Monday, April 20, 2009

Why Not a Charter System for Police Departments?

April 20, 2025

Part One: The Crisis in Law Enforcement

In the early part of the twenty-first century, the United States experienced a crisis in law enforcement. Urban crime rates were high, and it was clear to the nation that police officers were failing to do the most basic job.* Huge numbers of lazy and incompetent police officers were kept on staff, year after year, because they were backed by a powerful police union. Urban police departments had a monopoly on providing law enforcement to the citizens, but they were clearly unable to provide that simple public service. It was time for massive reform.

An alternative system was proposed – the creation of “charter beats.” Independently operated providers, mostly private individuals who claimed that they could provide a superior service, were granted charters by a number of cities which gave them control of individual police beats. As a part of the agreement, “charter beat” operators were permitted to have more program flexibility than the traditional police department. They could make additional demands of the citizens who lived in their beats, and of the non-union officers they employed. It was thought that these types of innovations would be good, and that the competition presented by the “charter beats” would stimulate the failing police departments to do a better job.

After the President and the US Department of Justice decreed that “charter beats” were to be the preferred method of law enforcement in urban communities, the rate of turning over neighborhood law enforcement management to various “charter beat” operators soared. Educated, English speaking residents living in more affluent communities were not included in this "charter beat" experiment.

Here’s how it played out in the City of Oakland.

At the time, Oakland was divided into 60 police beats – geographic parcels staffed with a set of specific police officers. Some beats had higher crime rates than others depending on certain factors in the geographic region, namely a high poverty level. Most law enforcement reformers staunchly believed that high poverty was no excuse for higher crime rates, and that if the police would only try harder, and smarter, those challenges would be overcome.

To get this new system underway, small portions of preexisting beats were turned over to the “charter beat” operators. A few of these operators were local community members, but most were individuals who had worked in law enforcement outside of Oakland, in various capacities for various extents of time. The organizations were managed by boards of directors, most members of whom worked in the finance or business industry. Sometimes board members referred to themselves as “law enforcement entrepreneurs.”

The law enforcement officers in the “charter beat” neighborhoods were permitted to use tactics which the regular police officers were legally barred from doing. This helped their crime stats to improve.

Just one of these tactics was the ability to pressure out "bad actors (either actual or potential) from the beat. Because there was no reciprocity in this regard, the beats staffed by the regular force were required to accept these individuals, and also weren’t allowed to transfer any of them back into the “charter beats.”

Since people have the choice to live where they like, the most astute and resourceful locals moved into those “charter beats” once they learned how “bad actors” were being aggressively cleared from those parts of town. However, as a precondition for being allowed to move into those neighborhoods, incoming residents were required to sign a commitment that they must comply with a set of behavior standards, or their residency would be terminated by the “charter beat” operator.

The “charter beats” used a force of non-unionized security officers. Many were recent top college graduates who were interested in giving two years of service to urban communities. Once they were accepted into an alternative training program, they would attend an intensive, five-week series of classes, after which they would be given a set of equipment, a patrol car, and their assignment. To compensate for the ongoing lack of experience, coaching was provided by a host of paid consultants.

As the “charter beats” increased, more and more of the traditional, preexisting beats were closed down. Police officers were laid off and the size of the regular police department shrank. It eventually disappeared, along with the police union. The city's law enforcement had been transformed into a system free of unions and of many of the previous legal restrictions.

By 2010, nearly 10% of Oakland’s population lived in neighborhoods managed by “charter beat” operators.

Part Two: How Things Played Out

Check back later for the exciting conclusion. With our head-in-the-sand, continued neglect to get to the root of the problem, razor wire and chain link fencing stock will soar.

AN IMPORTANT PS: This day (4/20 of every year) is a good time to bring your attention to the fact that this entire country has a MAJOR, MAJOR problem with substance abuse. It is a huge national threat. Drug use and sales is a billion-dollar, tax-free industry. It is a highly functioning underground economy in symbiotic relationship with another underground industry, gun sales and use. It is all connected with crime, family breakdown, and the big problems in urban public schools. This country needs a stay at rehab.

If you don’t know the significance of 4/20, look it up. And watch out for stoned drivers if you’re on the road from 4:20 on today.

*My apologies to police officers. This piece is just a fable and an analogy.


tauna said...


Left you a message at EfHG yesterday.


Anonymous said...

Here's another one of my (whoopee-doo) "big ideas" to fight NCLB/Privatization, inspired by an LA Times article today about children's drawings/messages to President Obama.

Here's the article & pics:,0,447440.photogallery

Somewhere out there is a teacher who is a talented cartoonist who could draw a picture with a message that would make a strong point about the damage done by NCLB/testing/Privatization.

As for myself, I can barely draw a stright line.

But the talent is out there to jump on this idea and produce some powerful work.

I'm going to work on the "message" part, and see if I can enlist an artists to help me.

As they say down under, "It's worth a try, I reckon".

Anybody else out there willing to tilt at a windmill or 2?