Call the Anti-Police: Ending the State's "Security" Monopoly
By William Norman Grigg
“How would things be different,” muses Dale Brown of the Detroit-based Threat Management Center, “if police officers were given financial rewards and commendations for resolving dangerous situations peacefully, rather than for using force in situations where it’s neither justified nor effective?”
Brown’s approach to public safety is “precisely the opposite of what police are trained and expected to do,” says the 44-year-old entrepreneur. The TMC eschews the “prosecutorial philosophy of applied violence” and the officer safety uber alles mindset that characterize government law enforcement agencies. This is because his very successful private security company has an entirely different mission – the protection of persons and property, rather than enforcing the will of the political class. Those contrasting approaches are displayed to great advantage in proto-dystopian Detroit.
“We’ve been hired by three of the most upscale neighborhoods in Detroit to provide 24/7 security services,” Brown proudly informed me during a telephone interview. “People who are well-off are very willing to pay for Lamborghini-quality security services, which means that our profit margin allows us to provide free services to people who are poor, threatened, and desperate for the kind of help the police won’t provide.”“Unlike the police, we don’t respond after a crime has been committed to conduct an investigation and – some of the time, at least – arrest a suspect,” Brown elaborates. “Our approach is based on deterrence and prevention. Where prevention fails, our personnel are trained in a variety of skills – both psychological and physical – to dominate aggressors without killing them.” Police typically define their role in terms of what they are permitted to do to people, rather than what they are required to do for them. Brown’s organization does exactly the reverse, even when dealing with suspected criminals.
To illustrate, Brown refers to an incident from a security patrol in which he encountered a black teenager “who was walking in a neighborhood at about 3:00 a.m. dressed in a black hooded sweatshirt, doing what is sometimes called `the drift’ – it was pretty clear he was up to something.”
Rather than calling the police – who, given their typical four-hour response time, wouldn’t have arrived soon enough to be of any help, as if helping were part of their job description – Brown took action that was both preventive and non-aggressive.
“I told him, `There are criminals here who might rob you, so you’ll get free bodyguard service anytime you’re in the neighborhood,’” Brown related to me. “I also asked for his name and personal information for a `Good person file’ that would clear him with the cops next time he decided to go jogging in a black hoodie a three in the morning. He didn’t have to give me that information, of course, but he told me what I needed to know – and we’ve never seen him there again.”
Brown and his associates take a similar approach to dealing with minor problems that usually result in police citations that clog court dockets and blight the lives of harmless people.
“When we see someone who is drunk or otherwise intoxicated, we offer to take their keys and call their families to get them home,” he reports. “This way we keep them safe from harm – and, just as importantly, protect them from prosecution. Again, everything we do is the opposite of what the police do. If you have a joint in your pocket, the cops will be all over you – but if you’re facing actual danger, they’re nowhere to be found, and aren’t required to help you even if they show up.”
That contrast is most visible in confrontations with potentially dangerous people. Brown’s company receives referrals to provide security for people who face active threats, such as victims of domestic violence. One representative case involved a young mother whose daughter had been abducted by a violent, abusive father with a lengthy criminal history. The child was rescued and reunited with her mother without guns being drawn or anybody being hurt.
For reasons of accountability and what the private sector calls “quality assurance,” Brown and his colleagues recorded that operation, as they document nearly everything else they do. However, they weren’t playing to the cameras. The same can’t be said of the Detroit PD SWAT team that stormed the home of 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones at midnight in May 2010 while filming the assault for a cable television program.
Officer Joseph Weekley, who burst through the door carrying a ballistic shield and an MP5 submachine gun, shot and killed Aiyana, who had been sleeping on the living room couch. By the time she was killed terrified little girl had already been burned by a flash-bang grenade that had been hurled into the living room.
The home was surrounded with toys and other indicia that children resided therein, and neighbors had pleaded with the police not to carry out the blitzkrieg. The cops did arrest a suspect in a fatal shooting, but he resided in a different section of the same building. In any case, the suspect could have been taken into custody without a telegenic paramilitary assault – if the safety of those on the receiving end of police violence had been factored into the SWAT team’s calculations.
Owing in no small measure to public outrage, Weekly has been charged with involuntary manslaughter and careless discharge of a weapon resulting in death. A jury deadlocked on the charges in July 2013. Weekley now faces a second trial that will produce a conviction only if the prosecution can overcome the presumption that the officer’s use of deadly force was reasonable. This is a function of the entirely spurious, and endlessly destructive, doctrine of “qualified immunity,” which protects police officers from personal liability when their actions result in unjustified harm to the persons or property of innocent people.
The rationale behind qualified immunity is the belief that absent such protection competent and talented people wouldn’t enlist as peace officers. In practice, however, qualified immunity merely emboldens incompetent and vicious police officers.
