Ch. 4 Koch Network's Anti-Civil Rights Crusade

Part 7: Privatizing the Police

  1. Blackwater and Beyond

  2. Flawed research Advocating for increased policing


Part 7: Privatizing the Police

In light of 2016 violence between police and protesters, the modern-day John Birch Society has argued for the privatization of police. While this might seem like the musings of fringe free-market fundamentalists, JBS cites the research of Koch funded Mises scholar, Bruce Benson, an economist from Florida State University. JBS cites Benson’s 1998 book published by the free-market think tank, Independent Institute, entitled To Serve and Protect: Privatization and Community in Criminal Justice, which explores:

outsourcing of government functions such as prisons and corrections, security, and arbitration to full-scale “private justice” initiatives, such as business and community-imposed sanctions, citizen crime prevention, and increased private security and self-defense. (Independent Institute)

When Benson was awarded the 2007 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Libertarian Alliance, his presentation was entitled “Private Law Enforcement: Libertarian Ideas on the Future of Justice.”

Benson has received millions of dollars from the Koch foundation, and has been president of their core academic association, the Association of Private Enterprise Education (APEE). He is the recipient of APEE’s highest honor, the Adam Smith award. Several of his books (including To Serve and Protect) are on APEE’s recommended reading list.

In the 2011 reprint of Bruce Benson’s (1990) book on prison privatization, “The Enterprise of Law: Justice Without the State,” he acknowledges Koch’s Institute for Humane Studies and the Mises Institute in:

their efforts to keep The Enterprise of Law alive and circulating. The book never was heavily advertised, but recognition and readership have grown fairly steadily for years, largely through word of mouth. Leonard Liggio has always been one of my strongest supporters and an advocate for the book, even using it in [George Mason University] law school classes. Moreover, the Institute for Humane Studies has done more over the years to advertise and distribute the book titan any other organization. They gave copies of the book to hundreds of students going through their summer programs, and information about the book spread from there. More recently, the Ludwig von Mises Institute has been a primary market source for the book. They purchased a large number of copies from the last printing done by the Pacific Research Institute and have been advertising it and offering it for sale at a very reasonable price on their web page since then. (Acknowledgement Update, Enterprise of Law, 2011)

Yet another police privatization project funded by the Koch foundation can be seen in 2016 at the University of Indiana. With $112,100 from the Charles Koch Foundation, Dr. Doug Noonan examined the “True Cost of Public Safety.”

According to grant documentation, the work appears to promise predetermined conclusions about the costliness of public policing, along with the creation of a “cost index” of public safety (not unlike other Koch-funded “indexes”):

Our work will demonstrate the unsustainability of local public safety financing. . . Conventional public policy here is replete with outmoded models of staffing and funding public safety — ill-equipped for efficient or effective operation in today's world. . .

A "cost index" of public safety for local governments could attract a great deal of attention and catalyze policy change - whether it's reforming the funding system or reevaluating local policies. Our research team will produce two policy briefs and two op-eds in support of the national forum and derived from the research. (Noonan/CKF proposal)

Other Koch scholars have published recent works advocating police privatization, including a 2015 book called “Private Governance,” written by past APEE president, Mises Scholar, and Trinity College professor, Ed Stringham.

Stringham, in a 2017 Mises Institute interview, discussed incentives in the criminal justice system in light of the murder of Philando Castile, suggesting that privatizing the police might be the answer, since:

markets don’t allow the customer to be mistreated, where a coercive government monopoly does. (Video at 4:00)

Then, discussing Disney’s private security force, Stringham:

Just like a club, like Ebay is maximizing the well-being of the buyers and the sellers , a club like Disney is maximizing the well-being of people in that park. You go there to have a good time, and you don’t want to be beat up. . .  You don’t see police brutality at Disney, you don’t see shootings at Disney. You know why? Because of consumer demand. They care about the customer, unlike government officials who are not paid by how well they treat the customer. Market providers of security do get paid by that. (Video at 11:00)

This is characteristic of the anecdotal arguments offered by Austrian economists. In fact, several court cases have ruled Disney’s security forces are not accountable to the public because they are private. In 1977 United States v. Francoeur, a judge ruled that citizens are not protected from illegal search and seizure committed by Disney’s private police, including activities “which, if carried on by either state or federal officials, would have amounted to a violation of their Fourth Amendment rights.”

