RSN Fundraising Banner
FB Share
Email This Page
add comment

Wolf writes: "A nontransparent program called 'Paid Detail Unit' has been set up so that private corporations are actually employing NYPD officers, who are in uniform and armed."

Portrait, author and activist Naomi Wolf, 10/19/11. (photo: Guardian UK)
Portrait, author and activist Naomi Wolf, 10/19/11. (photo: Guardian UK)

NYPD for Hire

By Naomi Wolf, The Guardian

18 December 12


o one begrudges an officer doing security work in his own time, but the Paid Detail Unit creates worrying conflicts of interest

I was surprised two weeks ago to walk into my local TD Bank, on Greenwich Avenue in the West Village, New York to find that the security officer who was usually standing by, on alert, had been replaced by a uniformed, armed, radio-carrying New York Police Department officer, Officer Battle. I confirmed from him that he was, in fact, an NYPD officer - and was working part-time for TD bank.

Of course, this raised red flags for me. After the violent crackdown on Occupy Wall Street in November of 2011, when that group was having some of its most significant successes in protests and actions that challenged private banks and Wall Street institutions, many wondered what had motivated the unexpected aggression against protesters by local police officers tasked, at least overtly by municipal law, with upholding their first amendment rights.

The NYPD became, at the time, coordinated in its crackdown once Occupy had started to target banks. Was there a relationship behind the scenes of which we were unaware?

Chase bank had made a gift of $4.6m to the Police Foundation - boasting on its website that this "was the largest" in that group's history, and hoping that the money would allow the NYPD to "strengthen security". This police fund, as well as some details of a Rudi Giuliani-initiated program by which police officers had been hired by corporations, created a brief stir online.

But were Chase, TD, Bank of America and others, which had been targeted by activists, actually now employing our police forces directly?

The answer is yes. A nontransparent program called "Paid Detail Unit" has been set up so that private corporations are actually employing NYPD officers, who are in uniform and armed. The difference is that when these "public servants" are on the payroll of the banks, they are no longer serving you and the impartial rule of law in your city - despite what their uniform and badge imply. Neither New York Councilwoman Christine Quinn's press office nor an NYPD's spokesman responded to my queries regarding this program.

I went to a second TD Bank, on Third Avenue in Manhattan. There was NYPD Officer Kearse, also armed and in uniform. I asked him who paid him to watch the bank: he confirmed that the Paid Detail Unit did so. The bank pays fees directly to the NYPD, and the NYPD then pays him, after taking a cut. Kearse works at the bank 6.5 hours per shift, twice a month. That's not much, he said, compared to many NYPD officers "who do lots more".

"What would you do if there were protesters in this bank branch?" I asked.

"I'd remove them," he said.

"What if there were a conflict of interest between what the bank wanted him to do and what the rule of law was for citizens?" I asked.

He did not reply.

I asked a manager at the branch what the role of the NYPD officer was in the bank. She said, "All I know is he is there to watch us." She called a more senior manager to answer the rest of my questions, Patrick O'Toole:

"They are New York City police officers off-duty, paid by the Paid Detail Unit," he said. This is a program "that various corporations are able to use to obtain off-duty police officers for whatever purpose they need them. The bank supplies every branch in New York City with an off-duty police officer."

In the event of a protest, I asked, whom would the officer be working for? The bank, or the city and the citizens of New York? "I wouldn't know," he said, and referred me to TD Bank corporate security. "He's working under us when he's here: we pay Paid Detail and the NYPD writes the checks." shone rare light on the size of this program. According to that report, the city gets a 10% administrative fee, which, in 2011, amounted to $1.18m - meaning that PDU wages netted NYPD officers a total of $11.8m, an amount which had doubled since 2002.

But who indemnifies these cops working for banks from lawsuits that might arise from possible illegal actions against citizens while working this kind of job? Not the banks, it turns out, but you the taxpayer. In other words, you pay the bill to protect that officer from lawsuits incurred if he breaks the law in protecting the bank.

This is a trend confirmed to be taking place in cities across the country. San Francisco has the San Francisco patrol special police, a private police unit that is indistinguishable from municipal units. Citizen reporters in my social media community confirmed that nonprofit organizations in Houston hire Houston police; a Portland citizen reporter confirmed that he saw Portland cops hired by local banks in that city, as well; and Autumn Smith, a Michigan citizen journalist, has written about seeing Michigan police in uniform to protect Best Buy and other corporations, so they can save on hiring private security with officers on the taxpayer's payroll.

At the same time, privatisation is also moving apace, as Wall Street Journal reports that several municipalities, including Oakland, California and Chicago, have bypassed local police and are hiring private security forces to take over many of the police departments' traditional functions.

