Private Security

When discussing the idea of a free society—meaning a stateless society—I often use Las Vegas casinos as an example of how market-provided police forces would be much more secure, effective, and efficient than the government-provided police forces we all currently live (and suffer) under.

If you spend any time whatsoever in any casino here in Vegas, you’ll immediately notice that there are private security officers everywhere, both uniformed and plain-clothed. And cameras. Lots of cameras.

And something else you’ll likely notice, which may seem odd: those security officers are some of the nicest, most respectful, honorable people you’ll meet.

And the kicker: you’ll rarely see any problem or commotion arise in a casino—let alone any actual crime.

In the twelve years I’ve lived in Vegas (since Aug 2002), I’ve not seen any serious problem arise in any casino. Sure, there’s a disruptive drunk or vocal dispute now and then, which gets dealt with immediately, or escorted outside before it escalates. But crime, or any type of serious altercation? I’ve never seen one. Not one. And remember, we’re talking about an extremely heavy cash-flow environment—cash everywhere you look—which would typically attract criminals, and be susceptible to criminal activity on a regular basis. Add to that the booze—which is flowing non-stop—and you have a volatile recipe for trouble.

But instead, casinos boast a festive environment, most everyone is having a grand time, and the entire facility generally feels quite safe and secure for the duration.

I doubt many of us would agree that it feels this way out in the streets—even in our own neighborhoods—and especially when government-provided police officers happen to be around. In fact, whenever they’re around, I actually feel less safe. I’m much more worried about what those officers might decide to do to me than what a few strangers on the street might do.

Why is this so? Why the stark difference between private security officers, and public police officers? The answer is simple: private security firms are subject to market forces—accountability, customer satisfaction, adherence to rules and policies, competition from other firms, etc.—and public police forces are not.

Private security officers cannot risk agitating casino patrons, thus driving away business for the casino; they cannot risk displeasing the casino in any way, thus risking their firm losing the account to a competing firm. And they cannot risk shoddy personal performance, for fear of losing their job with the security firm.

And if a serious problem or crime does arise, they certainly cannot wait around for public police officers to show up and do anything to stop it. By then all that’s left to do is tape off the crime scene and write reports. And eat donuts and drink coffee, I suppose. Or maybe target someone nearby for assault, generate some quick revenue for the government while they’re waiting for that bloated pension to kick in.

The upshot: private security officers make their living serving people, serving their clients, and serving their firms—while public police officers make their living assaulting people, stealing from people, and serving the government (and themselves and each other, of course).

In his recent article entitled Police—The Domestic Monopoly On Violence, published over at Peaceful Anarchism, Danilo Cuellar breaks down this dichotomy between private security and public police a little further:

“Law enforcement is the polar opposite of a private security agency. The former receives guaranteed funds through “government” and therefore has no incentive to offer good quality service in the form of security and protection. On the contrary their loyalty to the arbitrary “laws” of politicians brings them respect and notoriety among their peers at the expense of the people as can be noted through the rampant police brutality that surfaces daily. Being part of “government” it is an artificial monopoly and is not subject to the laws of supply and demand. The latter, being a business like any other, exists as a direct result of the patronage of its customers. Customer satisfaction and quality of service is its sole mission. It competes with other private security agencies for customers and therefore would not tolerate abuses of power by their employees as they would simply be fired. This simple element of competition eliminates any possibility for brutality of any kind; as such a corrupt company would simply go out of business if it proves to serve no useful purpose to the marketplace.” 

Truer words were never spoken.

So, once you experience the safe and festive atmosphere of a Vegas casino, first of all you’ll have a hard time believing that casinos are outlawed in most places, and you’ll ask yourself why? (I’ve pondered this myself, for years; I simply do not know).

Then it will be easy for you to imagine the safety, serenity, and festive atmosphere our towns and local neighborhoods would enjoy, if we lived in a free and peaceful (stateless) society in which policing and law enforcement were provided by private firms—which are subject to market forces—rather than public police forces which are not.

Now, I know what you’re thinking…because when I first wrote on this topic, a reader pointed out that there’s a difference between security and law enforcement. And—though he was in favor of private security—he believed that when a crime is committed and somebody is victimized, or property is damaged, we need officers of the state to detain people, secure evidence, and adjudicate.

But I would respectfully disagree.

Private Policing

History shows that in every conceivable area, the private sector has provided goods and services to the market far and away better than any government ever has. Indeed, everything the government touches becomes a boondoggle. In fact, given the time, power, and opportunity, the government will eventually destroy or bankrupt the very society on which it depends for survival.

That being the case, I find it peculiar that people tend to isolate one particular area of the market—that is, policing, law enforcement, and adjudication—and say “for these, we need government.”

