News & Politics  
comments_image Comments

U.S. Cities Increasing Use of Armed Mercenaries to Replace Police

Some estimate that private security inside the US actually outnumber police 5-to-1.

The United States is in the midst of the most radical privatization agenda in its history. We see this in schools, health care, prisons, and certainly with the US military/national security/intelligence apparatus.

There are almost 200,000 "private contractors" in Iraq (more than U.S. soldiers) and President Barack Obama is continuing to use mercenaries there and in Afghanistan and Israel/Palestine. At present, 70 percent of the U.S. intelligence budget is going to private companies.

This privatization trend is hardly new, but it is accelerating. While events such as the Nisour Square massacre committed in September 2007 by Blackwater operatives in Baghdad show the lethal danger of unleashing mercenary forces on foreign soil, one area with the potential for extreme abuses resulting from this privatization is in domestic law enforcement in the U.S.

Many people may not be aware of this, but since the 1980s, private security guards have outnumbered police officers.

"The more than 1 million contract security officers, and an equal number of guards estimated to work directly for U.S. corporations, dwarf the nearly 700,000 sworn law enforcement officers in the United States," according to the Washington Post . Some estimate that private security operate inside the U.S. at a 5-to-1 ratio with police.

In New Orleans, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the flooding of the city, private security poured in. Armed operatives from companies like Blackwater, Wackenhut, Intercon and DynCorp spread out in the city. Within two weeks of the hurricane, the number of private security companies registered in Louisiana jumped from 185 to 235.

In New Orleans at the time, I interviewed Israeli commandos from a company called Instinctive Shooting International as they operated an armed checkpoint on Charles Street after having been hired by a wealthy businessman. I also interviewed private guards who bragged of shooting "black gangbangers."

The abuses by private security guards in New Orleans and elsewhere has not to this day been thoroughly investigated. Moreover, the legality and constitutionality of the deployment of these modern-day Pinkertons needs to be seriously explained to the U.S. public.

Now it seems that some cities think it is a great idea to expand the use of these private forces using taxpayer funds.

The Wall Street Journal this week reported, "Facing pressure to crack down on crime amid a record budget deficit, Oakland is joining other U.S. cities that are turning over more law-enforcement duties to private armed guards. The City Council recently voted to hire International Services Inc., a private security agency, to patrol crime-plagued districts. While a few Oakland retail districts previously have pooled cash to pay for unarmed security services, using public funds to pay for private armed guards would mark a first for the city."

In a stunning development revealed late Wednesday night, Oakland dropped its plan to hire International Services Inc. after the firm's founder and two other executives were arrested on charges of defrauding the state of California out of more than $9 million in workers compensation.

Although this particular company may be going down in flames, that doesn't seem to deter Oakland's advocates for using private forces. According to the WSJ:

Ignacio De La Fuente, a city council member who led the drive to hire armed guards, said he will push to retain another security service. "There is still a very serious need for security in some of our more crime-plagued areas," he said. Before selecting [International Services Inc.], Mr. De La Fuente said, he and representatives of Oakland's police department interviewed security candidates and found nothing out of the ordinary.

Regardless of the specific company, this trend toward hiring private security companies is an ominous development. As it is, Oakland (and many other cities) have severe problems holding accountable police (and other law enforcement) for brutality and extrajudicial killings.

See more stories tagged with: