Over the last few years the news has been full of stories of excessive force, civil forfeiture, and other police abuses of power. But there is a disturbing trend that could overshadow all of these problems.
A growing number of states allow for private police forces, often given terms like “special police”, or “special conservators of the peace.” These are mercenaries with arrest authority and guns. While we are working on reforming the police by increasing public records and deploying body cameras, private police operate outside public scrutiny, and have no such oversight.
In cases of misconduct private police are not required to turn any information over to the public. Any investigation of the incident can be handled between the public and private police, entirely behind closed doors.
Further, the training requirements for private police are slim to none. Virginia recently increased training levels from 40 to 130 hours. Washington D.C. remains at 40 hours. Maryland has no requirements at all, leaving training to the discretion of the employer.
Finally, when interacting with private police your civil rights may not apply. You can sue the police for violating your rights - but not private citizens. You can use a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to learn about the actions of government law enforcement - but not private citizens. Private Police have the rights of law enforcement to detain and arrest you, and even use violence when necessary, but have little of the responsibility.
This is not a new problem. Private police agencies like the Pinkertons were deployed at least as far back as the labor movement in the late 1800s. However, as funding for public police continues to plummet states are relying on private police forces in greater numbers, making this a rapidly growing problem.