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Should the Police Be Privatized?

Should the Police Be Privatized?

Abolition of the public sector means, of course, that all pieces of land, all land areas, including streets and roads, would be owned privately, by individuals, corporations, cooperatives, or any other voluntary groupings of individuals and capital. The fact that all streets and land areas would be private would by itself solve many of the seemingly insoluble problems of private operation. What we need to do is to reorient our thinking to consider a world in which all land areas are privately owned.

Let us take, for example, police protection. How would police protection be furnished in a totally private economy?

Part of the answer becomes evident if we consider a world of totally private land and street ownership. Consider the Times Square area of New York City, a notoriously crime-ridden area where there is little police protection furnished by the city authorities. Every New Yorker knows, in fact, that he lives and walks the streets, and not only Times Square, virtually in a state of “anarchy,” dependent solely on the normal peacefulness and good will of his fellow citizens. Police protection in New York is minimal, a fact dramatically revealed in a recent week-long police strike when, lo and behold!, crime in no way increased from its normal state when the police are supposedly alert and on the job.

At any rate, suppose that the Times Square area, including the streets, was privately owned, say by the “Times Square Merchants Association.” The merchants would know full well, of course, that if crime was rampant in their area, if muggings and holdups abounded, then their customers would fade away and would patronize competing areas and neighborhoods. Hence, it would be to the economic interest of the merchants’ association to supply efficient and plentiful police protection, so that customers would be attracted to, rather than repelled from, their neighborhood. Private business, after all, is always trying to attract and keep its customers.

But what good would be served by attractive store displays and packaging, pleasant lighting and courteous service, if the customers may be robbed or assaulted if they walk through the area?

The merchants’ association, furthermore, would be induced, by their drive for profits and for avoiding losses, to supply not only sufficient police protection but also courteous and pleasant protection. Governmental police have not only no incentive to be efficient or worry about their “customers'” needs; they also live with the ever-present temptation to wield their power of force in a brutal and coercive manner.

“Police brutality” is a well-known feature of the police system, and it is held in check only by remote complaints of the harassed citizenry. But if the private merchants’ police should yield to the temptation of brutalizing the merchants’ customers, those customers will quickly disappear and go elsewhere. Hence, the merchants’ association will see to it that its police are courteous as well as plentiful. Such efficient and high-quality police protection would prevail throughout the land, throughout all the private streets and land areas.

Factories would guard their street areas, merchants their streets, and road companies would provide safe and efficient police protection for their toll roads and other privately owned roads. The same would be true for residential neighborhoods.

We can envision two possible types of private street ownership in such neighborhoods. In one type, all the landowners in a certain block might become the joint owners of that block, let us say as the “85th St. Block Company.” This company would then provide police protection, the costs being paid either by the home-owners directly or out of tenants’ rent if the street includes rental apartments. Again, homeowners will of course have a direct interest in seeing that their block is safe, while landlords will try to attract tenants by supplying safe streets in addition to the more usual services such as heat, water, and janitorial service. ‘

To ask why landlords should provide safe streets in the libertarian, fully private society is just as silly as asking now why they should provide their tenants with heat or hot water. The force of competition and of consumer demand would make them supply such services. Furthermore, whether we are considering homeowners or rental housing, in either case the capital value of the land and the house will be a function of the safety of the street as well as of the other well-known characteristics of the house and the neighborhood.

Safe and well-patrolled streets will raise the value of the landowners’ land and houses in the same way as well-tended houses do; crime-ridden streets will lower the value of the land and houses as surely as dilapidated housing itself does. Since landowners always prefer higher to lower market values for their property, there is a built-in incentive to provide efficient, well -paved, and safe streets.

Private enterprise does exist, and so most people can readily envision a free market in most goods and services. Probably the most difficult single area to grasp, however, is the abolition of government operations in the service of protection: police, the courts, etc.—the area encompassing defense of person and property against attack or invasion.

How could private enterprise and the free market possibly provide such service? How could police, legal systems, judicial services, law enforcement, prisons—how could these be provided in a free market?

