Private police bill looms over lame duck session

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By JEREMY WAHR
Capital News Service

LANSING — Companies would be able to create their own private police forces if a bill stalled in committee is somehow resurrected and passed during this year’s post-election lame-duck session.  

“Under this law, the KKK would be able to create their own private police force,” said Robert Stevenson, executive director of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police.

But supporters say that the law would allow for private police to serve as additional police on the street and give more security options to business groups.

The Enhanced Security and Public Safety Act would allow privately funded police forces. The bill, introduced in 2017, is in the Senate Government Operations Committee.

This could be a bill that gets passed while nobody is paying attention, and would have unforeseen consequences, Stevenson said.

Among his concerns about  private police forces: they would be less accountable, have different standards than regular police and would lessen community engagement.

“Municipal police answer to the public,” Stevenson said. “At the end of the day, they are controlled by the public, while private police are controlled by for-profit companies.”

Private police would be exempt from Freedom of Information Act requests under this bill, Stevenson said. The standards for training and competency of the private police would also not meet municipal standards.

Stevenson is also wary of the involvement of J.C. Huizenga, a Grand Rapids business owner and prominent political donor whom he says may have a conflict of interest.

Huizenga was the 20th largest Michigan political donor in the 2015-2016 cycle, giving $445,489 to state and national candidates and PACS, said Craig Mauger, executive director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

The bill was introduced by Sen. Arlan Meekhof, R-Grand Haven, who did not respond to requests for comments. Meekhof has received $20,000 in campaign donations from Huizenga since 2013, according to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

The Huizenga Group, a Michigan management firm founded by Huizenga, owns three special police agencies in North Carolina.

J.C. Huizenga has nothing to say about the bill, said Matthew Resch, founder of Resch Strategies, a public affairs firm in Lansing representing the company.

Stevenson said Huizenga has other options to increase police protection than supporting private police forces.

“If wealthy business owners want to help fund police departments, they should get involved in their communities,” Stevenson said. “They should try to restore funding that the state has cut or donate to their local police departments.”

The police chief of the Capitol Special Police in Raleigh, North Carolina, one of the agencies owned by the Huizenga Group, disagrees with concerns about special police.

“We serve as a force multiplier for municipal police,” said Chief Roy Taylor. “Our primary purpose is to serve as more law enforcement on the streets. Our funding just comes from a different place.”

Special police agencies augment regular police departments, Taylor said. There would be fewer police and less visible deterrents to crime without them.

About 10 percent of law enforcement in North Carolina are special police, Taylor said,  including 69 special police agencies that serve communities and 49 agencies that are owned by private business and properties. They are held to the same standards as public agencies, he said.

Police reports, citations and other legal proceedings are available to the public through the Freedom of Information Act, Taylor said. However, funding and salary information are not  subject to the act under the North Carolina legislation.

“You have to get away from the territorialism of police departments,” Taylor said. “Private police have no ambition of taking over cities or taking jobs from public police. It’s just another way to keep people safe.”

The Michigan bill would require private agencies to properly train their police, which would improve the overall safety of the state, Taylor said.