THE MAGAZINE

The Privatization of Police in America: An Analysis and Case Study

By James C. Beachell

The Privatization of Police in America: An Analysis and Case Study. By James F. Pastor; published by McFarland and Company; available from ASIS International, Item #1577, 703/519-6200 (phone), www.asisonline.org (Web); 344 pages; $35 (ASIS members), $39 (nonmembers).

 Originally written as a doctoral thesis and republished commercially for a wider audience, this book has the strengths and weaknesses of an academic tract.

On the plus side, the author raises interesting issues and generates thought-provoking insights into what he perceives as the increasing privatization of police in the United States and the constitutional questions that this trend raises. Weaknesses, on the other hand, include lengthy explanations, excessively detailed presentations of methodology, and the imitation of the case-study method--it is difficult to generalize findings to other scenarios.

An attorney and former police officer, the author is particularly strong on legal issues. He raises questions about the applicability of constitutional rights when private security personnel take action, an opportune inquiry at a time when the government looks to the private sector as a major homeland security resource. Specifically, the author probes under what circumstances private security officers act on behalf of the government and under what circumstances they are purely private sector actors.

Another operational factor that the author addresses, which few other authors have, is accountability, which he contends limits abusive or illegal conduct. The author sees a lack of models specific to security patrols that would define their functions and lay out policies and procedures for handling complaints of misconduct.

The final two chapters are probably the best in the book, summarizing the author's conclusions and offering excellent insights into the risks and benefits of privatizing certain police functions, such as maintaining order, and the inherent difficulty of doing so.

After 9-11, the public demanded a level of security that fiscally constrained governments were hard-pressed to deliver. Private security firms have stepped in. The problem is that the training, pay, and benefits for security officers lag far below what is offered to police.

This academic study should encourage private security practitioners and police executives to think critically about the relationship between public and private policing.


Reviewer: James C. Beachell is the owner of a private security-services business licensed in Virginia. He is retired from the CIA and the Air Force Reserves, where he served with the security police and the Office of Special Investigations at the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. Beachell holds an M.S. in criminology from Florida State University and an M.B.A. from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Beachell is a member of ASIS International.

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