"Cheese it — it's the kittycat cops!"

A couple of stories in this morning’s Boston Herald reminded me of an odd fact I learned a few months ago. First, we had the tale of someone who apparently got tired of having an alligator for a pet, so they released it into the wild. But to make sure no one got hurt, they taped its muzzle shut — essentially sentencing it to starve to death.

Next up, we have the tale of an animal-cruelty vigilante, someone leaving bogus letters on people’s doors accusing them of pet abuse. The letters bear the logo of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA), but the organization denies any connection to the letters.

This reminded me of a third story a few months ago, when a window washer in Boston was arrested for killing a pigeon with a broomstick. Christopher Guay, the window washer in question, said he was only defending himself, and has several birds at home, but he was still arrested on animal cruelty charges by an MSPCA officer and was fired from his job. The ensuing publicity helped him land a new job, but last I heard he was still facing the criminal charges.

At the time, I was a bit surprised to learn that there were such things as “MSPCA officers.” The idea that a private organization (even a non-profit, charitable, humanitarian one like the MSPCA) would actually have uniformed police officers of its own bothered me. I know some organizations do, indeed, have employees that have police power (such as colleges, whose security officers are often also deputized into the local police department), but those are usually constrained to the organization’s property.

But in Massachusetts, it seems, the MSPCA hires and controls actual police officers whose jurisdiction extends statewide.

The libertarian in me is a little troubled by the thought. As I see it, the government should hold a monopoly on armed, badged law enforcement. To me, that means that the people who oversee the police are answerable to the voters, not a private organization.

The civil liberties people should be unhappy with this, too. Here is a clear-cut case of the government “outsourcing” a truly vital function to an organization that is utterly unaccountable to the people. The potential for abuse is very, very high.

Then again, this could be no news to most people. Maybe I’ve just lived in ignorance of this well-known fact, something that everyone else but me knew about and took for granted.

But it still rankles me on a primal level that a private organization has the power to hire and deputize police officers.

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