The act of falsely portraying oneself as a member of legitimate law enforcement for the purpose of deception is illegal in most countries and usually carries a custodial sentence. Most cases of impersonating law enforcement is for the purpose of some kind of gain, intimidation, or to commit a crime. So-called private security services do not have the authority regular law enforcement enjoys any more than a regular prison correctional officer, and yet in Arizona, a local police department, in conjunction with high school officials, assigned “law enforcement” status to corrections officers employed by a private corporation. The incident is problematic on several fronts, especially considering the victims were public school students who were treated like convicts in a lock down maneuver during regular instructional hours.
The incident in Arizona is part of a disconcerting trend involving the for-profit prison industry nationwide, and a plague on the state that garnered media attention during the SB 1070 “papers please” controversy that highlighted the use of prison employees in law enforcement operations. It is disturbing enough that private corporations are making major inroads into the penal system and profiting from taxpayer dollars, but using them in law enforcement capacity involving public school students borders on misappropriating public funds and conflict of interest.
In an Arizona city, Casa Grande, a private corrections corporation extended their reach into classrooms when they assisted local law enforcement agencies during a drug raid at Vista Grande High School. The principal, Tim Hamilton ordered a “lock down” of all 1,776 students for the first drug sweep in the school’s history. Hamilton described the lock down as a case where “everybody is locked in the room they are in, and nobody leaves — nobody leaves the school, nobody comes into the school.” Hamilton continued that once everyone is locked in the classrooms, an administrator is teamed with a “law enforcement officer,” and “they bring the dogs in and have the kids come out and line up against a wall. The dog goes in and they close the door behind, and then the dog does its thing.” Although situations arise that make locking schools down appropriate, it seems a bit much during routine checks for drugs on a campus, and in Vista Grande’s case, this drug raid was highly unusual.
The public information officer for the Casa Grande Police Department (CGPD) said the raid’s operation comprised four “law enforcement agencies” including CGPD, Arizona Department of Public Safety, Gila River Indian Community Police Department, and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). Three of the participants were legitimate law enforcement agencies, the corporate prison guards however, were not members of law enforcement or a public agency; they were private prison guards. CCA is the nation’s largest for-profit (private) prison corporation and their presence at a high school “drug sweep” is strange, and an outrage, and despite CGPD’s opinion, they are not part of any law enforcement agency.
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