The increase in criminal activity and the heightened fear of crime, has led to the growth of the private security industry. This paper will address the expansion of private security and discuss the extent to which the services offered by private security reflects those that are offered by the state. It will firstly locate the discourse of what constitutes private security and public security. It will then analyze the factors that have contributed to the expansion of the private security industry and provide examples of this expansion. Finally, the essay will briefly discuss how this expansion has affected and benefitted the hotel industry, which for the most part, relies on private security for its sustainability.
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The field of private security is relatively new, and project many dimensions which are yet to be explored and defined. Not least of which is the contentious issue of defining “security” and positioning the concept within the discourse of private security. (Gill: 2006) The contention is relevant because security is an umbrella term utilized by many disciplines, and private security in the 21st century is not only about protection by arms or coercion, it is also about protecting electronic data and other technological assets. Although private security has often been linked to policing, it has proven to be a controversial topic to pin down by definition. Freedman (1992) simplified the concept by stating that security is achieved “when bad things do not happen rather than when good things do”. Zedner emphasized that security is not only about prevention but it is also about “the positive reinforcement of public perceptions of their safety.” (Zedner: 2000) Button offered the following definition of private security:
“The term ‘private security’ is a generic term used to describe an amalgam of distinct industries and professions bound together by a number of functions, including crime prevention, order maintenance, loss reduction and protection…The industry also includes certain public sector security employees…where their role is paralleled in the private sector industry, the interest served is private and they hold no special statutory powers.” (Button: 2002)
However, a consensus has developed that policing is a function of the state, associated with a number of practices aimed at ensuring the adherence to rules and regulations, preventing and reacting to crime, restoring order and utilizing a variety of methods including the bearing of arms to achieve these aims. (Shearing and Stenning: 1983) Given that many of these functions correspond with keeping on the right side of juridical laws, policing has been traditionally seen as a function of the state. Nevertheless, with the increase in the fear of crime, sprung many entities that that carry out these same very functions, but they are not “the police” – they operate under what is known as the private security industry. The area of private security that most resembles public policing is contract security. Johnston (2000) maintains that contract security can be separated into four sections: physical/mechanical security, electronic security, staffed services and in-house security such as protection of assets for factories, banks, etc.
While employment rate figures within the private security sector are notably unreliable, available evidence indicate that the high number of persons employed within the sector has significantly increased and points to a definite expansion. In 1998, the estimated 180,000 staff size of within the security services and equipment sector was “equivalent to the combined police and civilian staff of the 43 constabularies in England and Wales”. (Jones and Newburn: 1998) The UK Census data for 1951-1991 showed that there was a 240% increase in the number of persons employed in private security as opposed to a 100% increase in police employment during the same period. By 2000, George and Button reported that there were 217,000 private security personnel directly engaged in policing, while the number of police officers (excluding non-Home Office police workers) stood at 156, 300 in the United Kingdom. (George and Button: 2000) In Canada and the United States, the public police have shared the task of policing with the private organizations and private security personnel outnumbering the staff compliment of their national police force since 1977. (Shearing and Stenning: 1983)
The most visible evidence of the expansion of private security is the high number of contract security personnel employed by private enterprises. With more governments being fiscally responsible and seeking to restrict public spending (Jones and Newburn: 1997), governments do not have the resources to provide the kind of security that private entities desire. This has ushered in a slow erosion of the state’s monopoly on policing.
Another reason for the expansion of private security is the fact that many public activities now occur within private spaces. Examples of this are large shopping malls with hundreds of stores as separate entities, residential compounds and university campuses. Public policing is traditionally mandated to utilize its limited resources to operate on state owned property e.g. streets and parks. Owners of private properties have also demonstrated a preference for private security since it gives them more control over their property and the public is increasingly aware that limited resources mean that state security has to be dispensed with “police discretion”, wherein, many factors can affect which crimes are prioritized. (Newburn and Reiner: 2007) In light of these developments, private security is indeed mirroring the services traditionally offered by the state to protect property. (Shearing and Stenning: 1983)
Consequently, the blurring of the lines between the state police and private security to protect private spaces, have resulted in private security adopting levels of legal authority which sometimes exceed those of the public police. For example, it is now common for private security in stores, malls and businesses to demand and carry out random searches, insist on the surrender of property for entry or exit of a property and to disclose personal information. (Zedner: 2000)
The move by governments to engage and solicit community participation to combat crime, has resulted in many neighbourhood watch programs and initiatives that buy into the concepts of private security. Zedner (2000) posits that as governments push policies that encourage more personal responsibility for safety, it has provided the environment for private security to blossom. It is essential to note, that private security has also expanded because of a lack of trust in the ability of the state to provide personal security, especially to standards demanded by 21st century business owners and customers. Zedner explains that the expansion “reflects a loss of faith in the guarantees offered by the formal system of state security”. (Zedner: 2000) This however means that private security has developed as a highly commercialized commodity where only those who can afford it will receive the benefits of “peace of mind” and sense of security that it provides.
One industry which has bought into the protection guarantees sold by the private security industry, is the hotel and hospitality industry. The paper will now examine how private security has expanded within the hotel industry. The nature of the hotel industry requires an assurance to customers that they and their possessions are safe so that they do not have the security concerns which they may harbour in their own homes. However, hotels are also uniquely placed to be the targets of criminals which may take advantage of its non-intrusive atmosphere and the many opportunities it presents for a diverse range of illegal activities such as: theft, fraud, public order issues, prostitution and being used as bases by criminals. (Gill et al: 2007)
The range of security issues for hotels is reflected in the operations of the many contracted private security firms. Some of these issues are: ensuring well lit hotel corridors, CCTV in car parks and lobbies, entrances and exits, having security officers trained in unarmed defence, plain clothes personnel bearing firearms, site arrests by security personnel leading to convictions, security patrols by plain clothes and uniformed personnel and security personnel carrying handcuffs. (Shortt and Ruys: 1994) In fact, Gill (2006) asserts that many private security personnel have been formally accredited by the police, to assist in policing entities like hotels in their capacity as private security agents.
It is therefore conclusive to say that, indeed, private security has greatly expanded, and the discussion and examples presented in this paper, provide some indication of why and how this expansion has occurred. Not only do private security personnel now perform many duties formerly conducted by the state police, but in many cases they are encouraged by the state to compliment crime prevention and property protection efforts. Furthermore, the increasingly individualistic nature of most societies, suggests that self-reliance and dependency on private security will only become more entrenched. It is near impossible to locate security services by the state in democratic societies, which are not duplicated by private security interests. (Gill (2006) Consequently, it is almost universally accepted that security in modern societies will henceforth be a cooperative effort between the state and the private security industry.
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Johnston, L. (2000) Policing Britain: Risk, Security and Governance. Harlow: Longman.
Jones, T. and Newburn, T. (1997) Policing After the Act: Police Governance After the Police and Magistrates’ Courts Act 1994. London: Policy Studies Institute.
Newburn, T., Reiner, R. (2007) ‘Policing the Police’ in Mike Maguire, Rod Morgan, Robert Reiner (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Criminology, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
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Shortt, G. and Ruys, H. (1994) Hotel Security: The Needs of the Mature Age Market. International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, Vol. 6 (5), pp. 14-19.
Zedner, L. (2000) ‘The Pursuit of Security’ in Tim Hope and Richard Sparks (eds.) Crime, Risk and Insecurity: Law and Order in Everyday Life and Political Discourse. London: Routledge.
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