Monday, March 16, 2015

Private police, coming to a subdivision near you

Since the early 1980s, this country has been in the grip of the ideology of privatism, which is the moral conviction that anything "private" is better than anything "public."  In practice, that usually means handing over government functions to private corporations, and we call that privatization.  But in other cases, it means that government just abdicates its responsibilities on the assumption that somehow non-governmental actors will take over the function that government is no longer performing.  That's what has been going on with the HOA/condo revolution--local governments and developers set up private associations that everybody assumes will just happily carry out all sorts of government functions, with little or no oversight, training, or other institutional support.  However, in reality there are a lot of problems with that assumption, and the hands-off, out of sight, out of mind attitude toward HOAs and condo associations is being questioned because many associations are disorganized, out of control, underfunded, understaffed, and subject to takeover and manipulation (take a look at all my previous posts on the huge HOA takeover/fraud ring in Las Vegas for only one example). That's why so many state legislatures have been creating oversight frameworks for private governments, including regulation of associations' internal processes, ombudsman offices, and public education.  It's not much, but it does amount to a recognition that a lot of associations are struggling and even failing.

Probably the most dangerous aspect of this HOA takeover of government functions is the rise of private policing in these associations.  Ward Lucas has a post on this referencing this article from  he Washington Post:

Here in Illinois, in 2013 the state Supreme Court made a truly bizarre decision (Poris v. Lake Holiday POA) that allows HOA private police to make traffic stops and issue citations.  The decision is remarkable for its ignorance.  I wrote a post on it at the time.  The court never  even mentioned the Illinois statutes that govern HOAs, never referenced any of the major cases from all across the nation on the limits of CID private government, and refused even to consider what the limits are of this power. For example, what are the rights of citizens to resist these private security guards?  What force can the citizen and the pseudo-cop  use against each other?

I think nobody learned much from George Zimmerman killing  Trayvon Martin.  Zimmerman was a "neighborhood watch" volunteer that the HOA told people to call.  He was also armed and, we now know, prone to nasty encounters with other people, especially his significant others.  What better example can there be of the risks involved  in these encounters?  Self-appointed vigilantes and untrained security guards--the bottom of the law enforcement food chain--are running around stopping people.  Couple that with the fact that many civilians are carrying concealed weapons. This is a bad mix.

The problem would be solved if  local governments would reclaim their basic responsibility to enforce the law in their jurisdictions.  But law enforcement costs money, and if people don't want to pay taxes to  support public local government, they will get what they are paying for: the George Zimmermans of the world, coming to a subdivision near you.

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