LANSING, MI May 16 2018- A second attempt at legislation to allow for the expansion of private police forces passed the Senate Government Operations Committee on Tuesday over the continued opposition of existing law enforcement groups.
The issue first came up last year, when companion bills from Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, moved to create a new act allowing private police forces with different requirements than regular police officers. The private forces could have received governmental immunity and no obligation to abide by the Freedom of Information Act.
Those bills met with strong opposition from the law enforcement community, including one sheriff who testified they would create a “mercenary force” within some communities. They didn’t come to a vote in committee.
Michigan lawmakers are mulling legislation that could expand private policing.
Senate Bill 924 is a second swipe at the general idea from Sen. Mike Kowall, R-Whitelake.
Instead of creating private policing agencies under a different statute it would roll them into, and expand on, a current law that allows private policing in entities like hospitals and educational institutions. There are currently 13 such private security police agencies in the state.
But the bill would expand what kind of groups could use private police to any “legally organized entity,” including associations, partnerships, trusts and corporations. It would also let those entities contract with companies who provide private policing services instead of having to maintain their own forces. Government entities, such as cities, could not use a privatized police force.
Police would be subject to training standards through the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards, Kowall said. Under the bill they have the power to arrest individuals.
But law enforcement officials say that’s only part of the story. Who transports arrested individuals to jail, asked Michigan Sheriff’s Association Executive Director and CEO Blaine Koops. Are they taken to county jail? Who prosecutes them?
“Through all these processes our question is, who pays for this? Is it the peoples’ responsibility to pay for these costs, or are they incurred by either the entity that’s doing the contracting or the contracting agency?” Koops asked.
Meekhof said arrests are made in the public interest regardless of who did the arresting.
“Explain to me the difference of whoever arrests somebody who’s breaking the law, that that isn’t somehow in the best interests of the public,” Meekhof said.
Koops said the difference is that traditional police agencies serve the public. These police serve the company they work for.
“It’s in their interest, it isn’t necessarily in the interest of the public. It could be, but it isn’t necessarily so,” Koops said.
“Glass half-full or half-empty, I guess,” Meekhof said.
Kowall is pitching the idea as a way to get more school security. Kowall said this would let schools contract with a private police agency and pay them on a school schedule instead of having to fund 40 hours a week and retirement benefits like they do for a traditional officer.
“They’re off when the kids are off and it just makes more sense. And it gets the security in the schools,” Kowall said.
When asked what entity was seeking this bill, Kowall initially said schools. School groups, however, have teamed up with law enforcement and proposed putting school resource officers from traditional police forces in schools.
A coalition is urging more mental health professionals and school resource officers.
Kowall said private police companies “were in here a while ago wanting to do this” but he didn’t like the previous bills. When asked if those private police companies had asked for the bills, Kowall answered, “no, not really,” stating instead that he was behind it.
The only group to register public support of the bill was the Michigan Contract Security Association, a group established to represent small security agency licensees in 2002.
Though Senate Bill 924 is different than previous iterations, it did not win the support of law enforcement groups. The Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police, Deputy Sheriffs’ Association, Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan, Michigan State Police Troopers Association and Michigan State Police Command Officers Association oppose it.
Kowall said he wants to work on companion legislation that would address the concerns raised by the law enforcement groups and was open to updating current laws regulating private security businesses.
The committee adopted a substitute and reported the bill 4-1. The only senator to vote against it was Sen. Morris Hood III, D-Detroit.
“I think that our police officers and police agencies across the state do a great job at what they’re doing. And I think that, you know, they’ve run against budget issues in their local communities,” Hood said.
He said he’d rather replace revenue sharing so local law enforcement agencies had the funding to hire more officers and expand their enforcement if needed.
The bill would have to pass the full Senate, full House and be signed by Gov. Rick Snyder to become law.