We have already seen how a great deal of police protection, at the least, could be supplied by the various owners of streets and land areas. But we now need to examine this entire area systematically. In the first place, there is a common fallacy, held even by most advocates of laissez-faire, that the government must supply “police protection,” as if police protection were a single, absolute entity, a fixed quantity of something which the government supplies to all. But in actual fact there is no absolute commodity called “police protection” any more than there is an absolute single commodity called “food” or “shelter.”

It is true that everyone pays taxes for a seemingly fixed quantity of protection, but this is a myth. In actual fact, there are almost infinite degrees of all sorts of protection. For any given person or business, the police can provide everything from a policeman on the beat who patrols once a night, to two policemen patrolling constantly on each block, to cruising patrol cars, to one or even several round-the-clock personal bodyguards.

Furthermore, there are many other decisions the police must make, the complexity of which becomes evident as soon as we look beneath the veil of the myth of absolute “protection.” How shall the police allocate their funds which are, of course, always limited as are the funds of all other individuals, organizations, and agencies? How much shall the police invest in electronic equipment? fingerprinting equipment? detectives as against uniformed police? patrol cars as against foot police, etc.?

The point is that the government has no rational way to make these allocations. The government only knows that it has a limited budget. Its allocations of funds are then subject to the full play of politics, boondoggling, and bureaucratic inefficiency, with no indication at all as to whether the police department is serving the consumers in a way responsive to their desires or whether it is doing so efficiently. The situation would be different if police services were supplied on a free, competitive market. In that case, consumers would pay for whatever degree of protection they wish to purchase.

The consumers who just want to see a policeman once in a while would pay less than those who want continuous patrolling, and far less than those who demand twenty-four-hour bodyguard service. On the free market, protection would be supplied in proportion and in whatever way that the consumers wish to pay for it. A drive for efficiency would be insured, as it always is on the market, by the compulsion to make profits and avoid losses, and thereby to keep costs low and to serve the highest demands of the consumers. Any police firm that suffers from gross inefficiency would soon go bankrupt and disappear.

One big problem a government police force must always face is: what laws really to enforce? Police departments are theoretically faced with the absolute injunction, “enforce all laws,” but in practice a limited budget forces them to allocate their personnel and equipment to the most urgent crimes. But the absolute dictum pursues them and works against a rational allocation of resources. On the free market, what would be enforced is whatever the customers are willing to pay for.

Suppose, for example, that Mr. Jones has a precious gem he believes might soon be stolen. He can ask, and pay for, round-the-clock police protection at whatever strength he may wish to work out with the police company. He might, on the other hand, also have a private road on his estate he doesn’t want many people to travel on—but he might not care very much about trespassers on that road. In that case, he won’t devote any police resources to protecting the road. As on the market in general, it is up to the consumer—and since all of us are consumers this means each person individually decides how much and what kind of protection he wants and is willing to buy. All that we have said about landowners’ police applies to private police in general.

Free-market police would not only be efficient, they would have a strong incentive to be courteous and to refrain from brutality against either their clients or their clients’ friends or customers. A private Central Park would be guarded efficiently in order to maximize park revenue, rather than have a prohibitive curfew imposed on innocent—and paying—customers. A free market in police would reward efficient and courteous police protection to customers and penalize any falling off from this standard. No longer would there be the current disjunction between service and payment inherent in all government operations, a disjunction which means that police, like all other government agencies, acquire their revenue, not voluntarily and competitively from consumers, but from the taxpayers coercively. In fact, as government police have become increasingly inefficient, consumers have been turning more and more to private forms of protection. We have already mentioned block or neighborhood protection.

There are also private guards, insurance companies, private detectives, and such increasingly sophisticated equipment as safes, locks, and closed-circuit TV and burglar alarms. The President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice estimated in 1969 that government police cost the American public $2.8 billion a year, while it spends $1.35 billion on private protection service and another $200 million on equipment, so that private protection expenses amounted to over half the outlay on government police. These figures should give pause to those credulous folk who believe that police protection is somehow, by some mystic right or power, necessarily and forevermore an attribute of State sovereignty.

[Excerpted from chapters 11 and 12 of For A New Liberty.]

