The Private Arm of the Law
`With the sleeve patch on his black shirt, the 9mm gun on his hip and the blue light on his patrol car, he looked like an ordinary police officer as he stopped the car on a Friday night last month. Watt works, though, for a business called Capitol Special Police. It is one of dozens of private security companies given police powers by the state of North Carolina — and part of a pattern across the United States in which public safety is shifting into private hands.
Private firms with outright police powers have been proliferating in some places — and trying to expand their terrain. The “company police agencies,” as businesses such as Capitol Special Police are called here, are lobbying the state legislature to broaden their jurisdiction, currently limited to the private property of those who hire them, to adjacent streets. Elsewhere — including wealthy gated communities in South Florida and the Tri-Rail commuter trains between Miami and West Palm Beach — private security patrols without police authority carry weapons, sometimes dress like SWAT teams and make citizen’s arrests.’