Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Support Your Local Private Peace Officer: He Has A Dangerous Job

Peace Officer Down: The aftermath of the fatal shooting of Alvin Kinney in Houston.

At the end of every shift, police officers call their loved ones to assure them that they “made it through another day without injury,” observes a recently published paean to the police. “From 2000 until 2014, over 700 officers were unable to make that call because they did not survive their tour of duty on that last day.”

Alvin Kinney didn’t make it home at the end of his shift on February 12. The 60-year-old officer, who had served in a very dangerous job for more than 20 years, was fatally shot trying to prevent an armed robbery in Houston. His death was mourned by his family and loved ones but did not precipitate an outpouring of officially mandated grief. This is because
Mr. Kinney was not a member of the State’s enforcement caste. He was a private peace officer employed by the Brinks armored truck company, where he faced far greater risks defending private property than are confronted by government-employed police who enforce the edicts of the political class.

While law enforcement is statistically much safer than depicted by police unions and related pressure groups, police officers are sometimes killed or severely injured in the line of duty, and occasionally some of them do so in genuinely heroic defense of innocent people threatened by criminal violence. The same is true of private peace officers who provide security services through market mechanisms, rather than a state-imposed monopoly. 

Fallen hero: Alvin Kinney.

During the same fifteen-year-period in which roughly 700 police officers weren’t able to make the end-of-shift phone call, at least 1863 private security officers were killed while carrying out a contractual commitment to protect others against criminal violence. 

Rick McCann, founder and CEO of Matthews, North Carolina-based Private Officer International (POI), explains that the toll might be considerably higher: Prior to the founding of his organization about a decade ago, nobody bothered keeping track of on-duty deaths of private peace officers.

“What we found in the first year is that the Department of Labor wasn’t listing those incidents as on-duty deaths of security officers, but was including them as workplace fatalities involving `laborers,’” McCann commented in a telephone interview. “Many employers don’t describe them as `on-duty’ deaths, or report how they occurred. They’re simply reported as `employee deaths.’ And media coverage of those incidents tends to be inconsistent. For example, we’ll often find a report of an incident in which a security guard is wounded, but have to do our own follow-up to find out if he survived.” 

Every police department keeps careful records of on-duty deaths, each of which is prominently reported in the media and included in the FBI’s annual report. Thus far, McCann’s organization is the only one seeking to compile a definitive record of on-duty deaths of private security personnel, chiefly by data-mining media coverage and collecting first-hand accounts from people in the security industry. Their research, which – for whatever this may be worth -- is considered authoritative by the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, indicates that violent on-duty deaths involving private security personnel happen much more frequently than similar incidents involving government law enforcement officers. 

On May 11, as part of “National Law Enforcement Week,” the FBI released its preliminary findings regarding line-of-duty deaths by police officers in 2015. Headlines generated by the report focused on the fact that “felonious killings” of police officers increased by nearly 89 percent from 2013-2014. Less attention was given to the fact that 27 police officers died violently in 2013 – the lowest figure in 35 years. Last year’s figure -- 51 violent line-of-duty deaths – is slightly higher than the number killed in accidents (44). Interestingly, last year more police officers died in automobile accidents (28) than were feloniously killed during the previous year.   According to POI, so far this year there have been 21 confirmed on-duty deaths of private security officers.

“It’s true that an on-duty police officer dies, on average, every 53 hours in this country,” allows McCann, who retains his certification as a law enforcement officer in Virginia and North Carolina. “Most of those deaths happen as a result of traffic accidents, or issues arising from training and physical conditioning” – such as self-inflicted injuries, heart attacks, or strokes. In the private security field, by way of contrast, more than eighty percent of the on-duty fatalities are “a result of traumatic, confrontational injury” inflicted by someone committing an act of criminal violence. 

Not all of those on-the-job deaths came about in circumstances calling to mind Horatius at the bridge. Some of them did, however—and yet few, if any, of these privately employed peace officers, whose sole mission is to protect persons and property, rather than to enforce the will of the political class, was publicly commended for acting in defense of the innocent.

