This article has been modified from its original form to account for minor factual inaccuracies.
By Mason Mohon | TEXAS
One thing that holds many Libertarians back from converting to free-market anarchism is the idea of the police force. Many libertarians believe that one of the few functions that the government should have is the provision of police within society. The fear that police would only provide protection the “highest bidder” leaves many afraid that mal protection would occur and those unable to pay would be left for dead.
One town, though, did privatize the police, and the results seem to have been just the opposite. Sharpstown, Texas, is not an actual town, but rather a community. They purchase services from S.E.A.L. Security Services, LLC, a completely private firm that provides policing services. The results have been quite astounding.
Their director of operations, James Alexander, gave a rundown of the success of the firm to guns.com. In the 20 months leading up to February of 2015, S.E.A.L. successfully brought crime down 61%. Alexander’s numbers have been disputed, though, by Jim Bingham, president of the Sharpstown civic association. He claims that Alexander’s numbers are unbacked, and says instead that crime (particularly burglaries) went down about 32% over two years. The study can be found here.
They would contract with communities, going with either a 30/70 plan or a 20/80 plan. This meant that they would spend 30 percent of the time responding to calls and 70 percent of the time patrolling neighborhoods, and the case is the same with the 20/80 plan. This is in stark contrast to the status quo public police force, which funnels officers into wherever it is needed in that instant, not expressing great foresight or cares for the long-term.
Furthermore, Alexander revealed that when they patrol, it is directed. The firm looks at recent crime statistics and sends officers to regions that have been high in crime recently. They don’t say, “here, go patrol.” Rather, they look to meet demand by actually squashing crime.
One of the greatest parts of the force is its level of accountability. The people who work for the firm are private individuals being privately funded. They are subject to the same rules and regulation that go for regular people, meaning that they cannot murder or steal. Public police, on the other hand, are able to cite “stress” as an excuse for murdering unarmed black men and steal astronomical amounts of money from citizens in DUI checkpoints and through civil asset forfeiture. This increased accountability means that they tend to resort to much less violence when stopping crimes.
The fact that they are private citizens also means that they can only restrict crimes that are actual threats to other individuals. Their responsibility is the prevention of murder, rape, assault, theft, and any other physical coercion. Public police are subject to the morality legislation of the government, though, which means that they are required to aggress upon non-violent and non-threatening individuals. The private police do not care what your personal lifestyle is, and they do not attack people for participating in drug use or other action that may be seen as immoral or non-aesthetic. The responsibility of the private police is as it should be for the public police – protecting individuals from others, not themselves.
Moreover, the private police must meet demand, just like any other private firm has to. They must provide just and careful services if they wish to keep their customers. They target for reduction of violence, rather than targeting for money. Police in the status quo will target people solely for the funding of the police force, such as issuing tickets for minimal traffic violations that amount to an astronomical amount of money. Publicly funded institutions are guaranteed funding, meaning that they do not have to look towards demand in the short or long term. This results in a tendency for price to increase and quality to decrease when it comes to any public institution, including the police.
The private sector does not face this same tendency.
Not only is SEAL more successful at crime prevention than traditional law enforcement, they’re cheaper. Sharpstown is saving $200,000 per year over their previous contract with the constable, and they get more patrol officers for less money.
Along with the increase in accountability, lack of enforcement for victimless “crimes,” and absurd savings, the private defense done by S.E.A.L. seems to be astronomically preferable to the public police force. This is a single example of free-market production of defense, and many more firms like this would solve the issue of government bureaucracy being in charge of protecting the citizens.
Edit: This story has been around for a few years, and many claim it has been discredited by a Texas Monthly article. The article refutes very little, except that Sharpstown is not a town and that there is a dispute over the reduction of crime. They cite an opposing “more objective” study that merely claims that Sharpstown had astounding crime when S.E.A.L. officers began their work. Nowhere is it disputed that Sharpstown crime went down a lot. The Texas Monthly article ends with the following statement:
…a neighborhood with lots of crime turned to a cheaper alternative to fight it, and it might or might not be working, depending on who you talk to.
So the alternative was cheaper, and it is not disputed that Sharpstown’s private police reduced crime. The economics behind private defense still stand, and my only error was calling Sharpstown a town, which is an error that changes nothing about the situation.