Don't 'Abolish the Police.' Privatize Them.

"A lot of people think that law enforcement must be provided by a [government] monopoly," says economist Edward Stringham. But "there are plenty of private examples of people working to create order and safety in society."


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Instead of "abolish the police" or "defund the police," how about "privatize the police"?

In a June NPR interview, Rep. Joaquin Castro (D–N.Y.) said that "policing is not a marketplace. You can't choose another police force to take care of you to watch over your neighborhood."

In fact, private policing and protection is more common than most people realize, and it's a proven way of making law enforcement more accountable to the communities they're paid to protect.

Economist Edward Stringham, who is president of the American Institute of Economic Research and the author of Private Governance: Creating Order in Economic and Social Lifesays that "in history and even in modern times, there are plenty of private examples of people working to create order and safety in society." He points to fully deputized private police departments like those of Harvard, MIT, and Massachusetts General Hospital. Stringham also cites the history of San Francisco during the gold rush, which relied heavily on private policing. The San Francisco Patrol Special Police, for example, were founded in 1847 and are still in operation today.

Another example is the for-profit protection service Detroit Threat Management Centers, which has been operating in the Motor City since 1995. Dale Brown, the company's founder, says that while government police focus on prosecution, his focus is solely on protection.

"We don't police people. We protect them. Police are law enforcement officers," Brown told Reason, "so essentially their task is based on negative metrics, meaning rape, robbery, killing. And of course, most importantly, arresting people for drugs or violence that has already occurred, which is not protection."

Detroit Threat Management Centers provides bodyguards, works with homeowners' associations, and secures precious cargo delivery. But it also runs an educational academy in which graduates volunteer to provide free security to domestic violence victims and other vulnerable individuals who the Detroit city police don't protect.

Stringham points out that one of the main problems with the government's monopoly on policing is a lack of accountability. Brown and his employees, on the other hand, are private citizens who are not only accountable to their clients, they are legally responsible for all of their actions. Brown handles this with video surveillance of all his on-duty employees, extensive training, and an emphasis on nonviolent solutions to threats. And in their 25 years of operation, they've had no lawsuits and no injuries to any of their clients.

When comes to solving our problems with police, Edward Stringham says "we don't need to dream up some abstract ideals and think about how things might be….We can actually look at how private security [and] private policing already exist, draw from best practices and say, 'Look, we do have markets and we can rely more on markets and less on a coercive government monopoly.'" 

Produced by John Osterhoudt.

Photo credit: Private Security on Bike, Lannis Waters/ZUMA Press/Newscom; Defund the Police Sign 1, Elvert Barnes/CC Flickr; Abolish Police Sign, Lorie Shaull/CC Flickr; Defund Redistribute, Jason Hargrove/CC Flickr; ACAB Sign, Elvert Barnes/CC Flickr; Sign on NYPD Car, Peter Burka/CC Flickr; Bernard Public Safety, Jason Lawrence/CC Flickr; Security Guard, John Loo/CC Flickr; Allied Barton, Matthew Hoelscher/CC Flickr; Duke Campus Police, Inventorchris/CC Flickr; Camo Uniforms, Chase Carter/CC Flickr