Of course, many would think that the chance to let hardworking, underpaid cops make more money by moonlighting for private business is no big deal - or, since the NYPD gets a cut of these officers' hours of serving private industry, a win-win for the municipal budget in Manhattan. Indeed, moonlighting, out of uniform as a private citizen, is fair enough. But in uniform, armed, with the backup of the whole NYPD? That is another story.

The conflicts of interest potential in this arrangement soon become clear. Whom is that cop serving if there is a dispute between a New York City (or Houston or Portland) citizen and the bank or corporation that hires cops, and on which those cops' own mortgages and kids' college fees are now dependent? I had the bizarre experience of witnessing an NYPD investigation at Chase stop cold, as an NYPD detective told me that "Chase's investigators said there was no problem."

What if is it is the bank that is committing a crime against the citizen: will NYPD investigate impartially? What if the bank instructs the NYPD officer to commit a crime - make a wrongful arrest, say - against a New York citizen during a lawful protest? Will the officer decline to do so, bucking his bosses? Indeed, does the off-duty cop in the bank have police powers or just private security powers? What powers of arrest does he or she have?

And if bankers or the senior heads of corporations that hire the cops themselves commit crimes in other areas, will those crimes be fully investigated. Or will those executives, now police employers as well, have what Russians call "protektsia"?

Those are all questions that NYPD spokespeople should be willing to answer, but won't.

And then, there are the fiduciary questions. Your tax dollars trained that officer; dressed him in uniform; equipped him with weapons and technology. Should all of that expensive public benefit be farmed out to private corporations, along with the intimidating prestige of the brand of a real NYPD or Houston or Portland police officer?

Finally, the wrench that this program throws into impartial adjudication of the rule of law is obvious. The NYPD won't answer questions about how much revenue it generates from PDU. But given that it is a significant portion of the paychecks of your local cops on the beat, then how can brave advocates for banks' paying the price for crime, such as New York Attorney General Eric Schneidermann, work effectively to hold banks accountable while the city law enforcement officers under the DA are employees of those same banks? The branches of municipal government are now at cross-purposes when it comes to who has access to law enforcement and who is indemnified from prosecution or investigation.

An independent, uncorrupted municipal police force should be our thin blue line: defenders against crime, protectors of public safety, guarantors of citizens' rights. If these officers of the law become or have already become a private militia for hire, to whom can we turn on the frontline of justice? your social media marketing partner


A note of caution regarding our comment sections:

For months a stream of media reports have warned of coordinated propaganda efforts targeting political websites based in the U.S., particularly in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

We have hosted and encouraged reader expression since the turn of the century. The comments of our readers are the most vibrant, best-used interactive feature at Reader Supported News. Accordingly, we are strongly resistant to interrupting those services.

It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

Adapt and overcome.

Marc Ash
Founder, Reader Supported News

+59 # pianosaurus rex 2012-12-18 16:46
These types were much easier to indentify when they wore brown shirts….
+34 # PABLO DIABLO 2012-12-18 23:18
Thank you Naomi. Your questions NEED TO BE ANSWERED.
+16 # dyannne 2012-12-18 23:24
Might makes right?????????? ????????????
+31 # Secular Humanist 2012-12-19 00:01
This practice is wrong in SO MANY ways. Aside from the obvious Fascism (the unholy matrimony of corporations and the State), it becomes impossible for the officer to act as the on-the-scene arbiter of who is in the right when faced with a dispute between the corporation and the customer. If banks can do this, so can any type of business, no matter how shady. Imagine a sleazy used car dealer or payday loan company -or even a carnival- with its own rent-a-cop enforcing every rip-off. Boardwalk Empire, here we come.
+26 # PrinceDarrell 2012-12-19 00:13
As clear a conflict of interest as can possibly be; it is actually blurring the line between corporation and government. It's bad enough when off duty police are hired as security... in uniform, is so bad I doubt it isn't already illegal. Financial flow is the flow of control, and entities that mix money are linked.
HSBC becomes so much more the problematic in reference.
-14 # 2012-12-19 00:23
Klein is incredibly naive about this. Paid police details are actually required by law in various instances -- the police unions have lobbied for such laws to increase their earning potential. This has been the case for decades.

But now that she's noticed the issue she can join with conservatives and libertarians who have long tried to fight against such coercive laws. Every effort to eliminate such laws has been rejected by liberal and progressive democrats so it is a good sign that such a well-known liberal has taken this stance.

Lee Nason
New Bedford, Massachusetts
+13 # rpauli 2012-12-19 00:50
Petty preparation for the chaos to come, don't you think?
+1 # Luis Emilio 2012-12-19 13:15
Yes, I do. Which goes to show that (at least) the banks believe in the climate change.
+39 # df312 2012-12-19 01:08
I am an ex-cop. I never liked the idea that anyone could buy police power. I would not work anything that I felt compromised my covenant with the community.
+8 # ladypyrates 2012-12-19 01:15 more instance of corporate takeover of our government. CIA killings, drone strikes, presidentially approved assassinations and some people still think that giving up the guns to this brutal government is the answer to our problems?
+15 # J.L. Morin 2012-12-19 01:28
That is an outrage, Naomi. A clear provocation and escalation of the situation after the biggest heist in history. It certainly smacks of Animal Farm or worse. Thank you for the excellent investigative journalism!

