Promises to Defund the Police Lead to Increase in Private Security Forces on City Streets
In June, Minneapolis was the first of any large city to actually pledge to wholly disband its police department, though now some council members are retreating from it becoming actual policy.
Several other communities have begun only a defunding process, with at least 13 cities eliminating officer positions and cutting department budgets. Among them are New York City, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Austin, Salt Lake City, Kenosha, and Norman.
Organizers are obviously requesting that police departments be dismantled. They desire a shift of funds to other programs that focus on violence prevention, safety, and community health. The result may not be what is actually being demanded. What city leaders are doing is merely transferring budgetary allocations to the hiring of private security. In some communities, these cuts resulted in privatization, not less policing.
During one June weekend alone, the city of Chicago hired three security firms, including AGB Investigative Services, to supply 100 unarmed guards to protect businesses on the city’s South and West sides. The cost was a staggering $1.2 million.
Private security forces are flooding into many large cities like Seattle and New York. Minneapolis council members hired protection for themselves at $4,500 per day. Portland approved a $10 million contract with G4S Security Solutions during the recent uprisings. Minneapolis and Denver both passed resolutions to eliminate school resource officers – while retaining 100 armed and unarmed security personnel for those same schools. It appears even the federal government is amenable to this resolution. The Department of Homeland Security hired Federal Protective Service in July to also respond in Portland.
And it’s not just governments turning to private security forces. Wealthy home and business owners are hiring these groups for property protection during the protests.
The recent surge is accelerating a neoliberal policing trend that has been embraced for almost 20 years. Detroit, Oakland, Baltimore, and Atlanta have been supplementing police with private security for a decade. Civil liberty groups are concerned that private security could become typical. The U.S. has 666,000 police officers, while there are more than 1.1 million private security operators.
AGB employs 750 guards in 12 states; FPS has 13,000 nationwide. Demand in the market is the highest ever, and AGB is looking to “hire as many guards as possible,” says VP Tifair Hamed.
Many believe private guards are the solution to police violence. However, like “community policing” and similar reforms, it seems to simply exacerbate the very problems for which solutions are being sought. In reality, private security receive less oversight, only a fraction of the formal training, and complaints or even shootings by them are rarely, if ever, investigated. It is not even clear what legal protections citizens have regarding private guards. These groups are also exempt from the Freedom of Information Act and other state open-records laws. The public may never know what happens, and even if there is a clear problem, there is no board of commissioners to address complaints.
AGB’s Hamed says the company’s employees “come from the neighborhood which we’re protecting” in Chicago. Chicago Aldermen Matt Martin tweeted: “We’ve heard from hundreds of neighbors this week who feel police make them feel less safe, not more. We need to take these concerns seriously, and not add unaccountable security officers to the streets.”