Privatize The Police?

Private police   The following is a Facebook post from Chris Slavens, Chris and I have often disagreed on issues, especially concerning the police. This post was another of those times. However, I find Chris to be an intelligent and thoughtful young man, and willing to explain his views. I have his permission to post this and have invited him to follow and respond to comments. I hope that he will. The photo by the way was my editorial comment on his views. I will save further comments following the post.   From Chris Slavens

A few years ago I predicted that a police accountability movement would emerge from the then-libertarian Tea Party movement. As it turned out, the various anti-establishment Tea Party factions were largely seduced and hijacked by very mainstream, pro-establishment neoconservatives, but the libertarian core became a movement of its own, mingled with related anti-establishment movements like the Occupy protests, and grew to be a major influence on not only major-party politics, but also youth culture. Tyranny is so 2008. Now we’ve got people rioting in the streets over police killings, and although statist race-baiters are doing a pretty good job of tapping into and exploiting their anger, much like neocons tapped into Tea Party anger and used it to revive the GOP, if you look past all of the ulterior motives and racial butthurt, there is a core of activists who recognize that the socialized, militarized police forces are becoming more violent and less accountable. They kill more often, for sillier reasons (what’s stupider than raiding a private house to find and seize plants?) and literally get away with murder more often than their “friendly neighborhood police officer” predecessors.

I recognize these facts and am upset about them, too. Something must be done to put a stop to government violence, and let the writers and enforcers of unreasonable laws know that their aggression against peaceful people will not be tolerated by our generation. However, many of you are going about this in exactly the wrong way, in my opinion. You are criticizing and condemning government police, but not offering an alternative. You’re creating enemies instead of winning allies. Of course cops are going to hate you and your cause if they believe they’ll end up unemployed, or worse. Of course their friends and family members are going to view you as the enemy. And it’s your fault for not convincing them otherwise. Stop bashing them, and start explaining how peaceful alternatives to the current system would benefit not only society as a whole, but also the officers themselves.

Abolishing all government police forces and allowing the free market to replace them with private, competitive, accountable security firms would be doing good cops a favor. It would be better for their supporters, too. There is a demand for security services; everyone wants to be able to call for help in an emergency. But currently most of us have to call the socialized, government-backed “public option,” just as we reluctantly send our kids to public schools even though there are superior (and pricey) private options available. We’re forced to pay for government services whether we use them or not, so most of us settle for them and never imagine what it would be like to shop around for security services in the same way that we shop around for TV packages today. You think Comcast is bad? Imagine if there was no DirecTV or Dish, no other options; imagine that you were required to pay taxes to Comcast in exchange for whatever quality of service they felt like giving you. Would it be better? Of course not. Neither is a one-size-fits-all government police system better than a voluntary, competitive system with many different companies competing for your business.

Good cops want to help people. They want to protect peaceful people and subdue aggressors. But just as teachers who work for government schools face all kinds of bureaucratic interference that makes it difficult for them to do their jobs, good cops answer to bad politicians who require them to enforce increasingly intrusive, unjust laws. Suddenly, the young cop who dreamed of taking down murderers and rapists finds himself locking perfectly decent people in cages for smoking a plant. Suddenly, he is the aggressor instead of the protector, kicking in doors and ripping apart families and even killing people who never harmed anyone. Perhaps he falls for the state’s propaganda and convinces himself that he is making the world a better place by caging non-criminals. Or perhaps his conscience is troubled, but he weighs it against all of the good that his position allows him to do, and decides it’s worth it. Or perhaps he quits — but it’s hard to quit a job after years of education, training, and experience that would be useless in another field.

But what if there were no government police forces for these good cops to get mixed up with? What if they could make decent money doing all of the good deeds — responding to robberies, solving murders, protecting their neighbors, etc. — without having to do any of the bad? What if they answered directly to paying customers instead of a corrupt, political chain of command? What if they were free to continue doing the same work, in the same community, for a different firm if their boss asked them to do wrong? It wouldn’t be appealing to bad cops, the ones who get off on bullying others, the ones who use their position to steal and rape and exploit, but for anyone who truly wants to earn a living by protecting their neighbors, a market-driven alternative to the government police system would be a dream come true.

Your job, as a proponent of a stateless society, is to show them this dream. Help them imagine what a lifetime of indoctrination makes unimaginable. Be positive, peaceful, persuasive. If you can win over the good cops and their supporters — even a fraction of them — we just might be able to avoid a civil war.

5 Comments on "Privatize The Police?"

  1. Frank Knotts says:

    Chris, while I appreciate your recognition that those who see the police as the enemy are actually adding to the problems, I am not sure you have thought through your own solution.
    You suggest doing away completely with all government law enforcement in favor of a privatized system.
    While I too am a supply and demand idealist myself, I am not convinced this would work in favor of a more peaceful existence for many.
    The photo I chose sums it up pretty well.
    In your solution, would people first have to have their credit card run when making a 911 call? What if they were over extended? Would they then have to suffer the home invasion with no hope of protection? Would there even be a 911 system?
    In your solution only those who could afford protection would receive protection. In my opinion this would lead to more situations such as Ferguson and Baltimore, since in these poorer communities there would be “NO” law enforcement, or we would see the rise of “war lord” types of protection.
    You envision paid forces that would be free of the corruption we see in some police officers now. But isn’t it just as likely that we would see even more? Isn’t it possible that the competition created between these forces would lead to wars between these forces?
    Isn’t it possible that the poorest among us would become even easier targets of crime, since the criminals would know that they could not afford to retain law enforcement protection? And would this not also spell the end of all law? After all, a private company could decide which laws they would enforce, or charge more for enforcing capital crimes. Maybe I can afford protection from robbery, but not from murder.
    Could my home be foreclosed on if I could not afford to pay? How long before someone thought of universal Law care?
    Oh wait that is what we have now.
    Chris, I think we agree that there are problems with law enforcement. We agree there are good cops and bad cops. We disagree on the solution.
    Instead of rendering the poor more vulnerable to crime, we need heightened training and more accountability for those officers who break the law.
    As for your references to pot, the officers are doing the job they are mandated by legislators, if you don’t like the law, work to change that law, which we are seeing more of, even though I don’t agree with legalization, I will respect that as well.