Why so? It seems the only justification for this thinking is merely the fact that it’s never been done any other way. The government has always handled these, so the government should always handle them. To me, this is tantamount to the infamous and idiotic statement “But who would build the roads?”

Now, I’m no genius, and don’t have all the answers to this issue; but given the opportunity, brilliant people in the private sector would provide answers, and those answers would most certainly be better than anything any government has ever come up with.

And just because we don’t, at this moment, know exactly how the private sector would provide these services to the market in the future doesn’t mean we shouldn’t at least try the concept. Using such logic, humanity would have never progressed in any area; we’d all still be living in caves and hunting with rocks sharp sticks (if our species managed to survive at all, that is).

Look at it this way: few, if any of us, know how to build a 55-inch flat-screen TV, or even know how one works; and yet we have them. Millions of them. And cell phones and computers; Kindles and iPads; automobiles of every imaginable type for any taste and budget; helicopters and airliners; satellites and rockets and spacecraft; massive seafaring cargo ships, bridges spanning previously unfathomable distances, and skyscrapers that stretch beyond the clouds; penicillin, X-ray machines, and MRI scanners; vision and hearing correction; mechanized artificial limbs; heating and cooling systems and indoor plumbing that allow comfortable living in nearly any climate; fertilization and irrigation systems and massive machinery which enable the smallest number of farmers than ever before to produce enough food to feed the entire world; gigantic one-stop-shopping department stores where people can obtain pretty much anything they need for their homes and lives, and leave with money to spare; microscopic computer chips with enough computing power to drive the entire world’s technology; the Internet….the list goes on and on and on.

My point is, few if any of us know how any of these things work, or how to produce or establish them—and yet they exist, all over the world, supplied by the private sector to the market. Nothing even close to as wonderful as these has ever been produced by any government. In fact, I maintain that all of these have been produced by the private sector, not only instead of the government, but in spite of it.

Governments only consume; they produce nothing. If anything, governments only deter and inhibit and tax the productivity of the private sector, while all they can manage to do is lie, steal, backstab, kill, destroy, and counterfeit—then make a grand show of giving a tiny portion of their ill-gotten gains back to the people and saying “See what we do for you? This is why you need us!”

In light of these facts, I hold the position that negating the idea of the private sector supplying such services as policing, law enforcement, and adjudication to the market—merely on the grounds that we are unable, at this moment in time, to understand or visualize how such services would be brought to fruition in a way that is not only acceptable to, but preferred by, the market—is not a valid argument.

Not only that, but many examples of these services, rendered by the private sector, already exist. Here are just a few:

Oakland residents crowd-funded their own private police force.

The Houston neighborhood of Sharpstown hired the private firm S.E.A.L. Security Texas to patrol the neighborhood, effectively doubling security at half the cost.

Several Detroit neighborhoods have hired the private firm Threat Management Center for 24/7 security services.

Many universities maintain their own private police force.

Virginia state law allows private citizens apply for authority to carry a gun and badge and make arrests; the number of SCOPs (Special Conservators of the Peace) has grown to around 750.

As of 2012, there were three to four times as many private police officers in the U.S. as there were public officers. Elsewhere, such as in Russia and South Africa, there are at least ten times the number of private policemen as public.

Peacekeeper” smart phone app sends alerts to neighbors and friends during an emergency, who can be at your home within seconds, and offer real help—rather than calling 911 and relying on distant police officers, and risking assault, theft, and even being killed by the very officers you called for help.

San Fransisco has had a private police force—with a better record than the public force—since 1850.

Many Seattle neighborhoods are turning to private security to police the streets 

We can look to these and others as models for how such services could be handled on a larger scale in a stateless society.

Private Law Enforcement

We can look to HOAs as possible models for private law enforcement; they establish rules for the community, monitor the residents, and fine those who break the rules. And people generally voluntarily follow those rules, because they contractually agreed to them upon purchasing their property there. They aren’t just arbitrary rules that somebody somewhere simply made up and wrote down, and is now forcing upon everyone else. It doesn’t require much of a stretch of the imagination to envision, in a stateless society, HOAs including a private arbitrator, which, upon taking up residence in the community, residents contractually agree to use for dispute resolution, and even restitution for personal harm or property damage.

We see this same process within online communities, in which members are generally careful to follow the rules, lest they be suspended or banned altogether from the community in which they want to participate. How difficult would it be for Facebook, for example, to fine a member, or require restitution be paid to another member, before allowing the offending member back into the community, on a probationary basis?

And, just as casinos, banks, and other businesses hire their own private security firms, neighborhoods and communities could hire their own private police force. And these private police forces could easily develop systems and procedures for working with one another across various jurisdictions.

