Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Private Police and Anti-Terrorist Training for Malls

It's hard not to notice the rising numbers of private police companies over the last few decades but until I read the report from the Washington Post, I had no idea these private companies and their forces were a booming business.

What is new is that police forces, including the Durham Police Department here in North Carolina's Research Triangle, are increasingly turning to private companies for help. Moreover, private-sector security is expanding into spheres -- complex criminal investigations and patrols of downtown districts and residential neighborhoods -- that used to be the province of law enforcement agencies alone.

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. The enormous Wackenhut Corp. guards the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia and screens visitors to the Statue of Liberty.

"You can see the public police becoming like the public health system," said Thomas M. Seamon, a former deputy police commissioner for Philadelphia who is president of Hallcrest Systems Inc., a leading security consultant. "It's basically, the government provides a certain base level. If you want more than that, you pay for it yourself."

Today the WaPo had another story about how shopping mall security officers were being given anti-terrorist training.

The job of a shopping mall security guard normally involves controlling rowdy teenagers, finding lost children and patrolling parking lots. But starting this month, malls across the country will begin training guards for another task: fighting terrorism.

The 14-hour program is being developed by the International Council of Shopping Centers, a trade group, and the Homeland Security Policy Institute at George Washington University at a cost of $2 million. It is the first standardized anti-terrorism curriculum written for the nation's estimated 20,000 mall security guards."

Seems clear that the trend for privatizing government is taking us to some new places.

Since private companies also operate prisons, one wonders if soon we can free up a lot of court time and let private companies handle any and all problematic populations.

The Bush administration has truly endorsed (with over 100,000 contractors) this type of change since they handed off chores of both protection of public and private facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan, and operations like interrogation to private firms, so the financial rewards continue to grow.

The wisdom of such changes -- unknown.

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