Privatizing Police Work

A Minnesota town hires a private security firm to handle its police work

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Flickr user Kyle Taylor, Dream It. Do It. World Tour, under a Creative Commons license

Fighting crime is expensive. And if you’re a small town with diminishing resources, the price of public safety can often be a heavy but necessary burden. One small town in Minnesota is attempting to slash its costs by outsourcing their police work to a private security firm.

KARE-TV reports that the town of Foley, about 60 miles outside of Minneapolis, has handed over its police work to General Security Services Corporation, a private security provider that serves private homes, companies, commercial areas and government buildings. Full-time patrols will begin in January.

The town of about 2,600 had previously been relying on sheriff’s deputies from Benton County, who would patrol the city for 17.1 hours a day at a monthly cost of about $23,000 a month. The new deal with General Security Services will cost $98,500 for six months, or about $7,000 less per month than the cost of the sheriff’s deputies.

Private policing is increasingly common in cities across the U.S., though it’s typically only used for a portion of a city’s public safety needs. It’s a trend that’s growing in cities much larger than Foley. Oakland, California, for example, hired a number of private security guards to patrol a crime-ridden part of town in 2009. They got four private guards for less than the price of one police officer.

But along with those savings come reduced services. Foley's private security guards will be able to patrol areas and make citizen arrests, but can’t investigate crimes or perform traffic stops. That trade-off could be great for the city’s budget, but there’s also the possibility that the cost of crime outweighs the cost of savings.

About the Author

  • Nate Berg is a freelance reporter and a former staff writer for CityLab. He lives in Los Angeles.