Perspectives: If ’serve and protect’ is the real goal, privatize the police

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OPINION – How differently might government employees treat us if they were subject to the same market forces and customer choice as the private sector? It’s a question more of us should be asking.

Politicians and their functionaries want us to believe that the state should be the primary problem solver in our lives. When we solve our problems without them, it diminishes their sense of importance.

Still, the question remains a valid one.

In the past week, on the Society and the State podcast that I co-host, I had the chance to interview former Salt Lake City Police Officer Eric Moutsos.

Moutsos has been vocal about the damage done when officers are denied the ability to use their discretion and are instead ordered to meet quotas in their ticketing or arrests. Under this pressure, the vast majority of the collars they end up making are for nonviolent, petty violations.

Aggressive enforcers who do their job with a predatory “gotcha” attitude are the ones who advance in departmental ranks. Meanwhile, officers who reserve writing citations and making arrests for truly egregious offenses are either viewed with suspicion or risk being labeled as lazy.

Departments that insist on emphasizing enforcement over everything else come to be seen as a mechanism for extracting revenue and submissiveness from the public on behalf of the political class.

Recent examples of what this strict enforcement mentality looks like in action can be seen in two viral videos that have been circulating recently.

One video shows police officers in Fredericksburg, Virginia, needlessly attacking a semiconscious stroke victim with Tasers and pepper spray as he sat incapacitated in his car. The other video shows a smug Berkeley officer confiscating the contents of a man’s wallet after citing him for selling hot dogs outside a sporting event without a permit.

The public was neither served nor protected in either case.

The combination of being shielded from market forces, possessing qualified immunity from being sued and given training that deliberately places the officer’s safety above the public’s are a perfect recipe for abuse of authority.

Frederic Bastiat described this domineering administrative mindset perfectly:

They would be the shepherds over us, their sheep. Certainly such an arrangement presupposes that they are naturally superior to the rest of us. And certainly we are fully justified in demanding from the legislators and organizers proof of this natural superiority.

Please understand that I do not dispute their right to invent social combinations, to advertise them, to advocate them, and to try them upon themselves, at their own expense and risk. But I do dispute their right to impose these plans upon us by law—by force—and to compel us to pay for them with our taxes.

Moutsos has great love and compassion for his former brothers in blue, yet he recognizes the widening wedge that this type of policing drives in between officers and the public. As a police officer, he maintained the peace by working to help people solve their problems rather than viewing them as career-advancing points on a tally sheet.

For Moutsos, sometimes that meant putting the needs of those people ahead of the need to enforce the letter of the law. Making an officer choose between pleasing his superiors and serving the people of his community seems terribly short-sighted.

One possible solution to this problem came up during a different interview with Commander Dale Brown with the Threat Management Center in Detroit, Michigan.

Brown’s private security company serves and protects thousands of private residences and businesses in one of the roughest cities in the nation. Thanks to healthy profit margins that come from having highly satisfied customers, TMC also provides free service to low income individuals who cannot afford their services.

Brown’s employees are armed and highly trained, yet violence is reserved for only the most extreme circumstances. The people who hire them are their customers, and TMC must serve and protect in the truest sense of the word or go out of business.

If Brown’s personnel were to behave as violent, authoritarian thugs, their customer base would quickly abandon them. That’s the power of the market forces of pricing and customer satisfaction to guide the rational allocation of our resources and to measure whether we’re getting what we’re paying for.

Can you imagine having to do business with a company where, according to official policy, you aren’t allowed to decline what they’re selling? Not only are you required to buy what they’re selling, but they’ll use physical violence against you if show the slightest reluctance to “do business” with them.

Healthy societies don’t need intimidating, militarized warriors ordering them around to feel safe. Nor do they need ubiquitous no-knock raids, ever-present surveillance and endless legal technicalities to invite the state into their lives.

Any solution should start by asking whether the current monopoly genuinely serves and protects all of us or whether it’s merely imposing the will of the political class. The private sector allows us to choose.

The public sector fears we’d exercise that choice more wisely, given the chance.

Bryan Hyde is an opinion columnist specializing in current events viewed through the lens of common sense. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

Email: bryanh@stgnews.com

Twitter: @youcancallmebry

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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15 Comments

  • Not_So_Much September 18, 2017 at 7:35 am

    Interesting idea which hadn’t crossed my mind. It certainly deserves serious consideration.

  • statusquo September 18, 2017 at 8:19 am

    A simple solution to the problems you mention would be to have any fines collected be given to charity instead of back into police dept coffers.

  • AnotherReader September 18, 2017 at 8:35 am

    Privatized police…. somewhere between mercenaries and mall cops….. no thanks.

    • statusquo September 18, 2017 at 9:58 am

      Good point. There really are no better trained police forces than our public servants. My son is a firefighter who spent 6 months training – very intense!

      Make America Great Again!

    • mctrialsguy September 18, 2017 at 12:53 pm

      You will have all of the same issues with privatization, along with their needing to make a profit, and the article is a good one and brings up some really good points, but we are better off with public servants than with the private sector, any day. How do we deal with the police officers thinking that we are all sheep to be controlled and abused as they see fit?