“Police should be subject to exactly the same laws and liabilities that the rest of us face,” contends Brown. “If we don’t have perfect reciprocity, then police should be held to a higher standard of accountability than the rest of the citizenry. If they commit criminal acts that result in injury or death, police should do double the time that a `civilian’ would face, because they’re supposed to be professionals.”
As private sector professionals, Brown observes, “we have double accountability – first to our clients who pay us, and then to the criminal justice system and civil courts if we do something wrong. And because the police usually see us as competitors, they are very eager to come after us if we screw up. But in all the years we’ve been working, we’ve had no deaths or injuries – either to our clients or to our own people – no criminal charges, and no lawsuits.”
Not only do Brown and his associates operate without the benefit of “qualified immunity,” they are required to expose themselves to physical risk on behalf of their clients – something that police are trained to avoid.
“For police officers, going home at the end of the shift is the highest priority,” Brown observes. “For us it can’t be. When we’re hired to protect a client, his home, his business, his family, we’ve made a choice to put the client’s safety above our own, and to make sure that he or she gets home safely at the end of the day.”
When people seek help from the police, Brown points out, they’re inviting intervention by someone who has no enforceable duty to protect them, but will be rewarded for injuring them or needlessly complicating their lives.
“Let’s examine this logically,” Brown begins. “What is this human being – the police officer – going to get out of becoming involved in your troubles? Will be he rewarded for helping you to solve them, especially if this involves a personal risk? Would solving your problem be worth getting injured or killed?”
“We’re dealing with a basic question of human motivations,” Brown continues. “Police are not required to intervene to protect you – there is a very long list of judicial precedents proving this. They’re actually rewarded for not intervening. Here, once again, I emphasize that Threat Management is not comparable to the police. We follow exactly the opposite approach. People don’t have to work with Threat Management, but if they choose to, that’s what we expect of them.”
Some critics of TMC and other private security firms insist that their personnel cannot match the qualifications and experience of government-employed police officers. That objection wildly overestimates the professional standards that must be met in order for an individual to become a government-licensed purveyor of privileged violence.
“An individual can become a police officer in six months,” Brown points out. “Can you become a doctor or an EMT in six months? Is there any other profession in which employees can become `qualified’ to make life-and-death decisions on behalf of other people after just a few months of training?”
By way of supplementing Brown’s point: In Arkansas, an applicant can become a police officer in a day, and work in that capacity for a year, without professional certification of any kind. However, to become a licensed practicing cosmetologist, an applicant must pass a state board examination and complete 2,000 hours of specialized training. For an investment of 600 hours an applicant can qualify to work as a manicurist or instructor.
While Arkansas strictly regulates those who cut hair or paint nails in private, voluntary transactions, it imposes no training or licensing standards whatsoever on armed people who claim the authority to inflict lethal violence on others. This is not to concede that there is any way one human being can become legitimately “qualified” to commit aggressive violence against another.
“Law enforcement attracts a certain personality type that is prone to narcissism and aggression,” Brown asserts, speaking from decades of experience. “People like that get weeded out from our program very early. We protect innocent people from predators, and we can’t carry out that mission by hiring people who are predatory themselves. Our people receive extensive training in firearms and unarmed combat techniques, but they’re also taught to look at all humans as members of the same family. The question we want them to ask themselves is – in what circumstances would you shoot, or otherwise harm a member of your family? They’re trained to apply that standard in all situations involving a potential use of force. People who can’t think that way aren’t going to fit in with our program.”
Brown emphatically agrees that the phenomenon called “police militarization” is a huge and growing menace, but insists that the core problem is “not the military hardware, or the other trappings of militarization, but the system itself. Police agencies attract the wrong kind of people and then tell them, `You’re like God’ – they get to impose their will on others and use lethal force at their discretion. And when someone who is really golden shows up – that is, an ethical, conscientious person who wants to protect the public – they get redirected into a role that will minimize their influence for good by people who are worried about their own job security.”
“Ideally, the best approach would be to abolish the current system and start over,” Brown concludes. “But the very least we should demand would be total equity and complete accountability – which would mean, as a starting point, doing away with this idea of `qualified immunity.’ Police are citizens, and they should be governed by the same laws that apply to all citizens. No exceptions, no special protections.”
Several studies have shown that there are between three and four times as many private peace officers – such as security guards, armored truck drivers, and private investigators – as sworn law enforcement officers in the United States. That fact demonstrates that the security market is completely unserved by government law enforcement agencies. This shouldn’t be surprising, since – as I have observed before – police agencies serve the interests of those who plunder private property, and thus can’t be expected to protect it.
Police personnel practice aggressive violence from the shelter of “qualified immunity.” The absence of such protection doesn’t deter talented, motivated people such as Dale Brown and his associates – and others providing similar services in Houston, Oakland, and elsewhere — from seeking employment as private security officers who actually accept personal risk to protect property.
Why not abolish qualified immunity for all security personnel? Critics of that proposal might protest that this would undermine the state’s monopoly on the provision of “security” by requiring its employees to compete on equal terms with the private sector. Which is precisely the point.