Henderson cop assaults man suffering from diabetic stroke, faces no charges and remains employed as a Sergeant.

The Las Vegas Review Journal has just published a story of 5 Henderson police officers assaulting a man who was suffering from diabetic shock. The article contains video of the incident which shows the police officers approaching the unarmed man with guns pointed at his face, throw him to the concrete ground, handcuff him, pile on top and throw several kicks to his head. The victim at no point ever made a hostile or threatening gesture. He, of course, was unable to comply with the police officers' initial verbal orders as he was in diabetic shock at the time.

My first response to this story, a story which happens much too often, on a disturbingly regular basis, was that this cop would have been immediately fired and facing criminal charges if we had a free market in policing services. Sadly and predictably, only one of the five police officers, Sgt. Brett Seekatz, faced any disciplinary action. To make matters even worse, the disciplinary that was taken was not released to the public and appears to have been extremely mild; the officer is still employed as a Sergeant, enjoying a hefty taxpayer-funded $110k a year salary.

As appalling as Sgt. Seekatz' behavior was, what is even more outrageous is the system in place that tolerates it. It is not the people that tolerate such behavior. I think we could all agree that the type of person whom approaches an unarmed man, handcuffed face-down on the ground, with three men forcibly holding him down, and decides the most appropriate course of action is to deliver several kicks to his head, is precisely the worst type of person to be employed as a police officer. While we can not change the nature of human behavior and guarantee such incidents will never happen again, we most certainly can change the system that tolerates and institutionalizes it.

The primary reason the Henderson PD can employ police officers whom their customers (citizens of Henderson) would overwhelming consider inadequate, or in this case, downright dangerous, is because of their government-provided monopoly status. Funded by taxation, they are immune from being penalized for failing to provide a valuable product, as the taxpayers are incapable of refusing to pay for the service, no matter how poor of a value they perceive it to be. As a government monopoly that is immune from competition, there is much less incentive to respond to the wishes of the citizens they are tasked to protect than there would be if those citizens were free to decide whether or not to continue paying for said service. On the contrary, if there were a free market in policing, it would be in the best interest of the private police agency to respond to the wishes of their consumers, which would almost certainly result in this officer's immediate termination. Any company that did not appropriately discipline officers found to be behaving in such an abusive manner, would be faced with an exodus of customers whom began looking for firms that were more reputable.

Having this mechanism in place results not merely in more appropriate disciplinary actions, but also acts in a preventive manner, as well. It is in the best interest of the police agency to employ honest, respectful, and professional officers so that they can enjoy the benefits that come with a positive reputation. Additionally, removing the government status from policing allows for the law to be applied equally. Just as private security guards and bouncers are held to the same criminal law as the rest of us, so too would the police officers be in a free-market setting. Removing the protective shield that currently exists (and is so painfully illustrated by this most recent example) in instances of police misconduct and abuse, would also serve as a deterrent to the individual officers from committing such acts in the future.

Traditionally we are told that policing is a good that is so important to society, it is too important to be left in the hands of the free market, and must instead only be provided by the government. In fact, it is often alleged that the very idea of private police is absurd and could never work. The first thing one must understand is that this claim is simply untrue. Private police not only works in theory, it works in practice as well. In 1847 the people of San Francisco found themselves woefully unprotected from the influx of those in search of riches as part of the Gold Rush, and in response established a merchant-based private police force! The San Francisco Special Neighborhood Police was so successful, it still exists today.

One of the oft-lobbied criticisms against competitive, privatized solutions, is that the providers are motivated by greed and self-interest and would fail to adequately provide for the poor. A full refutation of this fallacy is outside of the scope of this article, but I would warn against committing the Nirvana fallacy. It is not my contention that a free market in police would be perfect, merely pointing out the potential flaws is not enough to prove it is inferior than the existing method. The debate is not over how utopia can be achieved, it is over which system is more desirable than the other. The fact that poor neighborhoods have become synonymous with being unsafe should forcibly demonstrate that the current system of policing is woefully inadequate in this regard.

Additionally, the concern over the possibility that a private police force may act in a manner harmful to consumers is only magnified when placed in a monopoly setting devoid of competition! One would think the proponent of government solutions, in response to this perceived weakness of the free market, would recognize the contradiction in calling for a permanent monopoly (still occupied by the same human beings motivated by self-interest) as a solution. In fact, in the history of private police in America we see just this. It is the greed and self-interest of powerful political groups, such as police unions, that is responsible for, and has shaped the current system of police. The notion that our present system of policing services has evolved out of an altruistic motive to provide for the common good should be met with the same degree of skepticism one would treat a used-car salesman who claims his only interest is in providing you with the "right" car.

