Comparison between private security and ordinary policing

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The existence of private security is nothing new in the history. On the contrary, security was always provided privately until the 19th century. In Great Britain, a range of private agencies from Watchmen and Thief-takers, to the Bow Street Runners, and Thames River Police in London performed policing and crime control duties and existed long before the establishment of the New Police in 1829 (Hucklesby & Wahidin, 2013). In the US, the first public police department was established in 1844 in New York City, and its first modern private counterpart was found in Chicago in 1850 (Cunningham, 1978). Thus, it can be argued that privatizing of policing is purely the traditional way of law enforcement. And the development of modern private security was markedly corresponding to the public police’s.

The rapid development of late modern private security was resulted from the impact of Globalization and neo-liberalism that have had major consequences for the nature of security provision in many Western states for several decades now (Hucklesby & Wahidin, 2013).

Moreover, shrinking of the public sector has been a key trend in western societies since the 1970s. In many countries public expense on police has been diminished to a level of fire brigade policing, indicating that the current resources does not mainly serve to crime prevention. Crimes, like fire, are only managed while they have arisen. For instance, in the UK, the impact of the global financial crisis and the strictness cuts imposed by the alliance government has accelerated some of these developments which will fundamentally transform the nature of the UK’s policing landscape (Hucklesby & Wahidin, 2013). Therefore, private entrepreneurs seize chances to benefit from people’s unsatisfied needs. They “…will be doing what the police can or will not do because of their limited resources” (Johnston, 1991).

Paid security providers, in terms of numbers of personnel and annual expenditures at the very least, now dominate the order maintenance landscape in many nations ( Bayley and Shearing, 2001 ) Private sector employees are globally recognized as vital partners in preventing and detecting crime (Stenning, 2000). Increasingly, the private police are even considered the first line of defense in the post-September 11th world (Hall, 2003). Hardly anything is known about the private police, yet they are by far the largest provider of policing services in the United States, at least triple the size of the public police (Joh, 2005). It shows that the need for private security services is particularly abundant in vastly interdependent modern economies, but most of us do not know much about how these private actions affect our society.

In this paper, firstly, private security will be defined. The strengths of private security over ordinary policing will be discussed then. Moreover, the limitations of private police will be illustrated. At last, the suggestion of the checks and balances of private police in the interest of public interest will be given before conclusion.

Definition of Private security

What separates private security services from the public police is that the former functions “…almost always in private … premises, behind the traditional and legal boundary … which the police cannot lawfully cross unless by invitation or in other special circumstances” (Philip-Sorensen 1972 pp 44-45).

There are places where the public police may not, cannot or will not work or where they are not welcome. There are also many restrictions and regulations surrounding them that do not constrain their private counterparts. Private security services are therefore arguably”…a broader enterprise than public policing, with a wider range of functions” (South, 1988), which is significant to keep in mind.

The broader view of the role of private security prevails today. For example, American Society for Industrial Security (ASIS) International, the largest association of private security professionals in the United States, has defined private security as “the nongovernmental, private-sector practice of protecting people, property, and information, conducting investigations, and otherwise safeguarding an organization’s assets” (ASIS International, 2009). ASIS further argued that private security has a role in ―helping the private sector secure its business and critical infrastructure, whether from natural disaster, accidents or planned actions, such as terrorist attacks, vandalism, etc. (ASIS International, 2009). Experts attending an ASIS symposium were asked to develop a definition of the security field and identified 18 core elements (ASIS Foundation, 2009):

1. physical security,

2. personnel security,

3. information systems security,

4. investigations,

5. loss prevention,

6. risk management,

7. legal aspects,

8. emergency and contingency planning,

9. fire protection,

10. crisis management,

11. disaster management,

12. counterterrorism,

13. competitive intelligence,

14. executive protection,

15. violence in the workplace,

16. crime prevention,

17. crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED), and

18. security architecture and engineering.

The Strengths of Private Police Over Ordinary Policing


The seduction of technology is nowhere more evident than in policing, and has never been more prevalent than in the last decade or two. The chief dispute between public and secret police in this regard, however, lies in the much greater resources available to private police to acquire intrusive technology, and the much larger incentives and opportunities they have to utilize it (Stenning, 1994).

The new technologies for surveillance, such as cameras, computers, satellites, mobile phones, breathalyzers, DNA-analyzers etc., provide more information than before. The levels for monitoring, investigating and analyzing have been raised out of imagination (Boija, 1998).

All these new potentials automatically elevate the needs for surveillance and security. Because of lack of resources, the police are incapable to implement their functions sufficiently and give rise to the cracks which are being occupied by the private security sector and other initiatives (Boija, 1998). The supply has been increased by new entries, so as to profit from on this abundant demand.


Some other quite important change in society, directing to a blur in the differentiation between private and public places, is that today's society faces something called mass private properties (e g shopping malls) which are similar to public places, only privately owned (Shearing and Wood, 2003; Wakefield, 2003). We also have gated communities, which seem like ordinary residential areas, but in fact are rather tightly closed, privately owned communities (Boija, 1998). For the protection of these arenas, private securities are employed to a great extent.

Market Orientation

In the 20th century, the public police have been the force delegated to deal with criminal offense. But crimes can be of more or less severe nature. To discourage the public from committing misdemeanors and larceny (such as shoplifting) it is seen that even crimes regarding relatively low values should be punished (Loader, 1999). But at the same time, the police must assign a lower priority to such petty crimes when facing thefts regarding higher values and other, more serious crimes (like robbery and burglary) that often come together with property theft (Boija, 1998). From an Economics standpoint, this is sound reasoning - it is rational and cost-effective - and the more at stake, the more efforts and resources can legitimately be spent.

Moreover, it is hard for the police to provide crime-preventive patrols on a regular basis directed specifically at shoplifting and retail crime. Given the limited resources and broad demand for service by the public, it is fundamentally impossible to assign public police protection at, or inside, retail establishments. Same goes for protection of very valuable property, such as precious metals and cash. However, these questions are of highest priority for the retailers and shop-owners (Boija, 1998). And this is the gap that private entrepreneurs have detected, and is willing to meet.

Furthermore, the personal private space of 20th century humanity has been vastly extended as compared to previous centuries. Private security and private justice are not simply market responses to the crime and other loss-prevention needs of their customers, but also to "…deep-rooted needs to feel secure: to feel that lives and property which are personally valued are protected, and that offenders can be identified and redress obtained. Security is then, in one important respect, a commodity, to be bought and sold in the market place … the value of such a commodity reflects not only material criteria but also an inner human dimension of personal fear and feelings" (South 1988). Private security therefore fills in the gap and replaces the public police fulfilling the needs of personal fear and feelings.

The limitations of Private Police


One of the main reasons for this is that they lack the law’s justification. There are few, if any, statutes or laws that render the private security industry governmental granted rights or powers. Security guards usually have only limited legal authority. In most nations, security officers (similar to other citizens) can make stops when a crime is committed in their presence (Hess, 2009); the suspicion that a crime has been entrusted is not sufficient to get an apprehension. Furthermore, in some states, private security personnel may make arrests only for felonies, and then must immediately turn the suspect over to a police officer.

Unlike police officers, who have considerable protections from personal liability, private security force who take innocent persons into custody can be liable for making improper arrests (Carlson, 1995). Dempsey (2008) mentioned in his book, Introduction to Private Security, that ―false-arrest cases are a common problem for security operators. Frequently, guards and the societies that hire them are deemed liable for anything that occurs inside the realm of their oversight.


The private security industry has faced serious problems affecting the quality of employees and their enforcement. One observer even claims that “the security industry appears to be a magnet for socially dispossessed”(Zielinski). This is of course a reason for serious concern, since “private security agencies and personnel are in fairly unique positions. They are, after all, invited by others to watch over their property, personnel, families, private information and premises.” (South, 1988)

Dirty work and corruption

With regard to the investigation, there might be a threat for “…a somewhat individualistic modus operandi which might take its actions well into the unethical and sometimes the illegal” (South, 1988). Some personnel will always lose to lures when high values are on hand, and anyone ”…who are prepared to resort to unlawful methods, or indulge in dishonest activities such as industrial espionage, will find that some people are ready to pay a lot of money for their services” (Draper, 1978).

Over and Under-enforcement

Some other portion of the performance question is whether the tasks are done at a sufficient degree or not. Over-enforcement means that more resources are spent on policing and enforcement, than are efficient. If for example a private company can reap the yields of a convicted criminal (‘bounty-hunting’) or collect a share of fines, they might be willing to spend a lot to make that money. And the higher values in sight, the more they are willing to spend on enforcement. In a competitive situation, other companies might also enter this race of apprehensions, resulting in that too much resources are wasted on catching too few criminals. Obviously, this is not satisfactory.

The problem of under-enforcement is the opposite, that private enforcers are not taking their job as serious as they should, due to the fact that the returns are too low. In practice, this implies that not enough criminals get arrested.

The Checks and Balances of Private Police in the interest of Public Interest

More importantly, the all too frequent assumption that more direct governmental regulation is invariably the best direction to encourage and protect the broad public interest in this area, will have to be given up.

The history of governmental regulation of private security provides little room for optimism (Stenning & Cornish, 1975). Much more encouraging in recent times has been the movement towards the concerted development of industry standards, in which all the relevant "stakeholders" play an alive role.

In North America, there are some experience of this through the endeavors of the Private Security Advisory Council (in the United States), and more recently the Canadian General Standards Board, which produce more good effects than traditional forms of governmental regulation are ever likely to (Stenning, 1994).


The key advantage from the private providers of security is their flexibility. They can, and will, perform most tasks which they are paid to serve. Their customers can request greatly from the private security personnel, as they are straightly accountable to their paying clients and their demands.

However, as a matter of fact, they are not protecting everyone, and they do not responsible for the general interests of the society. Private policing is more a solution of ‘loss prevention’ rather than that of ‘crime prevention’, as they are largely protecting the interests of their clients. This leads to a threat that likely just small number of privileged will be able to manage to pay for private policing or enjoy security and that they might become too powerful. In this way, the public police would be needed as a central authority to balance and monitor the interests of the less fortunate.


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