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Among the common arguments against privatizing policing services, one common repudiation is that it would leave the poor under-protected. A security and protection service based on direct billing or a subscription service would exclude individuals of meager means. Raising concerns that a two-tiered system of justice would arise (Benson,1990, p.309)[1]. Under a publicly funded criminal justice system, a “two-tiered” system already exists. Historically, poor neighborhoods have been either under policed or provide an inferior quality of policing services. After years of receiving a low-quality service, the natural consequence is that the residents of these lower-income communities will grow to distrust the police. Justifying the provision of state policing services does not stand up to closer scrutiny. If anything suffers from many of the market failures that critics theoretically attribute to a privatized system.

Many of the over warmed arguments that a for-profit system only stands to skew incentives. The assumption being that firms will desire to keep the costs of production down to increase profits. This notion conjures images of the inadequately trained, middle-aged, and overweight mall security guards making just over minimum wage(Benson, 1990, p.301) [2]. However, few people realize that in light of the growth of the private security industry over the years specialization has created a diverse continuum of security services. Even over thirty years ago there was a vast range of salaries in the field of private security. Some agents even earning $100,000 annual at managerial positions (Benson, 1990, p. 303) [3]. Different types of security would require various levels of credentials and training. Meaning that to a certain degree that a private security detail with armed guards and the security agent at the local mall provides two distinctly different services. Hence, the differential in compensation. It would also be overkill to put the highly trained and combat seasoned armed guard in the security detail for a mall. As the mall has invested in a multi-million dollar security system and cameras (Benson, 1990, p.302) [4]. Reducing the need for such high caliber human capital. If anything does not demonstrate underinvestment in security services, but a high degree of investment in technology. Having a state-of-the-art security system and an experienced arm guard would be enough more than a misallocation of resources. In other words, the firm would be wasting money. Especially when the aptitude of an armed robbery is much lower in a strip mall when compared to a bank.

State-funded policing services are insensitive to the profit-loss mechanism, misaligning the incentives of operations away from efficiency. From a public choice standpoint, the institutional incentives for policing services have been profoundly perverted. Government-funded departments are constantly in competition with other adjacent bureaus for budgetary allocations. Creating the need to demonstrate a demand for the services provided by the agency (Benson, 1990, p. 94-95) [5]. Those in law enforcement keep the demand for their services high through advocating and influencing policy (Benson, 1990, p.109) [6]. Police unions operate as muscular lobbying organizations. For example, police unions funding anti-marijuana campaigns to thwart legalization attempts. Why? Because keeping the sale and consumption of cannabis criminalized (one of the most commonly used illegal drugs) will help solidify job security. Budgets are determined based on need. The publicly funded police respond to crime on a first-come first-service basis leaving many incidences of crime unaddressed until it is too late (Benson, 1990, p.137) [7]. This method while not wholly intentional does help facilitate larger budgets towards various local policing bureaus. A more reactive approach towards crime versus a preventive approach tends to reward the local agency. This is because budgets are predicated on crime statistics (Benson. 1990) [8]. All of these concerns make it kind of ironic that there is so much distrust of private enterprise in handling policing. The claims that private firms will cut corners and “fabricate” offenses to increase profits (Benson, 1990, p.303) [9], when much of this behavior seems to model what is done by state police agencies.

The postulation that a for-profit policing system would benefit the rich, does not take into account that the poor take on most of the costs of the current system. It goes beyond just the misaligned incentives of the public police agencies. A woman living below the poverty line is significantly more likely to be raped (Benson, 1990, p.310) [10]. While this fact may not prove causation is qualitatively indicative of a lack of protection under the current system. Due to higher tax rates in affluent neighborhoods, there are more resources for patrols and crime investigations (Benson, 1990, p.309) [11]. Demonstrating a disparity between the quality of service between poor citizens and rich ones. In a private arrangement, the state would not hold a monopoly on the production and policing services. Allowing less affluent citizens the ability to form their firms and organizations to provide policing for their community (Benson, 1990, p.308-309) [12]. If firms do not provide affordable services the economically disadvantaged can form their institutions. Something that would not be an option for government-provided policing due to political opposition. A prime example of this was measures taken against the Black Panthers’ neighborhood patrols back in the 1960s.

Many pundits could respond by mentioning the difficulty for disaffected communities lacks the organization to form their institutions. However, if we truly treat policing and law enforcement services as a purchasable commodity this collective action problem may soon dissipate. Charitable foundations can be formed to provide communities or individuals with free private security and protection services. Security services can also be gifted on an individual basis through gift cards for private security services. The idea of transferring security services to another person either as a gift or through charity was influenced by an adjacent concept practice in medieval Iceland. In this medieval society like most during the “dark ages” there was no central government. Most adjudication took place within the context of customary law. Meaning that most infractions were resolved through restitution, mimicking modern-day Tort law. If a poor man could not afford to pay his restitution for an offense, a wealthy member of the community could pay it on his behalf. Treating this obligation as a transferrable right (Benson, 1990, p.307) [13]. If historically, the obligation to pay restitution can be transferrable, why cannot policing services also be transferrable? Beyond being able to give such services charitably or as a gift, couldn’t individuals also sell, less, or otherwise transfer unused services? We could even set up private voucher programs for poor communities to receive funds to patronize any security firm of their choosing. All of these possibilities from a prima facie standpoint, appear to be better than the present system.

2 thoughts on “Privatizing The Police Could Help The Poor

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