JL Morin, author of the Occupy novel, TRADING DREAMS, free at Kindle from January 2-6
+8 # Rita Walpole Ague 2012-12-19 10:35
Naomi's excellent journalism does indeed deserve our thanks, from all across the globe. What a terrific, logic laden brain she has, attached to a magnificent spirit.

We, the legal team representing the incredible plaintiffs (A+ journalists and whistle blowers/free press protectors) in the 'case of the century' (Hedges, et. al. v. Obama, et. al.)do so appreciate all the courage and determination it takes today to do great investigating then tell us the truth.

Kudos and Happy Holidays to Naomi and all our real McCoy, truth telling journalists, with kudos to Reader Supported News also!
+14 # seeuingoa 2012-12-19 03:53
thumbs up to Naomi.
+15 # cordleycoit 2012-12-19 04:06
What earth shaking news the NYPD is corrupt. Tuesday was bag day in Greenwich Village back in the bad old days. Captain Savette would come in and get his envelope and be on his way. Noe envelope no protection from the Suits: licenses excise taxes and general harassment, plus there was the Outfit pickin pockets. That was the bad old days now the cops are looting the banks or the banks are buying cops like a slave market.
+4 # Pancho 2012-12-19 04:06
This hire of police has been commonplace for many years.

The police are not "under the D.A." They often work with, but not for, the D.A.

Investigative reporter Beau Hodai has documented this growing phenomenon for some time.
+14 # Ralph Averill 2012-12-19 04:19
The core of the issue is liability. The banks should be liable for whatever happens while the cop is on duty in the bank and being paid by the bank, even indirectly. If I hire a contractor to work on my house, and the contractor causes damage to my neighbor's house, I believe I'm as liable as the contractor.
Ms. Wolf didn't mention any comment from the Mayor's office. That's where I would direct my questions.
+28 # Vegan_Girl 2012-12-19 04:48
“The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it comes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism - ownership of government by an individual, by a group,”

Franklin D. Roosevelt
+5 # hammermann 2012-12-19 06:59
This has been going on for ages, especially in bars, where cops are employed with full police powers, and when the thug bouncers attack and beat some patron, the cops will then obediently threaten or arrest them... rather than the bar goons. It's far more insidious considering the the relatively consistent violence of bars and clubs. In a bank, however, they are there more as a deterrent against robbers.
+7 # mrbadexample 2012-12-19 08:50
Rules need to be set on what the paid detail guys can and cannot do when they're not on the city's dime. perhaps there should be some change on the uniform--a bright yellow epaulette--when a cop is on Paid Detail.

Also, in other articles on this subject, the point has been made that the hourly rate for paid detail doesn't begin to cover training costs, sick and vacation days, etc. A 20-man Paid Detail is a ROUNDING ERROR for Goldman or Chase. And the hiring entity has to cover all liability and workers' comp for the officer. This whole can of worms is going to get ugly if somebody decides to sue over an over zealous detail cop hurting a protester.
+15 # wrodwell 2012-12-19 09:29
I lived and worked in a 19th century warehouse building in Jersey City, NJ, for almost 17 years. It was known as the Art Center of Jersey City. In 2004, when the billionaire landlord refused to develop the building according to the city's Arts DIstrict zoning code, the landlord (who's part-owner of the WTC and the most active real estate mogul in Manhattan) initiated interior demolition and other coercive tactics in the hopes of forcing us out. His mafia-connected demolition contractor - who was reimbursed by his client, the landlord - hired Jersey City cops on a 24 hour basis for over 6 months. They wore JC police uniforms and claimed to be "neutral" when disputes arose. Several artist tenants were arrested while others including myself, were threatened. But, none of the landlord's minions were ever arrested even when they were clearly breaking the law like boarding up fire exits. Cops have always "moonlighted" but wearing official police uniforms while working for very private interests like banks or landlords, is a serious and offensive conflict of interest. I'm not surprised that "Prosecutor" Giuliani initiated the "cops for hire" program in NYC, and that "I like MIke" Bloomberg continued the odious practice in NYC's War Against the Occupy Movement. To answer Ms. Wolfe's question of who the cops would be loyal to, it's to whomever is paying them. Cops of this ilk have gone from "moonlighters" to craven whores. It's a disgrace and the practice should be stopped.

THE NEW STREAMLINED RSN LOGIN PROCESS: Register once, then login and you are ready to comment. All you need is a Username and a Password of your choosing and you are free to comment whenever you like! Welcome to the Reader Supported News community.