In a fascinating article published in 1982 by Reason Magazine titled, Cops Inc., we learn that despite a growing and successful movement of small towns outsourcing their police forces to private firms to deal with massive budget deficits, it was the police unions for government employees that demanded an end to the practice. Unfortunately they were successful in creating a prolonged (and expensive) legal battle that eventually eliminate their unwanted competitors. This part bears repeating. When several rural towns in the 1970s began employing private firms to handle their  police services, the result was remarkable savings to the town and increased protection. To put in perspective the level of savings, we can look at what happened when the police unions finally forced the private firms out. In 1981, the last year that the town of Oro Valley used a private police force, it cost the town $35,000 for the year. In 1982, the budget increased to $241,000. The private firms received no complaints and in one town, "the burglary rates dropped from 14 a month to 0.7 a month - and stayed at that level."

Yet these efforts at privatization failed, not because they were inadequate, clearly all the data demonstrates they were far superior to the previous government-run police force, but "only because of a legal technicality and the effort by a state agency to gun down a novel concept without serious consideration of how well it worked." [emphasis mine. Self-interest does not disappear when one enters the public sector and it is the strongest argument against government monopolies, not for them!] The move towards a more efficient, effective, and just system of policing was squashed not because it required the imposition of a government monopoly in order to succeed, but instead precisely because government police unions saw their enormously inflated salaries and jobs threatened by a free market that was ready and able to provide the service at a higher quality and a much lower cost.

This issue should not a be a political one. To further highlight the fact that this is not merely a matter of left vs right, or more government vs less, Switzerland (which is not exactly known for its love of free markets!) uses private policing extensively. Swiss Securitas was providing police services for over 30 Swiss villages and townships at the time of the Cops Inc. article's publication, and since then has only grown in both size and scope.

Justice is a human issue and something we all value deeply. We do not have to continue to witness acts of gross injustice go unpunished as the perpetrator remains free to enjoy a lavish salary and pension (at our expense, of course). Desensitizing ourselves to the disturbingly routine incidents of police abuse is no way for a free and just society to function. We have been told that this is the way it must be, that there exists no other alternative. I implore you to study the works referenced within and discover for yourself the validity of that claim. There is an infinitely more just, more efficient, and more humane alternative available to us. We need only to discover, and then, demand it.



  2. The problem with all of this, of course, is that private agencies have the same motivations to abuse the law that police do - the ends justify the means, and criminals don't have a strong enough lobby in Carson City (or DC) to rein them in.

    Indeed - how do you "sell" yourself as a law enforcement agency to the public in a competitive atmosphere? You brag about your "success" rates, which means numbers of arrests. In a single city where there are multiple agencies competing with each other, the crime rate would be the same, so they couldn't use that alone, but rather would be trying to claim credit as the most aggressive. That's a rather scary thought.

    If the private agencies are licensed and/or approved by the government, we still have the same politicians who CURRENTLY look the other way to rely on to keep the new agencies in check - you haven't actually solved any problem.

    You also give those agencies and officers a personal financial interest in conviction rates, which means they have ADDED incentive to lie on police reports, perjure themselves, etc.

    The other problem is that if you have private security agencies totally unregulated by the government, you don't have 4th Amendment protection, just as the 4th doesn't apply to private Loss Enforcement Officers in retail outlets.

    Finally, the potential for abuse in this scenario are manifest - and established. In Pennsylvania, a juvenile court judge incarcerated literally thousands of kids after being paid roughly $1 million by the private company that was building and administering the jail - higher numbers mean more jails to build and additional government contracts, no?

    I would abolish most of the regulatory agencies in the state and in the country if I could. But the essential functions of government - police, military, prosecutors, judges, etc. - should remain government functions.

    1. Hi Orrin,

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment. I would add that in a competitive market, where you correctly point out police firms have to sell themselves to the consumer, a reputation for being safe, professional, and honest would be worth quite a bit.

      So I agree with you when you say that private agencies have the same motivations to abuse their power. However, I would suggest that both the degree and frequency of this abuse is reduced (as compared to a monopolistic system) precisely because of competition. Additionally, because the consumer is free to choose which firm to pay, or not pay, this provides an additional check that is lacking under a government- run system funded via taxation where the consumer is not permitted to stop funding the agency.

      If you get a chance, I highly recommend The Enterprise of Law by Professor Bruce Benson. The link provides you with a brief synopsis of the work which I think you will find extremely fascinating. I know I did!

    2. "Indeed - how do you "sell" yourself as a law enforcement agency to the public in a competitive atmosphere? You brag about your "success" rates, which means numbers of arrests."

      One interesting point the book, Enterprise of Law touches on, is how this would most likely be different in a competitive, free market. While arrest statistics are use to measure how effective government run policing agencies are, it is much more likely that people are more interested in crime prevention, not merely arrests after the fact.

      As such, there are strong financial incentives for private policing firms to employ methods to prevent crimes from occurring and thus being able to market themselves in a way that they can boast of "Serving X community for 2 years without a single incident of crime!" to demonstrate their effectiveness in this regard.

      So I definitely understand your concern of a scenario in which competing police firms strive to be the most aggressive, but I would posit it is precisely the monopolization and prevention of competition under a government-run system that creates this condition! The de-monopolization of which would allow consumers to express their preferences and thus prompt the policing firms to respond in kind, if they wish to win the consumers' business.

      You gotta read that book, you are going to love it!

  3. Don't go into Henderson Nevada for any reason. The police are punks.