Those deaths were not treated as occasions of public mourning, or marked with pious editorials demanding that we prostrate ourselves in reverent grief over the sacrifice of a hero, even though few things are more genuinely heroic or honorable than keeping a solemn promise to defend another person, even at the risk of one’s life. 

Police officers occasionally act in protection of persons and property, despite the fact that they have no enforceable duty to provide that service. This is true even when they see an innocent man being hacked to death by a knife-wielding psychopath a few feet away -- as Joseph Lozito discovered when he was nearly killed while subduing a murderer on a New York subway while an armed NYPD officer cowered behind a partition.
Wounded while subduing a murderer: Joseph Lozito.

Private security personnel, and the organizations that employ them, have no purpose other than providing that protection on behalf of paying customers. Police departments, on the other hand, exist to serve the interests of those who extract taxes, rather than those forced to surrender them. 

This role is vividly demonstrated whenever riots coalesce. As mobs loot and burn private property, grim-faced, armor-clad police form phalanxes to protect their own headquarters, City Hall, and other outposts of the tax-devouring class.

Beginning in New York City more than three decades ago, many urban police agencies adopted the “Broken Windows” theory of law enforcement. This approach emphasizes aggressive enforcement of “quality of life” ordinances – such as the cigarette taxes that provided a rationale for the fatal arrest of Eric Garner -- as a way of establishing “order” and deterring violent crime. 

“Social psychologists and police officers tend to agree that if a window in a building is broken and is left unrepaired, all the rest of the windows will soon be broken,” asserted James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling in their seminal March 1982 essay on the subject. “Untended property becomes fair game for people out for fun or plunder, and even for people who ordinarily would not dream of doing such things and who would probably consider themselves law-abiding.” On that same principle, the authors continued, “`untended’ behavior also leads to the breakdown of community controls.”

Most public officials who invoke (and, to some extent, misrepresent) the “Broken Windows” concept seek to beguile the public into believing that liberty is the product of order, when the reverse is true: Order exists where property rights are secure. Wilson and Kelling admit that this objective is best pursued by applying “the standards of the neighborhood” – that is, the informal consensus among peaceful property owners -- rather than “the rules of the state” – the pronouncements of people who claim a monopoly on aggressive force.
When dealing with “disorderly” elements, Wilson and Kelling continue, “citizen action without substantial police involvement” is not only practical, but preferable.

“Until well into the nineteenth century, volunteer watchmen, not policemen, patrolled their communities to keep order,” explain the authors. “They did so, by and large, without taking the law into their hands – without, that is, punishing persons or using force. Their presence deterred disorder or alerted the community to disorder that could not be deterred.” 

In what we are all but required by law to call the “Post-9/11 Era,” law enforcement, acting for the supposed purpose of maintaining order,  has become unabashedly militarized and conspicuous to the point of ubiquity. The totems of regimentation and state “authority” are, to invoke Bastiat’s dichotomy, what can be seen. However, civilized order, meaning the protection of property, is actually maintained through the all but unseen efforts of private security officers. They play that dangerous role unprotected by institutional privileges, and fully encumbered with personal liability for negligent or criminal acts.
Dale Brown of Detroit's very successful Threat Management Center.

To offer one small but significant illustration: Last year, according to “loss prevention” data compiled by the Florida-based Hayes International security firm, there were more than two million incidents in which private security officers intervened to prevent theft. McCann estimates that this led to the recovery of more than $1 billion in property. 

As is the case in any other industry, there are some unreliable and irresponsible people in the private security field. Many security operatives who meet that description are off-duty police officers who can’t overcome the privileged mindset that comes with a state-granted license to commit aggressive violence.  

McCann points out that there is a growing tendency for private security organizations to assume a “law enforcement role,” a trend that should be reversed immediately. While specialists who investigate crimes against property and apprehend people suspected of committing them will always be needed, law enforcement – as distinct from protection of property rights – is a practice that is unsuited to a free society. Rather than encouraging private peace officers to mimic the behavior of cops, we should demand that government-employed police – to the extent we countenance their continued existence – behave like their betters in the private sector. 

