by Bob Barr
Last year’s toxic confluence of urban violence and COVID lockdowns led to a surge in gun ownership, particularly among first-time purchasers and minorities. More firearms were purchased in 2020 than any year on record – some 21 million, with about 40% being first-time buyers. The radical offshoot of 2020’s urban violence to “defund the police,” led in many cities by the Marxist-inspired Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, also has given rise to an increased interest in private police forces, run not by government and not paid for with taxpayer funds.
The concept of private policing is by no means a new or novel idea; the Foundation for Economic Education, or FEE, wrote about it in an article by Nicholas Elliott 30 years ago in February 1991, for example. It is, however, taking on new life – and controversy – as a result of the dramatic rise in violent crime rates in cities hit hard by the “defund” movement. Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Atlanta and of course, Minneapolis where the “defund” movement really started, all are witnessing significant increases in violent crime as law enforcement funding has been cut and as anti-police sentiment has grown.
Historically, and contrary to popular belief, the primary responsibility for protection of oneself does not fall to the police; it is the primary responsibility of the individual. This not only reflects the reality that the police cannot be everywhere all the time, but also represents a legal principle recognized in federal court decisions, including by the United States Supreme Court. In fact, that there were no organized, publicly funded police departments in the U.S. until the late 19th century. Citizens themselves were considered stewards of their homes and businesses, and responsible for their personal safety and that of their family members – thus the need for the Second Amendment to ensure the ability of citizens to defend themselves with a firearm.
With the urbanization of the country in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and reflecting the rise in crime rates and the number of criminal offenses, police departments were formed in cities across the country to provide investigative resources and aid in prosecution of criminal offenses. However, the primary responsibility to protect oneself remained vested with the individual, notwithstanding the explosive growth in taxpayer-funded programs by government agencies at the federal, state, and local levels over the past seven decades.
Now, in this third decade of the 21st century, with the defund movement decimating police budgets in the very places where police presence is most needed, Americans of all backgrounds and ethnicities are coming to realize this truism – it is they that are responsible for protecting themselves, their families, and their businesses. The surge in first-time gun buyers, especially among black Americans reflects just this reality. And, in some metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles County, private policing paid for by individual subscribers, is moving to fill the void created by the defund movement.
Citizen, described in a recent article as a “neighborhood watch app” that has partnered with the large private security firm Los Angeles Professional Security (LAPS), provides “subscription law enforcement service” to residents and businesses that pay a regular fee for protection.
This trend actually is not new. Long before the violent upheavals and subsequent anti-police fervor of the past few years, the ability of major police departments to maintain their numbers was dropping noticeably. This was particularly the case in states governed by Democrat elected officials, such as California and New Jersey.
In response to this decreased funding trend, specialized units were disbanded, investigations cut back, and some city departments disbanded altogether, thereby placing additional burdens on county police. Even traditional law enforcement organizations, such as the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), concluded in 2015 that partnering with private security firms, a strategy that had taken hold in the U.K. and other countries on the continent, would be of significant benefit in the years ahead.
Significant legal and privacy issues remain to be resolved fully before the concept of subscriber-based security services takes hold across the country, and liberals will decry it as “class-based” security for the rich only. Notwithstanding such criticism, programs like those in Los Angeles, and increased individual ownership of firearms, will come to define the future of policing in many cities across the country.
Bob Barr represented Georgia’s Seventh District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. He served as the United States Attorney in Atlanta from 1986 to 1990 and was an official with the CIA in the 1970s. He now practices law in Atlanta, Georgia and serves as head of Liberty Guard.