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Legislation could expand use of private police forces in Michigan

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Two new bills in the Michigan Senate would expand the licensing and jurisdiction of private police companies in the state.

Supporters of the bill say private policing will help supplement underfunded police forces but critics say it could create private militias with no accountability to the public.

The bills are sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof and would create new standards for licensing private police organizations. Michigan already has 14 private police groups, mainly for schools and hospitals.

Roy Taylor works for Blue Ridge Public Safety in North Carolina, a private police agency, and testified in support of the bill. He said private police forces help support public law enforcement, and provide enforcement on par with public institutions.

“It gives an option to companies and schools and hospitals that currently have their own private police to outsource that as a cost savings and the biggest benefit is to the local police where these companies are going to be working because it multiplies their capabilities.”

Taylor said private companies also have rigorous hiring standards.

“The notion that they are subpar and bullies with badges and guns is just not the case.”

But Kimberly Buddin, with the ACLU of Michigan, said a private police force is concerning because it is not clear how they will be held accountable.

“They are not beholden to the public, they are not serving in an office where there is an elected person like a sheriff who has to answer to the public come election time for his actions.”

And, said Buddin, the bills would give private companies immunity to Freedom of Information Act requests.

“It’s not going to be possible for the public to gain access to the documents or their practices and policies unless they choose to make that information available. Ultimately when we have policing power without adequate accountability it’s extremely dangerous to our society.”

Buddin said she also worries that by privatizing safety it could make public safety something only wealthy communities can afford.

Taylor, with Blue Ridge Public Safety, said there is a process for filing complaints to keep police accountable and private police services are relatively affordable.