No, Internet, it is not true that cheap, effective, and polite private cops have booted Houston’s boys in blue off their stools at this Sharpstown Shipley’s, even if versions of this error-ridden story have gone viral in certain circles.
Here’s the version of the story that’s floating around. Two years ago “Sharpstown, Texas, fired its entire police department” and replaced with them with a private security firm called S.E.A.L. Solutions. Not only have the rent-a-cops brought down crime by a whopping 61 percent, they’ve saved taxpayers $200,000 a year. And best of all, since they are a private company, they are thus eminently liable to lawsuits in the event of a case of police brutality, and thus, a kinder, gentler lot:
Another aspect, and possibly the most important, that sets privatized police apart from agents of the state, is that they have a negative incentive to initiate force. Force and violence are vastly more expensive than today’s police lead us to believe.
Causing injury or death, or wrongfully depriving someone of their rights is very expensive if these costs are realized for the ones who cause them. The state does not care, however. They can and will defer their liability to the tax farm.
The act of deferment of liability is a function solely reserved for the state, and it creates an incentive to act in an unethical manner. In the case of SEAL Security, each of their officers, as well as their entire operation, can be held liable, both criminally and financially. This is something about which the state knows nothing.
So, cheaper cops bringing down the crime rate while being nice and respectful about it, and doing so without taking a dime of tax money. Cop Block, Alex Jones, and Joe Rogan are lovin’ it! Libertarian paradise!
Only very little of it is true.
First, there is no such place as Sharpstown, Texas. Sharpstown is a master-planned community in southwest Houston, Texas. Sharpstown has never had its own schools, fire department, mayor, post offices, city council, or police force. It is under the jurisdiction of the Houston Police Department, just like downtown Houston, River Oaks, and Fifth Ward.
Second, they didn’t fire anybody, technically speaking. They just refused to renew a yearly contract with the Harris County Constables’ Office for extra security patrols. (Sharpstown residents can still be ticketed and/or arrested by Harris County constables, just as they could by an HPD cop. I am sure some resident will try to pull the “You can’t bust me, we fired you,” card soon.) In addition to patrol, process-serving, and court security, Harris County constables will contract with neighborhoods for supplemental patrols, but their services do not come cheap. The Braeswood Place neighborhood, in near southwest Houston, pays $360,000 yearly for five deputy constables to patrol its confines.
And then there’s that alleged 61 percent reduction in crime. That number apparently originates from an “independent study” conducted by the Sharpstown Civic Association, a group with a vested interest in combating its image as a haven for crime. According to a more objective source—Houston’s NBC affiliate—Sharpstown had the most total crimes of any Houston neighborhood in 2013, the first full year of the S.E.A.L. patrols.
This isn’t the first time this story has gone around. Here’s a news video from April 2013, about five months after the civic association hired S.E.A.L. (I have no idea why this one did not go viral, like the latest one has, but such is the nature of the ’net. Maybe the bogus claims were not overblown enough.)
Note that the tagline claims that “crime” has gone down 50 percent since the rent-a-cops took over, but the head of the SCA states only that monthly home burglaries declined from twenty to eleven.
So in the end, Sharpstown did not fire its police force, and if crime went down significantly under the watch of the security guards who replaced the constables, it remained the neighborhood with the most total crimes in all of Houston. (I’ll bet it’s true that they saved money though.)
The story amounts to this: a neighborhood with lots of crime turned to a cheaper alternative to fight it, and it might or might not be working, depending on who you talk to. Whoever is behind this PR coup for both Sharpstown and S.E.A.L deserves a raise, and the Internet loses that much more credibility. Sigh.
(Photo: John Nova Lomax)