Friday, December 21, 2018

Wilbur R. Miller's "A History of Private Policing in the United States"

Wilbur R. Miller is Professor of History at Stony Brook University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, A History of Private Policing in the United States, and reported the following:
Opening A History of Private Policing in the United States to page 99, I find a discussion of the relationship between public law enforcement officials and private detectives during the 19th century. This discussion does point to a major argument of the book, that such cooperation is an important part of the development of private policing in the U.S. I have defined private policing very broadly to include not only the usual suspects of security guard services and private detectives (Pinkerton and Burns the most famous among many), but also control of labor unions and strikes, self-defense, vigilantism and private prisons. All these are forms of policing by private individuals to control the behavior of other people, with the tacit acceptance or open support of the state (government at all levels). Government has licensed and regulated security services and detectives, and sometimes hired them. It has in recent years broadened an individual’s ability to plead self-defense in a killing through the “stand your ground laws” in several states. It has sometimes passively, other times actively supported vigilante activity of many sorts: lynching, organized groups like the Ku Klux Klan, and ordinary neighborhood patrols. The army and police often worked with private strikebreaking agencies. The state contracts with private prison companies to manage prisoners and people detained under immigration laws. Of course, there have been conflicts between government and private agencies, especially between police and private detectives, but co-operation is an essential part of the story. This co-operation reflects the nature of the American government itself, a mix of public and private power in many areas. This inclusion of private agencies in governance reflects American political ideology, most apparent when Republicans dominate politically, that private is better than public, cheaper and more efficient. Sometimes that is true, but by no means always, especially in the case of private prisons. Guards protect property; detectives investigate, but private prisons make profit from people convicted under harsh minimum sentencing laws.
Learn more about A History of Private Policing in the United States at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue