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Public Safety—If You Can Afford It

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eye on the news

Public Safety—If You Can Afford It

Urban violence triggers the rise of private security services for the affluent. December 21, 2021
Public safety
Politics and law

Radical prosecutors and woke politicians in American cities have been defunding, demoralizing, and neutralizing the police—and violent crime is rising. In response, citizens have started taking the law into their own hands. This can happen in the middle of a riot, as in the case of Kyle Rittenhouse, but it can also occur in a more planned, deliberate fashion. Entire neighborhoods in several cities have enlisted private security services to protect their homes and loved ones.

With more than 800 homicides in Chicago already this year and a surge in violent carjackings, residents of the city’s trendy Bucktown neighborhood have lost confidence in Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx. They have created a neighborhood association and retained an armed private security force in an attempt to deter rising crime. In a tone-deaf response, Lightfoot said that she “totally understood” the fears of Chicago residents but still objected to the Bucktown residents’ efforts to protect themselves.

In Los Angeles, radical district attorney George Gascón has attacked both the police and his own prosecutors. On his watch, violence has spread across the city, even into the exclusive enclave of Beverly Hills, where an 81-year-old philanthropist was gunned down in her home by a convicted felon. In response to the murder and a series of smash-and-grab robberies at high-end stores, the Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce retained two private security companies to increase safety. Gascón made Lightfoot look like a master of public relations with his response to the murder in Beverly Hills: “As far as we can see, [the defendant] never received any meaningful intervention that may have helped him set his life on a different path, one that would have prevented the terrible tragedy from occurring.” In other words, it wasn’t the murderer’s fault; he just needed some hand-holding from somebody like Gascón.

In Atlanta, residents of the wealthy Buckhead district are talking about seceding entirely from the city, unhappy with the erratic leadership of Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. Buckhead City Committee CEO Bill White noted that Atlanta’s crime is driving the secession movement: “[With] the murder rate, and the shootings and the carjackings . . . and the street racing, no one can sleep at night.” Buckhead has also hired private security, adding a patrol funded through the Buckhead Community Improvement District. Mayor Bottoms has argued that breaking away from Atlanta won’t solve Buckhead’s crime problems because “people can travel across geographic lines”—hardly a reassuring statement from a municipal leader.

Chicago, L.A., Atlanta: all these cities have a common denominator. They have surrendered their public safety to non-prosecuting prosecutors, non-governing mayors, or a combination of both. Each city suffers from soaring violent crime. Each city has sidelined its police department. The violence in each started in the poor neighborhoods but is now creeping into even the wealthiest sections. Under these circumstances, it is hardly surprising that neighborhoods are banding together to hire private security. Like villagers in the Dark Ages, today’s city residents understand that they are on their own. Much as families are increasingly abandoning underperforming public schools for charters, more neighborhoods in cities across the nation may soon give up on publicly provided law enforcement in favor of private alternatives.

Hiring private security firms poses some problems. The quality of such organizations varies from excellent to mediocre. Government officials, whether the mayor, district attorney, or city council, have no direct control over such companies. The government cannot establish policies and limitations over the use of force, the number of security officers responding, and other discretionary functions, except what is provided for in the criminal law. For city neighborhoods, however, that lack of government control is now the point: if officials stop police from enforcing the law, then residents will hire private contractors to do the job.

Elected officials are not particularly worried about their own safety in the lawless cities they are supposed to be governing. Missouri representative Cori Bush dismissed spending $70,000 for her own private security between April 15 and June 28 of this year while supporting the defunding of police: “I have private security because my body is worth being on this planet right now.” Apparently, not all her constituents are entitled to that same luxury.

Those who can afford private security will either buy their physical safety or simply move out of the cities. The poor—disproportionately black and Hispanic victims of rising violence—are the ones most in need of government-funded police.

Photo by Stephen Lam/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

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