The Downside Of Detroit's Growing Presence of Private Police

June 25, 2014, 11:34 AM

Heather Ann Thompson, a professor of history at Temple University who has written extensively about both Detroit and incarceration practices in the United States, questions the spread of private policing in Detroit in an article in the national Huffington Post.

Evoking the barely contained chaos "where urbanites lived in constant fear" in the films "Blade Runner" and "Robocop," Thompson, who grew up in Detroit and attended the University of Michigan, writes, "Today, in too many of America's inner cities, it seems that this very dystopia has in fact materialized." 

Such as in Detroit, where "there are precious few resources available to protect, let alone to educate, the almost 700,000 people who still live there."

While community-based groups struggle to improve the lives of residents, business people see Detroit as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for inexpensive investment.

Thompson writes: 

For businessmen eager to cash in on Detroit and remake it's future as they wish, though, there remains a bit of a problem: economic catastrophe tends to breed crime and violence and this, frankly, is disquieting to investors. On the one hand the miles of abandoned buildings and the dire lack of social services have left Detroit ripe for development. On the other hand, many businesses are very nervous about opening new establishments in such a desolated place where there not only are too few drug treatment centers and schools, but, in their view, there also are too few policemen.

Their answer to this conundrum? Well, it is not to call upon the state to reinvest in its social safety nets and public infrastructure. It is, instead, to call on today's version of Blade Runner and Robocop to help them do business--to help them make the money they know there is to be made.

For Mega-developer and Quicken Loans CEO Dan Gilbert, private policing is exactly what is needed to help him, help Detroit. And thus, Gilbert, also the man behind Rock Ventures--a "Family of Companies' investments, real estate acquisitions, business ventures and community efforts in the city" that has wooed or created over 120 new businesses in downtown Detroit-- has constructed a massive computerized control room which monitors the more than 2 million square feet of real estate he owns in the city as well as the "streets and sidewalks surrounding the buildings."

With over 300 cameras trained on the buildings and streets of downtown Detroit, an effort bolstered as well by other large companies such as General Motors, Compuware, and Illich Holdings, investment in a city known for its ruin porn, seems much safer. But surveillance, it seems, is not enough. Gilbert, for example, also sees paying private security officers from a company called Guardsmark Inc. "to spot potential trouble and to deter thieves, drug dealers, muggers and even aggressive panhandlers" as part of his philanthropic duty in the Motor City.

Read more:  Huffington Post

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