In 1997 Sipkema v. Reedy Creek Improvement District, after a high speed chase conducted by Disney police led to an accident killing Rob Sipkema, Sipkema’s parents sued to obtain copies of security manuals, traffic citations, and accident reports from employees of Walt Disney World Company. A judge ultimately ruled that Disney was exempt from Florida Public Records laws because the Disney police were:

not created for the purpose of providing law enforcement services for the inhabitants of the district, [and] its enabling act does not authorize it to perform that function. Reedy Creek is neither a county nor a city nor a substitute therefor. . . As the trial judge found, Disney issues only Mickey Mouse traffic citations. Such citations are issued only to Disney employees, in order to encourage them to obey the speed limits and to otherwise drive safely on Disney property. (Sipkema v. Reedy Creek Impr. Dist.)

Disney has also been criticized for its relationship with a militarized and murderous Anaheim police force. Documents obtained by journalist Jeremy Scahill show Disney’s contracting with the private mercenary firm Blackwater, founded by Betsy DeVos”s brother, Erik Prince.

Though his known Disney contract was for intelligence and not for policing (phew!), we do see clear reason to believe that Prince is interested in privatized domestic security, once again, involving Koch-funded professors affiliated with APEE, George Mason University, and the Mises Institute.

1. Blackwater and Beyond

Erik Prince and his private mercenary army, Blackwater, were profiled in Time Magazine, and the atrocities committed against the Iraqi people while contracted by the U.S. Military”

"Based on information provided to me by former colleagues, it appears that Mr. Prince and his employees murdered, or had murdered, one or more persons who have provided information, or who were planning to provide information, to the federal authorities about the ongoing criminal conduct."  — Testimony of John Doe #2, entered into federal court in Virginia on Aug. 3.

"Mr. Prince intentionally deployed to Iraq certain men who shared his vision of Christian supremacy, knowing and wanting these men to take every available opportunity to murder Iraqis. Many of these men used call signs based on the Knights of the Templar, the warriors who fought the Crusades."  — Testimony of John Doe #2, entered into federal court in Virginia on Aug. 3.

The Mont Pelerin Society is an international organization of highly politicized free-market academics. High profile members have included Ludwig von Mises, Freidrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, and Charles Koch (a member since 1970).

At the 2016 conference of the Mont Pelerin Society, “Battle for Freedom,” Erik Prince was a panelist alongside Koch-funded professors to discuss private police.

Prince presented on a panel called "The Security of the Free Society":

The unhindered movement of money, goods and people are essential aspects of economic freedom. But these same freedoms can be used for violent purposes by national or international aggressors. Speakers will address the threats of over-protection and under-protection of private property and personal freedoms.

Prince also sat in on a following break out discussion on the topic, meant to:

explore how the principles explored in the [previous] papers might be applied in practice to current challenges to the free society, from ISIS to the War on Drugs.

Prince joined APEE executive committee member, George Mason University professor, and Mises Institute contributor Christopher Coyne on the panel. Coyne’s research includes studying the economics of war, including how:

Specialists in state-produced social control are able to suggest and implement new techniques and organizational forms of state social control on the domestic population based on their experiences of doing the same to distant populations. (Perfecting Tyranny, Independent Review 2014)

Prince has close ties to the Koch network, through his sister Betsy Devos and the DeVos family.

2. Flawed Methodology Advocating for Increased Policing

The Charles Koch Foundation also funded work in 2016 that includes recommendations  by the Police Foundation for an increased presence of foot-patrol police in communities with “strained relations” with police.

The Police Foundation celebrated its own research in their press release:

The importance and timeliness of this study cannot be understated. “Given the recent events in policing and the ongoing national conversation about community-police relations, this study offers a glimpse of the positive policing and engagement occurring across the country”, said Jim Bueermann, president of the Police Foundation. Furthermore, it underscores the importance of relationships. As one community member asserted during the study, “The key to policing, no matter where you are in the country, is building relationships. It’s not rocket science.”

Yet, forty-one pages into the report, the study discloses some fatal methodological shortcomings not mentioned in the enthusiastic press release:

While the current study provides key details about foot patrol, several limitations are noteworthy. First, perceptions of community members within this study may be biased. Since all community members involved in the focus group interviews were selected for participation by their respective law enforcement agency, sentiments expressed by the focus groups may not be representative of the community at large. This issue may be more problematic given the small sample of community members interviewed. Similarly, the limited number of field observations and short duration for observation periods may have inadequately captured many activities and experiences related to foot patrol. (Police Foundation, 2016, pg 41)


Chapter 5 examines how this push to control policing ties fits into a larger context, considering the Koch network's involvement in opposing the Movement for Black Lives (BLM).