  • youcandoit September 18, 2017 at 10:08 am

    I like how it is now. Because if you live in the rich area they can afford more protection then favoritism becomes a problem.

  • dak4 September 18, 2017 at 10:24 am

    Because privatizing correctional facilities has worked out so well….smh. What is the private sector about? Answer: Making money. It’s naive to think quotas would go away. Private sector lives off of quotas and production/revenue. You’re as right about this as you were about Y2K Hyde.

  • NickDanger September 18, 2017 at 10:45 am

    The problem with privatizing the police is the same problem that has arisen from the ongoing disaster of prison privatization – everything becomes a cost vs. benefit analysis. The question “What is the minimum possible amount of service we can provide in (X) area and still be operating within the parameters of our contract?” is one that shouldn’t be asked regarding a subject as serious as human incarceration, yet it is asked every day now.

    Do people really want their life, family, and home protected by the lowest bidder?

    Also, the underlying strength of Law Enforcement is that it is institutional in nature. Each police officer is representative of a higher power. If local police can’t handle a situation, they can call in more police, the county sheriff, the SWAT team, the state police, the FBI or DEA; and the National Guard is a final option. The point being, a private security officer’s ultimate authority proceeds no further than his corporate office, whereas a sworn agent of a sovereign government has unlimited enforcement authority and resources.

    So no. Just no.

  • fixitfairy September 18, 2017 at 9:21 pm

    Privatizing hasn’t worked with private probation. There have been countless articles about a private probation employee attempting to make “arrests” without credentials to do so, stopping traffic as a result of road rage, attempting to intimidate a family, and using sexual favors as leverage with probationers.
    In one article it was stated that a private probation officer had stated to the court he was providing consistent drug screening for a probationer, when in fact the probationer was honest with the judge and said she wasn’t tested, hadn’t seen the probation officer in person, and had been using drugs during her probation.
    Private probation seems to be more about collecting money from as many people as fast as possible with the least amount of overhead cost or investment, poorly trained employees mis-using power and justifying supervision as a monthly phone call instead of actually seeing the person, not visiting them in their environment, or supporting them in obtaining employment, counseling, safety, rehabilitation and reintegration in their community, and more about the profit margin.
    This is a terrifying thought when being asked why, as a country, we haven’t privatized law enforcement as a whole. No thanks. I think our system as a whole opporates with integrity, the exceptions to the rule are the individuals getting the news coverage, not the individuals going above and beyond the call of duty.

  • comments September 18, 2017 at 9:46 pm

    Good hell, I think we’d be better off with no police force than a privatized one. A public police force is only as good as its leadership. Sometimes they need to be reigned in. A mercenary mall cop… that about sums up that idea. Bad idea, bry.

  • commonsense September 19, 2017 at 4:10 pm

    Every government service should be privatized. It would be more efficient and cost effective.
    Bad cops would be fired because they hurt the company’s bottom line. Teachers, the same. No predatory teachers would be tolerated by a business. Service would come first. The employees would be compensated on a par with other comparable jobs. No unions holding up governments for higher wages. Pay based on merit, not politics. Private cops would be held to the same standard as any citizen. Assault by an officer would be treated as as criminal felony. Right now cops and prosecutors work for the same employer.

    States are drowning in financial debt mostly because of police and teachers unions demanding above market compensation packages. California is $ 300 billion in debt and their public employee retirement funds are bankrupt. Same with Connecticut and many other states.

    Governments are not efficient at providing services.

    • bikeandfish September 19, 2017 at 5:13 pm

      The logic doesn’t hold up to fact and history. Fraudulent, predatory or simply ineffective employees exist in every system no matter private or public. Just do a simple Google search to find examples. I know first hand how much a private business will bury evidence of an employee’s illegal activity even if it effects their bottom line. The company I worked for was sued because administrators buried evidence. The lawsuit was successful and accurate. The company suddenly went under and hundreds of never received pay or benefits (partially resolved years later with class action lawsuit).

      The ideology of the free market doesn’t always match reality. You can accurately critique the public sector as there is plenty of examples of waste and incompetence there as well. But at the end of the day they are both run but people which are the root of the problems. I for one prefer being able to vote with more than just my dollars when it comes to issues like policing and other critical services. And I will never be wealthy enough for that balance to swing the other way.

    • dak4 September 19, 2017 at 7:24 pm

      Cops aren’t held to the same standard? If they get a DUI do they keep their job? If involved in domestic violence do they keep their job? Lie on their taxes or even on their application? Get caught poaching or steal a candy bar etc.? I’m not saying those things don’t happen among law enforcement, they certainly do. What I am saying is if I work in the private sector there’s a good chance I get to keep my job.

    • comments September 20, 2017 at 12:27 am

      commonsense is one of the dumbest, most delusional r-wingers I’ve ever encountered. You’d be wasting time trying to debate him. He doesn’t deal in facts and he’s a loon. He also claims he’s a medical doctor. lmao 😉

  • commonsense September 19, 2017 at 6:26 pm

    Private sector companies actually produce tax revenue to a state or federal treasury. Public sector jobs drain the treasury. Governments are failing because of debt.

    As an employer, I can’t imagine tolerating anyone who does not provide service. No politics. No such thing as a good employee with a bad attitude. Only government tolerates poor work and even rewards it.

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