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32 Comments

  1. Ben

    I’ll be honest ( as always), when I saw the headline, I immediately scoffed at the idea. But you make some well thought out points as to how ineffective our current system of policing is. For instance , the idea that lack of Police protection doesn’t necessarily lead to a dramatic increase in crime. This pairs nicely with the NRA’s tag line of “ when seconds count, Police are minutes away”. In fact, you make a very strong case for defunding the Police and allocating that money toward social workers, health and mental services.
    I also found it interesting that you used merchants, and people with estates as examples of how they would hire police protection. It was telling that you used people with money to illustrate your point. I initially thought what about poor home owners? The fact is that the safest communities are not the ones with the most police. Again, they are the ones with access to physical and mental health services, and educational opportunities.
    I am not sure of the answer, I don’t agree with a lot of what you say, but I do like the case that you laid out for systemic change in the way we police.

    • Dan Tyree

      The safest communities are where people are armed and they have a great police presence. My area is patrolled by the sheriffs department and we don’t have hood rats looting and burning. They are more worried about the people than the police

      • Ben

        Dan, thank you for admitting that police have little to do with keeping our citizens safe.
        Now, let’s start allocating some of the funds that go to militarize our police force and their bloated salaries to something that will decrease crime rates.

        • Dan Tyree

          Ben I didn’t say that the police doesn’t serve a purpose in curbing crime. It’s a combination of police and the 2nd amendment. So don’t try to quote me you moron. By the way, over 85% of shootings and committed by blacks. How’s that for racism asshole? About every time that I read about shootings and violence it’s hood rats up in the middle of it Now they are committing their share of mass murders

          • Joe S Bruder

            That’s a pretty bold (and racist) statement. Care to back it up with some real data? Or is that something you heard on Fox news. That’s the sort of crap that Ruh Limbaugh used to make up and throw out to hs audience to rile them up.

            A quick check on the internet says that 2/3 of mass shootings were perpetrated by whites (https://www.statista.com/statistics/476456/mass-shootings-in-the-us-by-shooter-s-race/). What other kinds of shootings might you be talking about and what are your sources?

          • Ben

            Dan, I combed the internet and I can’t find the statistic you quoted anywhere. The closest I could find for a 80% number is the Brookings institute, but it was was for % of gun deaths;
            “black population, where only 14 percent of gun deaths are suicides but 82 percent are homicides:”.
            Even if your statistic was correct, which I can find no evidence of that being the case, it would be 85% of shootings where the shooter was caught.
            Please back up your statistic with a source or we will just chalk it up to another one of your racist and bigoted rants.

        • thinkr2

          Ben, some of your comments cannot be replied to either.
          .
          You stated that 85% of deaths of black people are homicides, but you didn’t say how many were committed by blacks. Please come back and tell us that statistic.
          .
          Joe, depending on how you count Hispanics (I went to HS with a LOT of very white Hispanics), whites are slightly over-represented in mass shootings or significantly under-represented. The numbers are pretty closely proportional to their share of the population. The problem is NOT that they are white.

    • Joe S Bruder

      It isn’t the headline that is so far-fetched, it’s the ridiculous assertion of abolishing the public sector. Our country was founded because EVERYTHING was the property of the King, and he essentially charged accordingly.

      Privatizing public property just transfers wealth to the rich from the poor. Want to go to the store? Pay the tolls between your house and the grocery, or pay to use the sidewalk. Your house or apartment becomes a jail that you can’t leave unless you have money..Want to see Grand Canyon? Sorry, it’s Exxon-Mobil property now, and is currently being used as a landfill. Of course, only the richest people would be able to drive there, because Jeff Bezos owns all the highways.

      Here in New England, every town has a “commons” where people in times past could pen up their sheep at night. The entire government was created to manage public holdings, for the public good. NOBODY is calling for complete abolition of the public sector, unless that’s the newest Republican KKKleptocrat platform…

      • Dan Tyree

        Ben perhaps my numbers were off but not by much. Black on black crime is a national disgrace. But after decades of being told that they need the government to wipe their asses and that the world owes them a living, I can understand how that many of them have no pride My niece is a teacher and she told of black kids being told that they are acting white by trying to do well in school. Maybe if more of them “acted white “ a lot less would be dying violently and going to prison

        • Ben

          Dan,
          Please supply the numbers. It isn’t hard to back up your opinions with facts and statistics. Hell, the trump admin even used “alternative facts” to bolster their lies. You are welcome to do so also.
          If your niece thinks like you do, maybe she shouldn’t be a teacher. The classroom is no place for bigots.

