State Violence For Hire And Profit

Nicole Flatow, in a recent Think Progress article, brings up the topic of recent developments in police power. Police officers increasingly moonlight for private corporations, a practice that had previously been banned in some places.

This is put into new light with the emphasis on how pervasive has become police brutality. Most Americans didn’t realize how little oversight exists. The police are in the position of policing themselves, which generally means that the problems of the system get ignored by those in authority and hidden from public view.

There is no official data collection in place to even determine how many Americans are regularly killed by cops. The federal government claims to not know and demonstrates no concern about this self-proclaimed ignorance. I find that disturbing to the extreme, especially in an age when the government is keeping massive data on almost everyone and everything. I’m not sure if I’m bothered more by the fact that the government is probably lying about what it knows or that it might actually not know and not want to know.

“Individuals employed as police officers typically carry their police powers 24 hours a day in their jurisdiction, whether they’re on the job or not. That includes the power to arrest, use force, and the power to shoot. But they are explicitly hired to use this power “off duty” when private firms contract with them to perform security work.”

It is a strange world where public officials with the full authority of the state can moonlight as security for corporations. It demonstrates the thin line between state and corporate power. The revolving door between big gov and big biz isn’t just about politicians, regulators, lobbyists, and corporate management. State violence is for hire and that should concern us.

“When the St. Louis officer stopped Myers on the street, he was working a second job for a security company. The vehicle in which he followed Myers was marked with the name of the company, not a police car. And scenarios like this are increasingly common. Police officers are desirable for private security jobs precisely because they carry their training and police power wherever they go, and many police departments encourage their cops to take on secondary employment, University of Missouri-St. Louis criminology professor David Klinger explained to ThinkProgress.

“At least in most major cities and counties, officers are typically required to have those jobs cleared with the police department, which may set its own rules about how and when cops can take second jobs. This means police departments consent to have officers acting as law enforcement officials in these other capacities, Klinger said.

“In some cities, police departments even set up a database in coordination with local employers that officers can access if they want to work extra hours.”

This type of thing brings back the historical memory of the bad ol’ days of the Gilded Age. The labor movement and other movements fought against often violent force being used to oppress dissent and protest. This was part of a broader use of force. At one time, private security companies employed more field agents than did the federal and local governments.

These and other companies not unusually worked closely with the government officials. It went hand in hand with political corruption and crony capitalism. It was also an even more violent time when public transparency and accountability was almost nonexistent. We should worry about our society drifting back to old kinds of oppression.

This is even more distressing as the America has increasingly become a police state and a militarized empire. The violence used toward other countries always gets turned back against the citizenry at home. This is inevitable, but patriotic propaganda has blinded Americans for far too long. It is the same difference if our military guarantees easy access to cheap foreign oil for big biz or police departments guarantee state violence for big biz back in the states.

Oppression and violence is the same no matter where it happens. There is either freedom for all or freedom for none, a simple truth that can never be repeated too often.

“While officers may be subject to the same criminal rights and liabilities regardless of who they’re working for, firms may be subject to different rules and different levels of civil liability. As the New York Times explained in a 1989 report on the phenomenon, “These private forces .. are not bound by all of the regulations and civil liberties concerns imposed on the public police to protect both complainants and defendants. Yet by hiring off-duty city police, these companies gain access to the power of arrest and the mantle of official authority that other agencies lack.””

Reform happened over this past century. It happened for good reason.

“When officers are working second jobs for which they have gotten approval from their departments, they typically still wear their police uniform, as the St. Louis officer was when he shot Myers. This means that individuals perceive these cops as being on duty even though they are working private jobs. In many instances they are. At one time, New York City didn’t like the look of this perception, and prohibited officers from wearing their uniforms while working in the private sector, and also banned them from working in their own precinct. In fact, until the 1960s, New York City banned “moonlighting” altogether. But the practice of officers taking second security jobs is now exceedingly common. And today, NYPD oversees the “Paid for Hire” program.”

It is long past time for a new era of reform. Or failing that, what other option is left in the fight for freedom and justice?