Since the police invited security firms to bid for roles in the UK, I was wondering if there are historical events where mercenaries were used to police a city (or town or local) and what the effects were?

I suspect that the 30 years war would have quiet a few of those but cannot think of specific examples.

  • Pinkertons? But more seriously, violence is the monopoly of the state? Why would you contract out such a function? Particularly since most police were primarily funded through graft and cost the state nearly nothing.
    – MCW
    Commented Apr 16, 2018 at 17:56
  • @MarkC.Wallace Well plausible deniability for one. This is one key reason that Blackwater mercenaries were hired out for protecting state department officials. Also under neoliberalism, the hiring out of police and military functions is following the same logic and motivations that has led to the privatization of virtually every other sector of state functions. Commented Apr 18, 2018 at 14:01

2 Answers 2


Not in the UK, but the events leading up to the Ludlow Massacre is a good example of this. The Colorado Fuel and Iron Company hired a "detective agency" (more like thugs) to break a miners strike. The detectives armored a car and put a machine gun on it and fired at the strikers. Not only that, every once and a while, they'd just randomly fire a bullet at the tents where the miners lived, sometimes killing someone. Hope that helped.

  • 1
    up voted the question
    – Russell
    Commented Mar 11, 2012 at 14:05
  • 1
    +100 as your answer is the closest that match what I asked. Commented Mar 20, 2012 at 12:28
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    From not being able to up vote to 435 rep in a week or so. Pretty good. :)
    – Russell
    Commented Mar 20, 2012 at 14:17
  • 3
    The "detective agency" you mentioned are the Pinkertons which often engaged in this sort of conduct (strike breaking and factory policing) throughout the late nineteenth century in the U.S. This lead to the Anti-Pinkerton Act of 1893, which sought to restrict the U.S. government from contracting strikebreakers or mercenaries. This law would be greatly violated by the Clinton (and more noticeably by the second Bush administration) in hiring groups like Blackwater and Triple-Canopy. I'd recommend to you Jeremy Scahill's "Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army". Commented Mar 24, 2012 at 19:52
  • @BrotherJack - Wait, the USA has hired Military Mercenaries to conduct domestic combat operations? After the Pinkertons? ... Wait, how much of the Pinkertons were Military??
    – Malady
    Commented Apr 16, 2018 at 22:10

British South Africa Company's Police, a police force of British South Africa Company over time became the national police force of South Rhodesia (present-day Zimbabwe). This force was first to use Maxim machine guns against natives which led to about 5000 casualties from the native side (with nearly no casualties from the corporate side).

Going further in the past I think medieval Rome was a place that was policed by private forces of different clans at a time with some clans policing certain districts and some the others. A person could not visit the districts policed by an adversary clan.

It should be noted however that state-hired private police in theory should differ from a private police hired by a private person or company.

The main concern with privately-hired police force are as follows:

  • Such police force may protect only the private interests of those who pays while ignoring others

  • Such police force may ignore the laws in favor of those who hired them

  • Such police puts people in unequal position before the law so that those who can pay protected better

The main concerns with state-hired private police are as follows:

  • The police corporation may itself become immune against investigations and nontransparent due to corporate subordination

  • There is a room for corruption

  • The police may abandon their work once the state or municipality runs out of money or does not manage to pay in time

  • The police may want to investigate only those crimes that are good for statistics and as such, for the profits, and possibly, hide other crimes

  • Left-wing politicians may be concerned that private police may prosecute left-wing and workers' political movements in a case of political disputes or strikes because the victory of the left-wing political force is contrary to the interests of the firm and its owners.

A recent science-fiction film had been themed around police privatization, "Tokyo gore police". The police force of Tokyo has been privatized, the father of the main heroine, a police officer, was shot during an anti-privatization rally. The privatization led to the uncontrolled corruption of the management. The film also features fictional funny "advertisement reels" supposedly by the police corporation where they advertise the population on how well they can protect them.

  • Your answer is mostly about the concerns of hiring mercenaries (within a Police role) thus -1. This is not what I asked. I want historical events where this happened which your first part addresses thus +1. Commented Mar 19, 2012 at 10:53

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