When Americans leave their homes for business or for leisure, there’s an expectation that they remain fairly safe while interacting with the rest of society. If not for the role of government, particularly as it relates to the function and availability of law enforcement, persons would be at greater risk of harm while venturing out into public, as well as at home. Cops make law-abiding people safer. That’s the idea.
Beyond the basic services that police provide for communities across this country, private protections in the form of security services also exist in order to contribute toward a higher quality of life in private-public spaces, such as shopping malls and large power plants. With the presence of both police agencies and private security companies, life and property are jointly protected.
Our Roles, Defined
There are countless definitions and perceptions of police and security. Police departments and security companies might have mission statements and a code of conduct that contains the requisite principles to engage in one’s duties with integrity. Bottom line: Both professions look to serve a greater good and require an orientation towards service.
When a crime is observed or heard about, a police officer has an obligation to pursue and apprehend, bringing suspects to answer to their charges, while also protecting the innocent. Security guards also aim to prevent crime, but their focus might be much more limited to a specific area, such as a department store or metals factory. Often, when crime does affect such a place, a security guard will contact police, who will then be asked to investigate the matter.
Yes, police departments do rely on private security to monitor stores, campuses, and facilities themselves. Likewise, security assets rely on the police to assist when crimes are observed or if someone has been taken into custody and must be turned over to law enforcement. The two entities also work in harmony to greater degrees for the more existential threats as well, such as global terrorism.
In the post-9-11 world, a great deal of attention has been dedicated to the threat of terrorism, and, as a result, “the private security sector was imposed as a significant factor and key player for assistance and support of the state apparatus and the citizens, as well as a necessary partner in the fight with crime” (Bakreski, 2014, p. 70).
For a community to successfully control its crime problem, there should be a balanced, communicative relationship between private and public security.
For criminal justice experts, the question of public and private interplay continues to be pondered. There are those who believe any proliferation within the private security sector actually subverts the role of the government. But in one writing, it is suggested that such an occurrence is not a loss of power for the government, but is simply a decision of a capitalist country, such as the United States, “contracting out state power” (Weiss, 2007, p. 11).
Understanding that the police cannot be in all places at all times, with a similar realization that many police departments are understaffed as it is, there’s a compelling need for the private security industry, I think, to actually expand and grow. Security personnel absolutely factor into the life and well-being of a community.
But why am I sometimes guilty of feeling critical of security guards? A law enforcement agency is a public organization, whereby employees are paid in accordance with their rank, tenure, and on a scale somewhat aligned with other government employees of the same position and institution. Although private security can be more lucrative for those choosing this field over public service, there are security companies that pay personnel poorly and train and equip them terribly. This often raises issues of professionalism. Let’s face it: In our daily functions, most cops aren’t dealing with top-tier private security professionals. This may contribute to the sometimes-perceived strained relationship between public and private police. Still, imagine a commercial landscape in which security guards cease to exist.
As businesses, companies, facilities, and other venues hire their own security personnel, police are thereby allowed to focus their attention on the public spaces more thoroughly. What cannot be ignored is that private security is as visible and present as police officers. Just how far these two will integrate is an ever-changing and updating phenomenon, and probably varies greatly between any two given jurisdictions. Interestingly, integrated public with private services dates back centuries, with examples of private tax collectors catalogued in the Bible, private Englishmen cleaning public street lamps in the 18th century, or Sir Francis Drake’s employment of private ships to help defeat the Spanish Armada in the 16th century (Williams & Voss, 2013).
As a law enforcement officer, I believe that the more eyes on the lookout for suspicious activity, the better. Whether a police officer or a security worker, both look to root out crime, and provide peace for the followers of good.
Keeping allies within our grasp cannot be overstated. So say thanks and “keep up the good work” the next time you come across a private security partner.
Bakreski, O. (2014). Public/Private Dichotomy As A Variable Which Shapes The Political-
Security Relations. Contemporary Macedonian Defense, 14(27), 67-76.
Voss, M.D, & Williams, Z. (2013). Public-Private Partnerships and Supply Chain
Security. Journal of Business Logistics, 34(4), 320-334.
Weiss, R.P. (2007). From Cowboy Detectives to Soldiers of Fortune: Private Security
Contracting and Its Contradictions on the New Frontiers of Capitalistic Expansion.
Social Justice, 34(3/4), 1-19.