          • Dan Tyree

            Ben my niece happens to be married to a black man. A very dark skinned black man. And we are proud to have him in our family. I could have easily married a black girl. I had a crush on one in school. It’s all pink inside

        • Joe S Bruder

          So, you admit you just made up the numbers?

      • Dan Tyree

        Joe what the hell are you ranting about? So some people are rich and others aren’t. I really don’t give a shit. I’m only entitled to obtain what I work for. And you commie bastards are quick to spout KKK about republicans. Your party started that organization. And except for some small fringe groups, there’s not much Klan anymore. Now that senator Robert Byrd isn’t around to recruit anymore. White power!!!!!’n

        • Ben

          Dan, white power? What does that mean? You will soon be a minority in your own Country. No wonder you are so angry, you are powerless to stop the inevitable. America will soon be a predominately black and brown country and Christianity will be an antiquated belief system of the past.

          Regardless of which party started the KKK, insecure white people with a superiority complex were always the members. Which begs the question, to what chapter do you belong? The good thing is soon whites will be the minority and your way of thinking will be relegated to the scrap yard of history.

          • Dan Tyree

            Ben I think that it’s funny how you leftist morons think that we are worried about people of color becoming a majority. If and when that happens are you hoping that white people will become slaves? But if they’re going to become a majority they should stop killing each other and killing their children in drive by shootings. I pay attention to the news. Most of that shit involves blacks. So if they want to lead, perhaps they should start policing themselves. Idiots like you and joe bruder are race baiting assholes that like to stir the pot. I also have known a lot of black and brown people that would be better in the majority than your white commiecrats

        • Ben

          Dan,
          You sure seem worried about something… collecting guns, preparing for civil war… you and your white power buddies have a lot to worry about. With the Sawnson Heir as your megaphone and trump as your cult leader, what could go wrong?
          I will just remind you again, republicans have only won the popular vote ONCE in the last 40 years. There is no indication that republicans have a platform to turn that losing streak around. So… better buy some more guns!

          • Dan Tyree

            Ben I’ve been a gun collector for years. Long before there was any talk about a race war. I’m a hunter and sportsman. In the 1090’s when I got my first concealed carry permit I never thought about blacks or any other group. But commiecrats have stirred the pot and are using divide and conquer tactics and trying to shame us into believing that we are racist. I posted white power just to piss you off. And it worked. Lol. You poor little snowflake By the way, a lot of people of color don’t pay attention to you idiots

          • Dan Tyree

            Ben only a fool would want a civil war. But when mobs come into neighborhoods and threaten people we might not have a choice. You race baiting asshole stir the pot with your constant rants about slavery and Jim Crow. I don’t apologize for any of that shit. It’s been brewing for a long time. So if nobody starts shit there won’t be any And I posted white power to piss you off. It worked

        • Ben

          Dan,
          I’m not pissed off. You being a racist bigot doesn’t impact me in the slightest. I know your true colors. I’m just glad that you dropped the dog whistle and picked up the megaphone. That way no one is confused as to where you stand. Larry also seems to be ok with your vile racist rants.
          It’s comforting knowing Your niece’s kids are gunna be voting the Democratic ticket when they are old enough to vote , just another stake in the Republican coffin.

          • Dan Tyree

            Ben thanks for the compliment. Being called racist and bigoted is an honor That’s the way of libturds in the commiecrat party. If we speak about the proven crime of many blacks we get hit. I also don’t spare whites who commits crimes. But you assholes never speak out about the burning and looting. Or Trump supporters being attacked and beaten. We have the right to support anyone that we choose. Cult or not, as you bastards on the left like to call us. The actions of antifa thugs and BLM can cause more racism than not. So take your race card and shove it up your ass

          • Dan Tyree

            Wrong Ben. My niece and her husband are strong republicans. And there’s a movement among our “cult “ to train our kids. And thankfully there’s a lot of great colleges like Liberty and Hillsdale and several others that teach young people the TRUTH

        • Ben

          Dan, why do none of your posts have a reply button on them?
          Why are you so fixated on shoving things up my ass? It seems like you have some suppressed desires. But, as a progressive liberal, I support your right to explore your sexuality.
          Now, you may call out “criminal whites”, but I haven’t seen you post anything about it. The fact that you are proud to be a bigoted racist sums up the cult you’re in. The fact that Larry endorses your rants goes to show that all it takes for evil to gain traction is for good men to do nothing.

