Post-Dispatch Discusses Privatization of Police
There was an excellent article in Sunday’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch about the heavy use of, and recent controversies over, taxpayer-funded private security forces in the city of St. Louis. It is fairly common for neighborhood business groups to initiate property taxes on themselves, and inevitably their customers, in order to pay for extra security forces that augment the police department. Some don’t think that this should be allowed:
Alderman Charles Quincy Troupe, whose 1st Ward includes some of the city’s poorest and most crime-rattled blocks, called the concept illegal, and unfair to those who can’t afford it.
He thinks money from special tax districts should go to the Police Department for use citywide.
“It’s morally wrong to say this community is going to have adequate police protection and the other community perishes because it doesn’t,” he said.
I don’t agree with the alderman on that, but we do agree on one thing: Personal security is not just the job of the police; it is also an individual responsibility, and people have a right to use the tools they need to protect themselves, their families, and their businesses.
I am certainly not going to defend the heavy use of force by security guards in this case, as detailed in the article, even if most of the guards were off-duty policemen. However, I really don’t see the problem with off-duty policeman working as security guards. Cops are never really off duty — that is why they are required to carry sidearms even when out of uniform. If an off-duty cop is cashing a check when the bank gets robbed, that officer is not allowed to try to sneak out quietly and let the on-duty police handle everything when they arrive. So, because they are always expected to be serving and protecting, I see no problem with them getting paid to do so as part of a second job.
Others find it strange:
“I’ve never heard of police going off the job and then being hired to carry out their public function in a private setting,” said Charles P. Nemeth, director of graduate legal programs at California University of Pennsylvania in Pittsburgh, and author of “Private Security and the Law.”
I see nothing wrong with it, nor do I see anything wrong with businesses choosing to tax themselves to pay for additional security.
There is also a licensing aspect to this story: The police board stripped the security company’s owner (who was also a police officer in his own right) of his city security license, although he can still own and operate the company.
I don’t know whether the off-duty city police also need to be licensed as security guards, or whether that requirement is reserved for people performing security work who are not also off-duty city police.
When it comes to the question of exercising the power to detain people, as seen in the article, I don’t have a problem with the idea that government should require some level of security guard licensing (for guards who aren’t also cops, of course). There are many worse examples of unnecesary licensing in the city.