Special Districts, Sovereignty, and the Structure of Local Police Services

48 Urb. Law. 417

42 Pages Posted: 14 Feb 2017

See all articles by Noah Kazis

Noah Kazis

New York University School of Law

Date Written: February 13, 2017


Local public services are increasingly provided by special districts — independent, single-purpose governments — and not by cities, towns and counties. Policing, however, stands alone as completely resistant to this trend. Uniquely, policing is a local service essentially never provided by special districts. Using national data, this Article demonstrates for the first time the anomalous absence of special police districts. Three state case studies show that special police districts are missing even where they would be most expected or most useful and even though they are legally and practically possible. Special police districts could — and theoretically should — exist, but do not. Although scholars have put forward many theories of why special districts are formed, none adequately explains why they would not be used for policing. This is because policing is a special kind of service. Policing is an act of sovereignty, a use of the state’s monopoly on legitimate violence. Special districts are not used for policing because they are not sovereign.

This new descriptive finding about the structure of local government also provides new answers to two central questions in local government law: what municipalities do and what constitutional status they hold. First, municipalities are traditionally understood to provide taxing and zoning powers, while special districts are thought able to produce all other public services. This Article identifies policing as a third role reserved for general-purpose local governments. Second, formal doctrine treats all local governments, special district or general-purpose, as mere creations of the state, equally lacking in legal autonomy. But this Article demonstrates that traditional local governments are, in practice, more sovereign than special districts: only they provide policing.

Keywords: Keywords: special districts, local government, police, policing, local government law, sovereignty

Suggested Citation

Kazis, Noah, Special Districts, Sovereignty, and the Structure of Local Police Services (February 13, 2017). 48 Urb. Law. 417, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2916433

Noah Kazis (Contact Author)

New York University School of Law ( email )

40 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012-1099
United States

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