The Forgotten Threat: Private Policing and the State

Joh, Elizabeth E.
July 2006
Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies;Summer2006, Vol. 13 Issue 2, p357
Academic Journal
What do Disneyland, the Abu Ghraib U.S. military prison, the Mall of America, and the Y-12 nuclear security complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee have in common? They have wildly different purposes, but they share a common characteristic as employers of private police. This answer--indicative of the prevalence and numbers of private police today--would have struck the nineteenth-century observer as evidence of a gross failure by the state. Yet that reaction, in turn, would seem odd to us. Vocal support of private police can be found among public police chiefs, lawmakers, and even President Bush. What kinds of criticisms were once leveled at private police by public officials? How did one attitude, deeply skeptical of private police, evolve into another that sees heavy reliance upon private policing as beneficial, or at least benign? Here, I take a fresh look at the dynamics of that change, and by doing so, restore to their proper place fundamental questions about the use of police who are privately financed and organized in a democratic society. These questions, and the violent history that midwived them, have been largely and undeservedly forgotten by the legal literature. Using this historical perspective, I examine the shifting status of private policing: first, by examining the history of public criticism directed against them; second, by recounting the partnership model that first gained a foothold in studies sponsored by the federal government in the 1970s and 1980s; and third, by questioning the meaning and intentions behind the idea of partnership advanced today.


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