Legislation that would allow corporations, nonprofits and other entities to set up their own policing agencies came under heavy criticism Tuesday from a variety of law enforcement groups at the Senate Government Operations Committee.

SB 594* and SB 595* would allow such an entity, if licensed by the Department of State Police, to reach a contract with a special police agency for a set period of time in a set geographic location. These agencies would have the same arresting authority as regular police officers and have governmental immunity.

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive), the sponsor of the bills, said they would simply extend to more entities powers already enjoyed by public universities, community colleges and hospitals.

Harry Dolan, a former Grand Rapids police chief who now heads the Dolan Consulting Group, said special police agencies supplement traditional police agencies at a time of fewer officers.

“We are working with fewer resources and facing a greater need than ever before,” he told the committee. “This legislation will help fill an ever-increasing void.”

But a long lineup of law enforcement groups – the State Police, Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police, Oakland County Sheriff’s Department and the Police Officers Association of Michigan – voiced strong opposition to the legislation.

Howell Police Chief George Basar invoked the specter of the private military organization Blackwater, which came under heavy criticism for its conduct in Iraq.

“At some level, it almost feels like we’re creating a Blackwater for policing here in the state of Michigan,” he said. “It almost feels like we’re putting together a mercenary force to police some of our communities.”

An irritated Mr. Meekhof cut him off, calling such comments “conjecture” and “out of line.” There are accountability standards in the legislation, he said.

Law enforcement officials raised concerns about training, LEIN access and auditing requirements. Sergeant Tim Fitzgerald of the State Police said the department opposes having licensing authority, saying such activities are better handled by the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards.

Ken Grabowski of POAM questioned the caliber of officers a private policing agency would employ.

“The main job of government is to protect the people, not farm out their services to private entities for a for-profit police department,” he said. “We just feel this type of action would be ripe for corruption. The employees you would hire in a private entity would probably be the employees that wouldn’t make it in a real police department.”

No vote was taken on the bills.

Article via The Gongwer News Service. Read POAM’s original Urge to No-Vote article.