  2. Chris Slavens says:

    That’s the great divide between socialism and capitalism. What happens to the people who can’t pay? And so we end up with public options for education, healthcare, and even groceries. Or in this case, a socialized police system that everyone is forced to pay into.

    I think it’s important to note when talking about hypothetical alternatives, especially stateless ones, that there wouldn’t be one system. Certainly not nationwide. So I don’t pretend to have a perfect solution, but I think there are a number of possible solutions. Some better than others, maybe, or perhaps some better in different settings (i.e., Wilmington vs. Gumboro). Realistically, most of us don’t call the police very often, so I think you’d see affordable insurance-like contracts. Maybe I’d pay a few bucks a month for basic emergency service, and a rich guy would pay for an officer to drive by once an hour. I’d expect competitors to constantly innovate, offer deals, etc., just like other businesses, so the market would evolve, probably in unpredictable ways. If you call for help and no one shows up, if an officer mistreats someone, if the service just sucks, the company’s reputation suffers. Competition forces them to get it right. But with socialized police, you’re dealing with the only game in town. Maybe you have a good experience with them, but if not, there’s not much you can do about it. Even worse, socialized police forces typically pressure people into respecting and supporting them. This is odd. Can you imagine if Walmart tried to guilt you into being a loyal customer and portrayed you as hateful, unpatriotic, or a drug user if you honestly weren’t satisfied with their service? Of course not, yet police and their supporters do this all the time. But if you focus on offering good service and treating people well, they’ll support and respect you. If they don’t, it might be your fault.

    I think you’d also see volunteering, especially in rural areas. Although the state has gotten involved in volunteer fire companies, so it’s not a perfect comparison, there would probably be similar organizations: Central to the community, manned by volunteers, respected and voluntarily funded.

    So although the problem of what happens to those who can’t pay is one of the great challenges of capitalism, I don’t think many people would be at the mercy of criminals with no one to help them any more than many Americans starved before food stamps. I trust the free market, with it’s many competing options, to do a better job of anything than the government monopoly’s untouchable public options.

  3. delacrat says:


    Your “intelligent and thoughtful young man,” never explains how privatizing the police would un-write the “unreasonable laws”, that form the rationale for police brutality.
    Nor does he recognize that privately funded election campaigns privatizes the “writers of unreasonable laws” therefore, effectively privatizes government as a whole, of which, our ” ‘socialized’ police system” is a sub-set. His privatized police system already exists.

  4. I can think of several problems with the proposed system. We already have polled together to form a system that hires police. They will not become magically better if the system is “voluntary” contributions over taxes. People who want proactive security are free to hire it. I would contend that we are better off with a universal system because we are seeking to provide a universal service. Everyone except criminals benefit from a society that is ordered. Some places in Nigeria have the system that you describe. It is not good for overall livability.

    One, crimes would not be solved at the rate we have now because most police forces would not invest in detectives. That would be an expensive extra which most people could not afford. People would guess and retaliate just like the old days. Feuds would return.

    Two, most of the time our police do a fine job protecting our Constitutional rights. They are trained professionals. I think Blackwater proved in Iraq how well that goes when you contract security out.

    Three, the system of accountability would be haphazard at best. 95% of the time, our system works quite well when an abuse of power is pointed out.

    Four, what happens when you travel? You subscribe to a police force at home and your employer has one, but what when you vacation or go to a funeral? What happens when you have a stop over? These are not insurmountable issues, someone would develop a reciprocal network, but it would never be universal like we have now and talk about expensive.

    Five, if you lose your job, do you lose your police?

    Six, who do you appeal to if someone else’s police force abuses you? They don’t care because you are not their customer.

    Seven, how will you know your rights when there are 50,000 different standards?

  5. Frank Knotts says:

    David, all good points. I have had this discussion with Chris on other occasions.
    Chris, the idea of privatizing law enforcement can really only lead to two places in my view.
    One is anarchy, a Mad Max world of war lords where people are at the mercy of those who can afford “protection”.
    The other is as you work out the kinks in your idea, you find ways to “insure” the safety of those who cannot afford it themselves, you lead right back to where we are today.
    Think about how we got here. There was a time when people fended for themselves, then they pulled together in communities, they organized your idea of volunteers to fight of bandits and such.
    Problem was, sometimes the volunteers wouldn’t show up if they felt the risk too high, or not their concern. So they hired people to do the job. which has led us here.
    And while response times very, when you call, someone shows up.
    I think your real underlying issue is the fact that the police enforce drug laws which you find to be unnecessary.
    Don’t take the airplane apart because the toilet is broken, fix the toilet.

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