Local Police Provide Private Security For Corporations on Taxpayer Dollar
by Autumn Smith
Black Friday: a day of lines, crowds, early shopping — and getting a great deal. To many, Black Friday shopping is a tradition. To others, myself included, Black Friday is a day to stay home and avoid the crowds altogether. This year many retailers were opening their doors extra early and offering a variety of door buster sales and specials. Although I normally stay home on this day, I decided to venture out and document the long lines and crowds of people. Upon doing this, a much bigger story unfolded.
At about 1 am on Black Friday I drove out to various retailers to check out the crowds, take pictures and document the Black Friday madness. Upon driving through my local Best Buy parking lot, I noticed a police car parked in front of Best Buy and two uniformed police officers standing near the exit, providing security. Curious, I decided to go inside and ask the officers a few questions. I entered the store and made my way through the shoulder to shoulder crowd and asked the officers if they normally do security for Best Buy or if they were just doing it today. The officer replied that they do not normally do security and that they were just there for Black Friday. I then proceeded to ask the officer if they were getting paid by Best Buy, to which the officer replied “no’ and then asked me if I was filming her, which I replied, “Yes, you are out in public and I have the right to film you.” I then asked the officer how it felt and what they thought about providing private security to a corporation on the taxpayer dollar. The officer refused to answer and quit talking to me once I confronted them with this fact. Troubled by what I had witnessed and what I had been told by the officer, I then left the store. I knew this was a much bigger issue.
Best Buy is not the only corporate retailer who uses local police as private security on Black Friday. Many other large retailers do the same thing. As I was exiting Best Buy, I also saw two officers exit Kohl’s Department store, hop into their police car and drive down to patrol another store. My local newspaper also reported that extra patrols of local police were out to assist with the Black Friday crowds.
You may be asking yourself “what is the issue with all this?” The issue is that Best Buy, a private corporation, was using the local police who are paid by the taxpayers, to provide private security to them. Think about that for a minute. If Best Buy or any other private corporation wanted extra security for the large Black Friday crowds, why didn’t they hire and contract with a private security company or why doesn’t Best Buy pay for the cost of using the local police to secure and patrol their store? I am all for being proactive and preventing crime before it happens, but that is precisely what private security agencies do. Also I take into consideration the fact that the police were not there enforcing local or state fire codes, as the building appeared to be beyond capacity and the police were not counting how many people entered or exited the building, which leads me to conclude that they were there to protect the store from loss of product (corporate interest) rather than public safety and adhering to local fire codes, (public interest/safety).
To me this is another form of corporate welfare. The big corporate retailers (many of whom don’t pay taxes), are subsidizing their private security needs via the taxpayer funded police. What other private sector business’s do the local police or government patrol? The first one that comes to my mind is the TSA. Last time I checked, Delta Airlines, American Airlines, etc., were private companies yet the government has come in and created a bureaucracy in the name of safety on the taxpayer dollar.
More important than that is yet a even bigger issue. Why are our tax dollars going to protecting the corporations and their interests? Aren’t the police there to protect and serve the public? It is a scary thing to see how corporations and public entities along with the government are working together.
I would like to believe that my thoughts and conclusions are wrong, but after seeing witnessing the various abuses of power taking place in government and the private sector something tells me I might not be that wrong after all.
I spoke with Emmett Township Police Chief Mike Olsen about my concerns regarding the officers doing security on Black Friday. When I first entered the police station and told the receptionist I was wanting to speak to someone regarding this issue, I was told by the receptionist that they were aware of my concerns and that the issue was being taken care of. Not satisfied with that answer, I asked more specifics and asked how it was being addressed and what if any actions to address this had taken place. The receptionist then told me that the police officers that were working on Black Friday, were off duty that day. I pried more, and inquired about who was paying them because the officer I spoke with told me they were not being paid by Best Buy. I also mentioned the fact that they were in full uniform and that my understanding was that if they were ‘off duty’ they are not to be wearing their uniform off the clock. She then went and got the police chief to come and speak with me.
Police Chief Mike Olsen escorted me back to the kitchen area of the police station where we sat and discussed my concerns about this issue. Olsen apologized about the information the receptionist had told me and explained that that information was inaccurate. Olsen insisted that his officers were not out doing security for the stores on Black Friday. He also insisted that his and his officers’ top priority that day was public safety. He went on to explain that Black Friday brings more people which results in crowds, heavier traffic and potential for problems or safety issues to occur and that his officers were there in a ‘pro-active manner to let their presence be known.’
When I argued that private security companies should have been hired to do those things, he stated that he could see my point in a way but that our perspectives on the situation were different. I then explained to him that if the officers were there in the name of public safety, why weren’t local and state fire codes regarding building capacity being enforced and why the officers did not have a system in place to keep track of the number of people entering/exiting the building. He told me that that was because his officers do not do security and that that would be something a security guard would do.
I then asked him roughly how much does it cost to have an officer patrol an area in the fashion that his officers were doing on Black Friday? He told me Over $100/hour and that once you add in the cost of the police vehicle, and other expenses you are looking at upwards of over $20o/hr. He also informed me that the department budgets for extra patrols for Black Friday in their annual budget. He also emphasized the importance of maintaining a working relationship between the township and the businesses within the township.
I appreciate the time that Chief Olsen took to speak with me. Although I still disagree with the manner in which the police were being used, I think the intent on behalf of the Police Department was good. I just think that more forethought and input from citizens could help guide the police department to issues of more importance and where police focus is needed, instead of “patrolling” corporate retailers in ‘anticipation’ of ‘possible’ crime. If private security was used, it would still be a proactive approach, and the police could easily work with the various security agencies in the event a crime is committed The police should pick up where the security personnel’s job ends.
Oh, and he also told me that he had no intention of invoicing the cost of using the police to the stores that his officers patrolled.
I encourage people to contact their local law enforcement and demand accountability and transparency for what your tax dollars are being spent on. It’s time that we stand together and put an end to the corporate takeover of our government.
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