          Me a snow flake? Never been called that… at least not to my face. I’m not the one lashing out, afraid of the others, collecting guns, preparing for war, being offended at things other people do or say. I will call you and Larry out for your biased bullshit, but I’m not a snowflake. I’ve served in the military and as a Urban First Responder. None of my men have EVER called me a snowflake. Just some wanna be keyboard warrior.

          • Dan Tyree

            Ben do you have a problem with me owning guns? I haven’t shot anyone. But I would to protect me and mine. And I don’t give a fuck what color that the perp is. About my sexuality. I’m not queer. I enjoy your rants. You said something about being a public servant. If it’s law enforcement you are in the wrong field. You wouldn’t protect the public. You’re more about political correctness and kissing ass

        • Joe S Bruder

          A comment on some of your racist comments below: White people will not always be in the majority. At some point, whites will be outnumbered by non-whites. Do you think everyone having guns will be a good idea then? There is a fairly large number of whites that are poor too – at some point, the laws that Republicans are aiming at poor blacks will start to affect poor whites, and as whites become a minority, blacks will start to gain political power. Where do you think you’re going to be then? Do you think how ever many guns you have will protect you when you’re in the minority, and the police have the power to harass you, charge you with various crimes, then take your weapons?

          You are advocating for a system of laws that is not fair to certain groups of people. Be careful what you wish for – it may be you on the wrong end of the stick someday. If you were smart (and I know that’s a dubious proposition), you would be fighting for laws that give everyone equal opportunities, equal access to the law, respect, and opportunities to make the most of their lives. We need a government that promotes equality, not a fascist government that keeps people divided and fighting each other like Trump created. It would be in your future best interest, and at the same time, it’s really the right thing to do.

  2. Florida Phil

    Essentially we will end up with gangs running cities – not much different than what is currently happening given the fondness of Democrats for anarchy by defunding police and disarming court systems.

  3. Ratwrangler

    Privatizing the police and removing public ownership of all properties has been done before. It was called ‘feudalism’. Within that system, the Lords ran and owned everything, and the Serfs worked for them. No serf owned their own land. If we privatize all the aspects of government, the wealthy and powerful would create their own little ‘dukedoms’, increasing their holdings and power as much as they can, with no interference from any non-existent government that was intended to make life fair for all citizens here, not just the wealthy. Sadly, for the last 50 years, our elected leaders have done little but increase the wealth and power of the richest 5%, by moving jobs overseas, deregulating financial industries, and making all employment ‘at will’ in all but one state in the union. All of these moves clearly harmed the working class, and increased the holdings and power of the corporations and the wealthy.

  4. Bob M

    Government power comes from the consent of the people. That gives it far more authority than any specific group. One needs only to go research the early days of policing in New York City itself to see why privatizing of police is as good an idea as privatizing the military.

    What would the source of such private parties be? Easy: Their employers. Ergo, one would effectively be diversifying the “law” these “departments” would be enforcing.

    This is a truly horrible idea.

    Imagine going from one area, say, Wall St, where certain laws were considered more important, to Times Square where those very laws could be considered irrelevant. You could be arrested, and ergo prosecuted in one for something the other ignores.

    The natural end of the trend would be a hodgepodge of enforcements one would need to know what to do where and when in order to not run afoul of these “authorities.”

    And that’s just the enforcement end: What about Courts? What about Corrections? Privatize them as well?

    He’s not only arguing for Chaos, he’s arguing for capricious enforcement. May want to go take a look at the concept of “Equal Protection.”

    One last point: His errors start in at least the third paragraph when the author states that Times Square is provided very little police protection. WHAT?! Has he EVER EVEN BEEN TO TIMES SQUARE? With the exception of when it was emptied due to pandemic restrictions, there’s more cops per square foot than anywhere I’ve ever seen. Regular patrol, Hercules teams, plainclothes. You don’t know how many.

    Idiot.

    But it sounds good, right? Erudite. Well Reasoned. Crap. Peel the onion and you get to the rotten layers of his argument.

  5. TLC

    Very boneheaded idea on many levels.

  6. William Hogsten

    A lot of good comments. I personally saw the devastation that was caused when states started privatizing the prison or correctional system. It went to hell in a hand basket. All to save a few bucks which has proven in the long run, costing more.
    There is no easy way out of this situation now. Can it or should it be fixed? Hard choices for local and stated governments. When people, the average Joe, on the street has had enough there may come change, but the average Joe’s lack of confidence in the voting systems may cause the the blister to bust. It’s going to ugly. Stay safe my friends.

  7. LEO Mama

    Okay, I’ve got to weigh in on this one…

    My son is an LEO. The small city he currently works for doesn’t even offer medical/dental/vision insurance – yes, I know it’s not “owed” to him or anybody – and he makes $14/hour BEFORE taxes, which is a pay increase from his last PD. He’s willing to take a bullet to save the life of a crackhead, acts as marriage/family/drug/drama counselor – yes, he’s had training, although not to the extent of a social worker – and personally checks on elderly citizens every day to make sure they’re ok. Often, the very same people who call him for help are the ones who scream obscenities at him while he’s there because THEY called and he responded to that call. He has saved the life of a four-month old who was choking. He has found the body of a man who hung himself. He has begged people to go to the hospital when they were seriously injured because he knew they needed medical attention, but they refused because of something that they were worried they’d get in trouble for.

    Why does he do this? Obviously, he’s not trying to get rich. He does it because he’s a servant to his community. Because he wants to make his corner of the world a little better. That’s why the kids who live in the projects shout out his name and beg him to play basketball with him – and he gets out of his patrol car and plays with them. While in full uniform, including Kevlar and weapons, he runs races with them. He stops and prays with the drug addict prostitute who’s desperately trying to break free of her life and straighten up. Today they cheer him, but tomorrow, they could very well take his life because the world we live in, too many people view life as disposable.

    So “bloated salaries”? Personally, I don’t think ANY salary is too high for someone who does all of this day in and day out, and willingly leaves his family EVERY DAY knowing that he may never return. Ask the mother of that four-month old baby how much my son is “worth”. Who pays for all of this? Whatever the answer, I will tell you it is not enough because it’s impossible to place a dollar value on human life – LEO, crackhead, child, or prostitute. Maybe if it was privatized, he would be able to afford to rent a 1BR apartment or a small trailer instead of only being able to afford renting a room in a house owned by someone else. (And for those people who think the police should be completely defunded: The next time you’re in trouble and need help, please don’t call 911. Keep that line open for people who actually appreciate our first responders.) Let’s not forget that our society DOES have the power to completely dismantle law enforcement agencies. To make that a reality, all everyone needs to do is obey the law.

    • thinkr2

      LEO Mama, your son sounds like a great guy.
      .
      Not all cities are small cities. Small does help. A lot.
      .
      Not all cops are great guys.
      .
      There are several professions that have higher work-place fatalities than police. Some get paid more, some get paid less.
      .
      Your son sounds like a great cop. Too bad there aren’t more like him. Many more.

  8. Frank Stetson

    Dan has to trot out the ole “got a black in the family,” and his knowledge that black girls have the same human parts, sex parts that is, as white humans. Classic defense of someone who views black and white as different.

    Chances are you can replace the black in your statistics with low income and arrive at even higher percentages and totals as all the poor white trash gets folded in.

    Chances are if we could eradicate systemic racism, these statistics would become more positive.

    I do a lot of research in genealogy. The other day I noted draft cards have a note written at 45-degree angle in the lower left corner. It says: “tear off this corner if person is of African descent.” I was floored. First, only whites worked the registration, only whites saw this. If blacks saw their card, the corner and message were just missing. What kind of mind develops that process. A man like Dan no doubt pleading not a racist. And no white ever said a thing that I can find.

    Tell me systemic racism does not exist. That was the federal government doing that one.

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