This post has been updated to correct information about training requirements for a “special police officer”.
It takes a lot to surprise me when it comes to “Republicans Gone Wild!” type legislation in Michigan these days. After all, this is the state where Republicans passed a law forcing women to purchase special insurance to cover abortions – what I call the “Plan Ahead for your Abortion Law” – and proposed doing away with our state income tax after having given hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks to corporations.
But I have to say this latest package of bills introduced by Republican Arlan Meekhof took me by surprise. If signed into law, it would allow for private, for-profit police agencies which are immune from FOIA laws. These private police would have full arrest powers. It’s insanity:
Michigan would authorize a new class of private and potentially for-profit police agencies with full arrest powers under legislation proposed and pushed by Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof. […]
The legislation would allow corporations, associations, school districts and other entities to contract with private police agencies to provide services for a specific time and in a specific geographic area. […]
[T]he legislation was panned by current law enforcement officials, who said they were concerned by proposed transparency and training requirements. A private officer would not have to undergo a background check if he or she were licensed by the state as a law enforcement officer within the previous two years, they noted.
“At some level, it feels like we’re creating a Blackwater for police in the state of Michigan,” said Howell Police Chief George Basar, a past president for the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police. “It almost feels like we’re putting together a mercenary force to police in some of our communities.”
Meekhof brought up a guy from North Carolina who owns two private police agencies to testify before a Senate Government Operations Committee hearing on the bill about how great this idea is. That’s what you’re forced to do when not a single cop or other law enforcement agent thinks what you’re proposing is anything but madness.
According to reporting by Emily Lawler at MLive, “under the bill, the private police agencies would be extended governmental immunity but would not be subject to the state’s Freedom of Information Act.” The legislation specifies that so-called “legally organized entities” who could hire these private police agencies include, but are not limited to, an association, corporation, partnership, proprietorship, trust, foundation, nonprofit organization, school district, political subdivision, local unit of government, federally recognized Indian tribe, or institution of higher education.
Meekhof’s insane legislation lowers the bar to be a private cop about as low as you can go. In order to obtain a private cop license, you simply have to be over 21, have a high school diploma or equivalent, have not been convicted of a felony in the five years before applying, and be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. The private cop would also have had to be licensed by the Michigan State Police as a law enforcement officer within the past two years. The training requirements for that are set out in the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards Act (MCOLES) – 1965 PA 203, MCL 28.609 – which requires completing “Preenrollment requirements, courses of study, attendance requirements, and instructional hours at an agency basic law enforcement training academy, a preservice college basic law enforcement training academy, or a regional basic law enforcement training academy.”
However, as Howell Police Basar noted in Lawler’s piece, training for the private cops is not required to be as extensive as for traditional police officers:
Basar, of Howell, pointed to the training required by the Michigan Coalition on Law Enforcement Standards. Under this law for private companies, the standards would be different than for traditional police forces.
“Potentially we could be hiring security guards from other states without any police or MCOLES training,” Basar said.
The only requirement for someone opening a private police force is that “at least one officer or employee” of the private police agency meet at least one of the following criteria (from the Senate Fiscal Agency’s analysis):
The applicant would have to include evidence that at least one officer or employee of the special police agency met one or more of the following:
— He or she was employed as a licensed law enforcement officer in Michigan or another state for at least three years.
— He or she was employed at a special police or licensed security agency in this or another state for at least three years as an employee of the applicant seeking licensure, and had experience that was reasonably equivalent to at least four years of work in a supervisory capacity with rank above that of patrol officer.
— He or she was a graduate with a bachelor or associate degree in the field of police administration or industrial security from an accredited institution of higher education.
— He or she served in the United States Armed Forces as a military police officer or in an equivalent job classification.
The person doesn’t have to meet ALL of these criteria, they only have to meet ONE of them. If just one of the employees of the private police agency meets just one of these requirements, you’re ready to go out and start arresting people and getting your cop on. And you’ll be totally protected by governmental immunity and from FOIA laws. Good to go.
This is a privatization scheme that corporate front groups have been pushing for a long time. Here’s the Mackinac Center back in 1998:
Traditionally, government police officers have shouldered the burden of providing for public safety while taxpayers have directly absorbed the full costs for these benefits. Privatization of some police forces can both enhance safety and lower costs, as a number of examples show. […]
Outsourcing is another way governments improve police services at a low cost. […]
The possibilities for police privatization are limited only by the ingenuity and political courage of local leaders.
Courage is not the word I would use to describe this, of course. Idiocy, maybe. Or greed. Because, let’s face it, when there is profit to be made from privatizing government services, for-profit corporations surge to the front of the line with their hands out.
It’s probably no coincidence that the Mackinac Center is heavily funded by the DeVos family (who have also contributed $14,000 to Meekhof since 2012.) Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s brother, Erik Prince, is the notorious founder of Blackwater Worldwide, a private, for-profit mercenary group that provides security and other services in war zones. It’s well known that Prince wants to privatize war, like the one in Afghanistan. If you’re willing to go that far, privatizing your local police department seems almost tame by comparison.
But sane people understand that putting a profit motive behind policing, making police forces even LESS transparent, and giving them government immunity can only lead to outrageous abuses. And if a private cop violates your civil rights or beats the shit out of you or even kills you, who will you or your loved ones complain to? The corporation that profits from that cop’s work?
Yeah, good luck with that.