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Group Opposes Vouchers for Police, Fire Services
March 22, 2008
SACRAMENTO--The Institute of Public Services, a privately funded, California-based think tank, announced Wednesday the filing of a suit in California Federal District Court challenging that state's recently implemented voucher program for police, ambulance, and fire and rescue services. "It is our belief that the [California measures] represent a gross derogation of the state's duty to protect all of its citizens equally," announced Geraldine Finwage, the Institute's chief counsel. "The voucher program is essentially a wholesale privatization of these key government functions."
The California program, in place since October, issues vouchers to each California resident on a monthly basis. The vouchers can in turn be used by residents to offset the cost of service subscriptions from a wide range of security and fire safety service providers. "Vouchers are about leveling the playing field," explains California State Representative Ben Crinkle (L-Newport Beach). "They're about giving people a choice about who polices their streets. Your local police department under-performing? Can't keep your community safe from gangs and drugs? Well, now you can go elsewhere."
The voucher system, administered through a centralized, web-accessible database, tracks residents' service-provider choices and, through close integration with emergency calling systems, directs 911 and related calls to the appropriate provider.
"I've noticed a real jump in quality and performance since I switched to Wackenhut policing," notes one Irvine, California resident. "I used to call all the time about those kids loitering around the Del Taco on Friday nights. Some threatening types with baggy pants and real pointy hair. The regular cops wouldn't really do anything. Too busy I guess. The Wackenhut guys, though, they really follow through. Those kids haven't been back in weeks."
Critics of the system point to concerns about a potential gap in quality of service: high-quality, customer-centric private sector firms offering services to those who can afford to pay an amount greater than the average voucher value, while low-income residents receive inferior service from under-funded public providers, or from fly-by-night discount firms. "Where do you think the funding comes from?" asks Finwage. "The vouchers allow middle-class and upper-middle-class residents to siphon funds out of the public system, to just drain it dry."
Private sector providers have been quick to respond to market demand for premium and luxury services such as guaranteed maximum response times and 24 hour Temporary Restraining Order enforcement. "We're doing nothing more than offering the same high-quality services we offered before the [voucher program] went into effect," notes a Wackenhut sales representative. "The only difference is that the vouchers put our white-glove services within reach of the average homeowner."
The Institute's suit, including its request for a preliminary injunction limiting state-wide deployment of the voucher system, is scheduled for hearing this Fall, Wednesdays at 11:30 on CSPAN3.
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