For example: today, whenever there is a major crime or disaster which involves both private security officers and public police officers—and even members of the military, which happen to be on the scene at the time of the incident—they are all able to work together to handle and resolve the situation. Why couldn’t, then, private police forces from adjacent communities do the same, if an event involves both, or even more, such forces or jurisdictions? Why is it assumed that only the government can handle such multi-jurisdiction operations?

Private Adjudication

As for adjudication, there are private-sector examples as well; for instance, many employers require, upon acceptance of employment, the contractual agreement of the employee to refer any dispute that arises between the employee and the company to a pre-designated third-party arbitrator, rather than a government court system. And this is usually stipulated to be pursued only after all internal dispute resolution procedures have been exhausted.

Auto insurance companies can work with each other to establish liability for their clients and divvy up appropriate restitution accordingly.

And many people and businesses already “settle out of court,” offering up private restitution rather than going through the government court system.

All of the above are fine examples of ways in which the market could provide such services in a stateless society, and how the results of such services would be far and away better, and the costs much lower, than anything we are currently getting via the same services provided by the government.

Again, I don’t claim to have all the answers; but there are others much smarter than I who might just have some answers, and, if given the opportunity, would design and institute procedures, systems, and services which would in all probability be considerably more effective than the current government-provided services. And I would much rather see the advent of such services, tempered by market forces and its inherent accountabilities, than continue suffering under the governent-run monopolies which are not subject to market forces and therefore allow government agents to underperform, misbehave—and even break the law—with impunity.

I welcome the day when we finally hand these services over to the private sector and see what wonderful solutions arise, which over time would only improve as we progress along the inevitable learning curve.

Fewer Laws to Enforce in a Stateless Society

Another factor that weighs heavily into this discussion is that a free or volunteer society, a stateless society, would not have the hundreds of thousands of laws on the books that we currently do, which make it impossible for people to live their lives daily without being criminalized, and impossible for public police officers to do their jobs with any level of fairness, equality, effectiveness, or efficiency.

The only laws that would exist would be those based on property rights; acknowledging and protecting private property. Even human rights are rooted in property rights, as they are based on the concept of self-ownership. You own yourself; therefore, your body is your property, and what you create or produce with it is your property, and the money you earn with it is your property, and what you purchase with your money, or trade for with your property, is your property. And within the boundaries of your property, you make the rules.

All other laws—which I generally categorize as behavioral law—would not exist, or if so, would be on an entirely contractual basis only, voluntarily agreed to by individuals within a given community or organization. They would not be arbitrarily made up by somebody in “authority,” and then forced upon the entirety of the populace—in complete disregard of their rights, property, or wishes—as they are today.

This simple reduction of authoritarianism from the current police state to a free and voluntary society would vastly simplify the parameters to be met by any private-sector system of policing, law enforcement, and adjudication. In other words, private-sector solutions wouldn’t need to take into account the entire leviathan system of laws and procedures we suffer under today; rather, they would only need to address a tiny portion of it—i.e. actual crime, which requires aggression against people and/or their property, the victimization of innocents, or the violation of the rights of others. Therefore, private-sector solutions would be much easier to devise within a stateless society.

Technology is Already Vastly Reducing Real Crime

Another factor to consider is that the overall incidence of real crime—i.e., acts involving property damage and/or victimization of others—has already dropped phenomenally over the past two decades. I believe this reduction is due to advances in technology, not necessarily increases in governmental power, funding, or weaponry. Security systems, surveillance cameras, the proliferation of cell phones (instant communication) and smart phone cameras (instant documentation) within the general populace—all these and more have simply made it much more difficult for people to get away with committing crimes, so they aren’t so willing to take the risk. We are quickly reaching the point where there is no place to hide. Even corrupt and criminal politicians and police officers are now getting caught!

In other words, technology is bringing about a society in which crime no longer pays.

So in a free, stateless society, not only would there be a much simpler system of laws to enforce, but also a vastly reduced incidence of actual crime to be dealt with, thanks to advances in technology. Thus, implementing market-provided services in policing, law enforcement, and adjudication would be easier done now than ever before.

And keep in mind, this is all due to products and services rendered to the market by the private sector, and has nothing to do with the government’s services or programs, which are more likely to result in the assault, arrest, imprisonment, or even killing of innocent people, than do anything to control crime or bring actual criminals to justice.

Considering all of this, I would say: Let’s give the private sector a chance; let’s hand over the areas of policing, law enforcement, and adjudication to the most brilliant among us—the most productive members of the private sector—and see what wonderful systems and services they come up with.

I’d much rather take my chances with that, than for the rest of my life be forced to take my chances with the government-provided “services” we suffer under today—which is indeed a truly frightening prospect.