When private security operatives fail to perform their contracted services, the market will punish them and reward their competitors. When they commit an act of criminal violence, they can’t take refuge in “qualified immunity,” invoke their “Garrity” privileges, or wrap themselves in a special, union-composed, occupation-specific “bill of rights.” They’re liable to prosecution on the same terms as any other citizen. The companies that employ corrupt or abusive security operatives can’t deflect inquiries into their conduct by describing the question as a “personnel matter,” then carrying out an internal investigation designed to exonerate the officers. 

Private security agencies cannot claim or exercise the ability to retaliate against their critics. They can’t force the public at large to pay for their services, or impose fines, imprisonment, or physical injury on those who want to un-subscribe from them. They cannot detain or abuse people on the basis of suspicion. They can't inflict summary punishment for "contempt of cop."

To provide the service for which they are paid, private security personnel must put their client’s interests ahead of their own safety, and avoid violating the rights of the innocent. And when they fail, they go out of business. Government law enforcement agencies, by way of contrast, aren't subject to market discipline. Those who preside over them react to failure by demanding more money, power, and privileges until they bankrupt the municipal corporation that employs them.

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Anonymous said...

Very good article and well done. I do have a question though. Don't these private companies call the police to detain suspects? As far as I know, Brinks, Allied Barton and G4S don't operate jails, so they would have to call the police for that purpose. Am I missing something here?


William N. Grigg said...

Under the current system, private security companies do contact the police to detain and/or incarcerate suspects. This reactive role on the part of police is one of the less objectionable aspects of our current system (in offering that assessment I'm damning that system with praise that is faint to the point of invisibility).

Until relatively recently (circa 120 years or so) criminal investigation was almost entirely a private function. Police, constables, deputies, and marshals generally detained suspects pursuant to warrants issued on the basis of cases built by private investigators.

Under a market-based approach to criminal investigation, that function could be privatized.

Robert Murphy's "Chaos Theory" offers some suggestions as to how that would work. Examining this question in detail was beyond the scope of this essay -- but it is something I intend to address quite soon.

Anonymous said...

On a philosophical level people are often reflexively dismissive of private security hauling out disparaging terms like 'rent-a-cop'. People often claim they prefer government police over private police. And yet their actions show just the opposite. People pack the private shopping malls secured by private police forces while avoiding the downtown areas of government controlled cities teeming though they are with government police.

All Wrong said...

"Until relatively recently (circa 120 years or so) criminal investigation was almost entirely a private function. Police, constables, deputies, and marshals generally detained suspects pursuant to warrants issued on the basis of cases built by private investigators."

Also until recently, Grand Juries had more power to investigate allegations than they do, now. They have been neutered to the point of becoming mere rubber stamps for prosecutors. They no longer have the power to independently investigate, it's all done with the assistance of the government now; and more frequently done FOR the Grand Jury by the government. The prosecutor gets to choose what is and is not show to the Grand Jury, and the manner in which it is shown. This is how a police officer can assault a citizen in broad daylight in New York City, and choke him to death on camera, and not even get indicted by the Grand Jury. All the prosecutor has to do is either cherry-pick the evidence shown, or dump all the evidence in the Grand Jury's lap with no explanation, and watch the glazed expressions set in.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this one, Will.

I think the primary difference is in fact accountability, to their client, and those under their protection, because unlike a rogue cop, a rogue security person will swiftly find a boot in their rear, which is as it should be.
What's kind of interesting as well is that while the quality of personnel varies, down in the lowball end of the game you do find a lot of "peace officers" - as I am wont to tell the residents I protect in this little nowhere speck of dirt "I am not a cop, I do not enforce laws".
I cannot even begin to describe just how MUCH removing that factor from the equation helps de-escalate situations, often solving problems that would otherwise result in more chaos and disorder, and whatever moral "authority" a typical guard has, is granted to them by the protectees in a cooperative fashion, (appropriately) based on their own conduct and performance.
In short, a guard has to EARN it, and keep it - adhering to peelian principles, and using good judgement and common sense goes a long way in doing so.