Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Private Corp. Takes Over Policing, Incarcerating in Montana Town

PRIVATE CORPORATION TAKES OVER POLICING, INCARCERATING IN MONTANA TOWN

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In a news story that gained little attention, CBS News' web site reported that a private security firm --American Police Force Corporation -- has been contracted by the town of Hardin, Montana to provide all police services and to manage the operation of that town's jail.

According to its web site, APF, a California firm, specializes in training military and security forces overseas and provides security services such as armed bodyguards in the United States.

The CBS News story also reported that APF utilizes three Sports Utility Vehicles complete with the town's own police logo. Besides police patrols, law enforcement and criminal investigation, the firm will operate a jail with a capacity for 464 prisoners.

Hardin's political leaders are quoted as saying the town's deal for private police and corrections "remained on track," despite some opposition to privatizing the police function.

Private security companies exercising police powers are becoming more commonplace especially with tight government budgets. However, in certain locations, private security officers have always mirrored public police. In many locations, private security guards are armed with firearms, batons, tasers and other weapons. This paradigm is quite common in so-called gated-communities, housing complexes, nuclear power plants and other locations,

According to the American Society for Industrial Security, the nations leading organization for security managers, directors and consultants, there are more than one million contract security guards, with perhaps another million guards who are "proprietary security officers who are hired directly by businesses and institutions. On the other hand, there are about 700,000 sworn law enforcement officers working for towns, cities, counties, states and the federal government.

While some police and many security officials say using the vast resources of the nation's "private police" to protect the public is a positive development, others believe that the public will suffer due to inadequate training and screening of rent-a-cops. For the most part, public police recruits are tested and undergo psychological evaluation before entering the academy. In addition, background investigations are conducted including the interviewing of former employers, neighbors, and others.

There are many police and law enforcement officials who are concerned with the growing trend of using military-experienced mercenaries to train and work with local police officers in the United States, but there are many who believe the events of September 11, 2001 dictate the need for this new paradigm.

For example, Kentucky’s Lexington Police Department contracted Blackwater Security International to provide what’s described as homeland security training. Meanwhile that city’s Mayor Jim Newberry and its chief of police Anthony Beatty refused free training provided by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement federal program that prepares police officers to enforce immigration and border security as part of their duties.

Lexington is on the nation’s list of so-called Sanctuary Cities in which police officers are prohibited from working with ICE or Border Patrol agents in the United States. Critics are angry over the use of local tax dollars to hire Blackwater personnel to train the police, while not taking advantage of training at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) in Glynco, Georgia.

But Lexington isn’t the only city using hired guns to help local police officers. In New Orleans, heavily armed operatives from a private security firm, known for their security work in Iraq, are openly patrolling the streets of that beleaguered city. It became necessary after Hurricane Katrina to use the security firm since many members of the New Orleans Police Department deserted their posts leaving many citizens to fend for themselves.

Some of the mercenaries were reportedly “deputized” by the Louisiana governor and were issued gold Louisiana State law enforcement badges to wear on their chests and photo identification cards to be worn on their arms.

Blackwater officials also say they are on contract with the Department of Homeland Security and have been given the authority to use lethal force if necessary. Some of the mercenaries assigned to patrol the streets of New Orleans recently returned from Iraq, where they provided personal security details for the former head of the US occupation, L. Paul Bremer, and the former US ambassador to Iraq, John Negroponte.

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