Private Security Contractors

Private Security Contractors

Law enforcement agencies faced many challenges in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans to provide protection and maintain civil order. In response, the Department of Homeland Security deployed the military to restore order, protect the citizens, and prevent property looting. However, security challenges prevented the efficiency of the government response and ability to restore civil order. As a result, companies and citizens hired private security contractors to provide evacuation services to private customers and protect their property (Lakoff, 2008). The government did the same to offer additional protection to FEMA personnel.

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Alleged Crimes

The fear of chaos, looting, and lawlessness resulted in the deployment of armed mercenaries to restore order. After the Hurricane Katrina, media coverage of looting and lawlessness revealed a security vacuum, and in response, private security contractors were hired to fill the vacuum. The contracted private security companies focused on providing security to local elites and their property rather than providing protection and safety to survivors of Hurricanes. The hired private security contractors focused more on crime prevention rather than responding to the needs of the survivors. Survivors and victims who needed help the most were ignored. Many survivors and residents, who were left to fend for themselves, felt excluded from the American dream. Because majority of the victims were poor African Americans, some experts attributed the abuse to racism.

The survivors of hurricane were treated as enemies rather than victims who need assistance. They were caged in camps and prevented from seeking safe high places in the neighborhoods. Pathological fears of local elites and state officials contributed to the treatment of the survivors and residents of Orleans as insurgents. “These troops know how to shoot to kill and they are more than willing to do so if necessary and I expect they will,” (King, 2008; Para 9). Even the Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco declared that mercenaries had landed in the city, fresh from Iraq war.

Survivors who needed help ended being arrested and prosecuted for crimes they did not commit. The hired private security contractors were allowed to make arrests and prevent survivors seeking safe havens. The St. Bernard Parish Sheriff office contracted with Dyn-Corp to give employees to be deputized. This move enabled the private security contractors to wear sheriff’s office uniform, carry weapons, and make arrests (Lakoff, 2008). It made it impossible to differentiate between DynCorp and regular force.

The private contractors committed human rights abuses against the survivors. They used excessive force against the residents and treated survivors as dangerous criminals. Armed with automatic rifles, contractors descended on New Orleans as if they came to flush out insurgents. With thousands of federal, state, and local law enforcement officials and private security contractors patrolling the neighborhood, the city looked like an armed camp. The presence of well-armed private security contractors threatened the lives of the residents, particularly the African Americans. They used lethal force on looters and innocent citizens. Black men ran the risk of being killed if they crossed paths with these officials. Angry survivors who threatened the federal emergence management agency officials were dealt with accordingly. The private security mercenaries were ordered to kill unarmed looters or citizens desperately looking for higher grounds in the wealthy neighborhoods. Shoot-to-kill orders arose out of rumors of property crime and lawlessness as evidenced by public and media obsession (Tierney, 2008). Victims were blamed and verified for the social anarchy.

The contractors took advantage of the devastation to profit themselves. Their profit-driven nature meant that they would provide additional security to those who are able to pay. They shamelessly made millions of dollars from the crisis. Contractors such as the Blackwater, DynCorp International LLC, and Israeli private security company took the advantage to enforce the martial law in post-hurricane blackouts. Private security contractors defrauded the DHS through double billing and other fraudulent means. Private security employees earned 8 times the salary of local law enforcement.

The government-private security contracts raise important ethical and legal issues, particularly when dealing with Africans in the American soil. To begin with, disparity in salaries between local force and contractors had the likelihood of causing tension within law enforcement agencies thereby undermining efforts to rebuild what is fundamentally a public institution. Second, it raised the question of when it is right for a private company or citizen within the U.S. to hire their private military.


The Katrina Fraud Taskforce stated that providing security in the aftermath of national natural disasters is the responsibility of the local law enforcement and national guards. The private military companies are not accountable to be used in the law enforcement capacity. They lack the capacity to uphold the constitutional rights of others. Due to the lack of legislation and oversight, private contractors can commit abuses and go unpunished. Despite going rogue and loose, private security companies are critical partners when it comes to catastrophic events. They are flexible in terms of deployments and are economical. They continue to be hired across many cities in the United States. Currently, they are used on the US-Mexico border as private border agents to the U.S. government.

In summary, this paper has examined private security companies’ abuses in hurricane Katrina and whether they should be allowed to perform the same function in the future. The position of this paper is that going forward, private security firms should not be hired to provide security and protection in emergencies since they are unaccountable not to follow standard procedures as law enforcement officials do. Their profit-driven nature makes them violate human rights and compromise quality.



King R. (2006). Security. CorpWatch., August 16. Retrieved from

Lakoff, A. (ed.). (2008). Disaster and the politics of intervention. Columbia University Press.

Tierney K. (2008). Hurricane Katrina: Catastrophic impacts and alarming lessons. In Quigley J. and Rosenthal L. Risking. House and home: Disasters, cities, and public policy (119-136). Berkeley: Ed. Berkeley Public Policy Press Institute of Governmental Studies Publications.


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