Out of America: Scandal that drove a town to hire private police

SUSSEX, NEW JERSEY - In the future, Andy Warhol once famously remarked, every American will be world famous for 15 minutes.

Even by such generous standards, however, Peter Horvath seems a pretty unlikely celebrity when you meet him in the tranquil parlour of Pinknel's Funeral Home. Yet, for the past few weeks, reporters from the largest US newspapers and camera crews from the big television networks have been flocking to see him.

Apart from his duties as Pinknel's director, Mr Horvath is Mayor of Sussex. And not long ago, Sussex became the first municipality in the country to sack its police department and replace it with four private security guards.

Sussex is well named. On a summer's afternoon the gentle hills of northern New Jersey, at the tip of a triangle where the borders of New Jersey, New York State and Pennsylvania meet, have the intimate feel of the English countryside at its best. True, the township itself, of 2,300 souls, founded in 1732, has seen better days. The local handbag factory is no more, and the one cinema closed 14 years ago. But the bank is still there, and down on the shopping mall you can get your hair washed and cut for a most un-Clintonlike dollars 7 ( pounds 5). The day I was there, the main cafe was gearing up to host the 1993 pre- high school dance for eighth- graders.

Sussex, in short, remains what it always has been, a small market town - not the sort of place where the history of privatisation in the United States is written. And, to be honest, Mr Horvath is a reluctant revolutionary.

It all started last year when Sussex disbanded its old police department after two of the four-man force were indicted in a drug scandal. Shortly afterwards, the town was ordered by the New Jersey government to modernise its water and sewerage system, at a cost of dollars 9m. Given that the annual muncipal budget was only dollars 820,000, savings plainly were essential.

'What with pensions and everything else, the old police used to cost dollars 285,000 a year,' the Mayor explained. 'So we brought in the private firm on an initial contract for six months, at a cost of dollars 48,000.'

The services are slightly less comprehensive than in the old days. The four private guards work two weekdays, and two weekday nights, as well as Friday and Saturday nights when things are inclined to get a bit rowdy round the town's three bars.

Thus far, though, says Mr Horvath, 'the results have been fantastic. Obviously, they're not real police and we don't pretend they are. Their only power is that of citizen's arrest. If a crime is committed, they have to call the state troopers. Frankly though, they look better than the real thing, all spit and polish. They carry 9mm handguns, handcuffs, two-way radios and batons, they even work out of the old police office.'

Most important, since the private guards took over, the number of calls for assistance has plummeted. 'People feel safer. For the first time residents in the town centre are getting a good night's sleep at weekends,' the Mayor says

Alas, not everyone sees it that way. Mr Horvath's policy may make perfect economic sense, and local reaction has been enthusiastic. But from a legal viewpoint, he has stirred a hornet's nest. Apart from the weekend shenanigans, Sussex is a pretty peaceful place. One early emergency was rounding up a loose cow; the other day the private guards handcuffed a man who was beating up his girlfriend in the street. Then there was the detention of a couple of juveniles carrying knives. In the latter case though, the private guards technically had no authority to act. In a truly serious incident, say New Jersey criminal prosecutors, one slip-up and both town and state could face massive lawsuits.

They warn, too, that Sussex could set a trend. After all, private security men hired by businesses, local residents' associations and individuals across the US already outnumber the 500,000 public law enforcement officers by three to one. Their total cost is dollars 52bn, twice the sum raised by state and local taxes for public police. If one small New Jersey borough goes private, then why not every cash-strapped US town and city? Might not policing join education and health care, with one system for the rich and another for the poor?

Such thoughts, however, are not on Mr Horvath's mind as he savours his allotted 15 minutes of fame, and fires off indignant letters to anyone who criticises him.

If the US is serious about preventing crime, Republicans, Democrats and everyone else agrees, the simplest step is to increase visible police presence. And the mayor is doing precisely that. One glimpse of security guard Frank Raeder on Main Street, as he eases his 6ft 8in,

23-stone frame out of a smart white car marked 'Community Patrol', and any criminal thought you might harbour vanishes instantly.

Arts and Entertainment
books
Voices
Caustic she may be, but Joan Rivers is a feminist hero, whether she likes it or not
voicesShe's an inspiration, whether she likes it or not, says Ellen E Jones
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Sport
Diego Costa
footballEverton 3 Chelsea 6: Diego Costa double has manager purring
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
Arts and Entertainment
The 'three chords and the truth gal' performing at the Cornbury Music Festival, Oxford, earlier this summer
music... so how did she become country music's hottest new star?
Life and Style
The spy mistress-general: A lecturer in nutritional therapy in her modern life, Heather Rosa favours a Byzantine look topped off with a squid and a schooner
fashionEurope's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln
News
Dr Alice Roberts in front of a
peopleAlice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Arts and Entertainment
Unsettling perspective: Iraq gave Turner a subject and a voice (stock photo)
booksBrian Turner's new book goes back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
News
The Digicub app, for young fans
advertisingNSPCC 'extremely concerned'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Some of the key words and phrases to remember
booksA user's guide to weasel words
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, RSPSS, R, AI, CPLEX, SQL)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Law Costs

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - This is a very unusual law c...

Junior VB.NET Application Developer (ASP.NET, SQL, Graduate)

£28000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior VB.NET ...

C# .NET Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, jQuery, XML, XLST)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Web De...

Day In a Page

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution