In the 1980s, whenever I would go into the classroom to explain libertarian principles, students were very concerned about the idea of private police. They feared that private police would turn into gangs that would steal from, and maybe even kill, the people they were supposed to protect with impunity. My answer was that this was more likely to happen with public police, who could not be fired simply by refusing to continue to pay their fees. My comments were met with a great deal of skepticism, because private policing was rare back in those days.

Fast forward to the present: our public police are on YouTube tasering ladies who don’t get out of their vehicles fast enough during a traffic stop. SWAT teams often kill or seriously injure innocent people when they go to the wrong house. How often does this happen? When Manhattan city officials started a hotline for the victims of such mistakes, it received over 100 calls the first week!

Prosecutors rarely go after law enforcement when they raid the wrong house. Instead, they try, convict and imprison, victims who have defended themselves, believing they were being attacked by a gang instead of police. Defending yourself against police officers is a crime, even when those officers are at the wrong house! Instead of getting an apology and restitution from the local government, these innocent victims are treated like criminals!

In 2009, federal officers seized over $1 billion of property in civil forfeiture action. Forfeiture means that the government takes your property (cash, house, auto, etc.) without due process. They claim that the property is guilty and it has no rights under the law.  You don’t even need to be charged with a crime for the government to take everything you own on a mere suspicion of wrong-doing.

The feds share this money with state and local enforcement agencies, giving them incentive to support such seizures. Not to be outdone, the locals operate their own “policing for profit.” In Chicago suburbs, automobiles are confiscated on the spot for blaring radios. The city of Detroit seized 3000 cars in 1995 because they were allegedly used to solicit prostitutes. Even if a victim is lucky enough to sue successfully for repossession of their property, they are often assessed outrageous “storage fees” which must be paid before the property is returned.

One of the unexpected consequences of our numerous overseas wars is an abundance of obsolete military equipment. Local police departments are encouraged to buy tanks, body armor, and military weaponry for pennies on the dollar. Gearing up as if they were going to war subtly suggests that the public is their enemy rather than their employer. Local police forces often recruit officers from the pool of military veterans, some of whom still feel that they are in a war zone. Many of our police are no longer “peace officers,” dedicated to protecting the public.

Unfortunately, officers who truly want to protect and serve find it increasingly difficult to avoid actions which harm the very people they are pledge to protect. The bad apples drive the good ones out.

While our public police have, to some, turned on the very people they are supposed to protect, private police are growing in numbers. Since it is more cost effective to prevent crime rather than to chase and apprehend aggressors, private police usually implement procedures that will greatly reduce crime. Consequently, a 10% increase in private security in a U.S. county decreases violent crime there by the same percentage, while investing in public police has little impact. Private police are not only less expensive to hire, they are usually more effective. Unlike the public police, private law officers can be personally liable if they harm someone without just cause.  Consequently, abuse by private law enforcement is rare, even though there are three times as many private officers in the U.S. as public ones.

One of the most cost effective ways to decrease crime is to make it easy for peaceful citizens to carry concealed weapons. Exhaustive studies demonstrate that violent crime, including robberies, assaults, rapes, and murders, decrease steadily in the decade after right to carry laws are passed. Criminals don’t know whether or not they will be confronted by an armed victim. This uncertainty appears to be enough to deter at least some of them. Attacks against women and minorities decrease the most, probably because these groups were most vulnerable before they had an opportunity for concealed carry.

In contrast, some countries have instituted nationwide gun bans. Ten years after Britain did so, gun related killings and injuries were up 440%! Ireland and Jamaica, which banned handguns in 1972 and 1974 respectively, have seen murder rates quadruple as well. Russia, which bands gun ownership, had four times the rate of homicides and suicides as in the U.S. where homicides have been dropping steadily since 1990. Clearly, people who are willing to steal, rape, and kill disobey the gun laws—and are thrilled that law-abiding citizens have been rendered virtually defenseless.

Sometimes we forget that we’ve created a great deal of the crime that plagues us when we outlaw drug use by peaceful people. Our police spend half of their time going after drug users instead of murderers, thieves and rapists. If we stop our police from going after people whose biggest crime is trying to feel good and focus their efforts on those who would actually harm us, it’s likely that crime wouldn’t pay.  That, in itself, would be a strong deterrent.

These posts are part of a “Cliff Notes” version of my award-winning international best-selling libertarian primer, Healing Our World. The next post in this series will be Chapter 17, “By Their Fruits You Shall Know Them.” If you’d like to learn more about policing aggression before the next post, check out Chapter 16 of the 1993 edition of Healing Our World, in my Free Library at