texas, New Braunfells, has it’s own goddamned SWAT team with an APC. I almost shit myself the fisrt time I saw it proudley displayed by the steroided

  26. Fifes they have on their SWAT team.


  27. At worst, shitty corporate cops are no worse than shitty government cops, at a reduced price.

    1. All those Blackwater FUBARS to the contrary.

    2. this.

  28. Doesn’t anyone else find it disturbing that we’re to think of citizens as “customers” of a police force?

    1. I’ve found I’m treated better as a “customer” than I am as a citizen.

  29. Potential victims

  30. Conservatives blindly support law enforcement. They don’t stop to think that most people in law enforcement today ?especially all of the people in administration- were all educated at the same Leftist institutions that educated the lawyers, judges, bureaucrats and politicians. The police serve the bureaucracy and that’s why they have no compunction in shutting down a lemonade stand. They have no connection to the people they are supposed to serve; if they were private they would have a real motivation to serve the citizens who are paying them. The way it is now it doesn’t matter how bad they screw up or bully people they’ll never lose their job and they get to retire at 40.

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