Privatization of Policing in an International Context Research Paper

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It is now widely recognized within criminology that “policing” does not simply equate with the work of “the police,” with private security personnel, police auxiliaries, and voluntary bodies featuring among the multiplicity of agencies playing a role in keeping communities safe. This can be seen as part of a general, worldwide trend in which security agencies are expanding and diversifying.

Notable among these developments has been the substantial rise in demand for private security in Western democratic countries, beginning after the Second World War and gaining momentum through the latter decades of the twentieth century in response to a host of social and economic forces. These include rising crime in many countries, especially from the 1970s to the 1990s; increasing prosperity, resulting in more private property and consumer goods needing protection; the expansion of privately controlled, publicly accessible spaces ranging from hypermarkets to airports with their own distinct policing needs; a general growth in the subcontracting of security functions within both the public and private sectors, in order to limit spending and gain from the economies of scale achieved by specialist providers; and increased safety concerns on the part of companies, public institutions, and private individuals in an increasingly risk averse world. Alternative arrangements to the police are also commonplace in poorer parts of the world: in many instances private security or voluntary provision may be a preferred substitute for police forces that lack legitimacy with the public and may be ineffective in the face of high crime levels, compelling rich and poor alike to take matters into their own hands.

Such factors have promoted a growing governmental and social acceptance of private security, as it has become increasingly recognized that the private sector can make a significant contribution to the security of organizations and citizens. At the same time, a prospering security industry has been able to develop products and services better tailored to the needs of its customers, capitalizing on benefits ranging from economies of scale to technological advancement. Criminologists need to recognize these changes and adapt their focus accordingly; hence, the aim of this research paper is to analyze and evaluate the restructuring of policing in late modern society with particular reference to privatization trends.

Police Or Policing?

It is important to define what is meant by “policing” as it is a term that is often misunderstood. Policing is often seen as a little more than what the police do; indeed, it is common to find many books and articles on policing dedicated solely to the police. It is, however, only relatively recently that the two concepts have become so closely associated in the English language. Before the mid-eighteenth century, “policing” encompassed a much broader concept of the regulation of government and the morals or economy of society (Johnston 1992). It was only after the mid-eighteenth century that the word “police,” borrowed from French, came to be commonly associated with the maintenance of order and crime prevention, as Sir Robert Peel’s model for London’s Metropolitan Police was exported throughout Britain, as well as influencing the development of municipal policing in the United States, Europe, and parts of the British Empire.

A problem that has emerged as a consequence is the assumption that solely “the police” can or should undertake “policing.” It is important that these terms are differentiated because there are many other agencies engaged in this process. The noun refers to a particular organization, while the verb describes a social process of which the police and other phenomena are a part (Reiner 1994). It has indeed been recognized that the vast bulk of policing is carried out by people and organizations other than the police.

Reiner (1994) argues that the essence of policing is those activities aimed at ensuring the security of a particular social order. This distinguishes policing from the broader criminological concept of social control, in that the latter encompasses all those processes and activities that promote and enforce a society’s norms and values. Policing is an aspect of social control, encompassing systems of surveillance combined with the threat of sanctions for breaches of criminal law, for the purpose of maintaining a society’s security. Reiner defines it as:

an aspect of social control processes which occurs universally in all social situations in which there is at least the potential for conflict, deviance, or disorder. It involves surveillance to discover actual or anticipated breaches, and the threat or mobilization of sanctions to ensure the security of order. The order in question may be based upon consensus, or conflict and oppression, or an ambiguous amalgam of the two, which is usually the case in modern societies (1994: 722).

In delivering these functions, the police typically conduct patrols, respond to incidents, undertake investigations, apprehend offenders for breaches of the criminal law, and refer cases with sufficient evidence to prosecutors for prosecution. Those found guilty by the courts are then subjected to punishment. Yet there are also many other bodies engaged in these processes. Some citizens form voluntary groups to patrol the streets, in some cases acting as vigilantes to apprehend offenders and hand suspects over to the authorities or even to initiate their own brand of “justice.” Many private security firms patrol areas, conduct investigations, and refer some of the offenders they find to the police. There are also other public bodies engaged in these processes that enforce particular areas of the law, conducting investigations and bringing prosecutions, such as the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in the UK. Policing can alternatively be carried out by new technology controlled by humans, closed circuit television (CCTV) being a good example whereby the presence of such cameras, in town centers, private premises, and even on the roads against speeding drivers, may deter deviant behavior, its recordings able to be used for investigating and prosecuting criminals. The secret activities of intelligence agencies, targeted against espionage, terrorism, or organized crime, form another important dimension of these processes. Thus, when the broader concept of policing is dissected, the wide range of bodies – in both the public and private sectors – engaged in these activities becomes apparent. This research paper will focus upon the commercial aspects of this.

History Of Privatization?

The history of policing in most countries is largely dominated by private and voluntary forms of policing. It is only with the emergence of modern industrial countries towards the end of the nineteenth century that the public police became the dominant model in the delivery of policing (Johnston 1992). Private and voluntary forms of policing did not disappear but rather were eclipsed by the dominant public arrangements. The emergence of commercial private security companies, however, is relatively new. In the USA such companies can be traced to the late nineteenth century and the rapid emergence of company towns surrounding the coal, iron, and steel industries.

There is a body of literature that is very critical of the emergence of private security companies at this time in the USA. This “radical” perspective views the growth of private policing as an inevitable consequence of the crisis of capitalism whereby the state draws in the private sector to strengthen its legitimacy (Button 2008). The development of the coal, iron, and steel industries took place in rural areas in which the state was not well established. Industrial militancy threatened the corporations of the time, and as a result companies resorted to private policing to maintain control. These measures went well beyond keeping the peace, being employed to ensure the working classes remained obedient. The companies would draw upon their own private forces but also made use of contractors for investigations and policing industrial disputes, most famously Pinkerton, a firm still in operation today across a range of countries as part of the Securitas group of companies.

Companies such as Pinkerton provided a range of services that included general property protection services and a range of strikebreaking services such as labor espionage, strikebreakers, strike guards, and strike missionaries (those who were paid to convince strikers to go back to work) (Weiss 1978). The policing practices that emerged, particularly during industrial action in this period, led to serious confrontations between the forces of capital and labor. There were many disputes in which the civil rights of striking workers were violated, and in some cases individuals were even killed. Such were the problems throughout this period that “private police systems” were the subject of many congressional reports (see United States Committee on Education and Labour 1971, a publication of a 1931 report). As the 1931 Congressional report argued:

The use of private police systems to infringe upon the civil liberties of workers has a long and often blood stained history. The methods used by private armed guards have been violent. The purposes have usually been to prevent the exercise of civil rights in the self-organisation of employees into unions or to break strikes either called to enforce collective bargaining or to obtain better working conditions for union members.

This extract is typical of a widespread view in America at that time that conceived private security as involving private armies/spies and viewed this as a threat to the public interest, as a danger to society, and as a phenomenon that should be restricted in the roles it undertook.

It is the post-Second World War period, however, that has witnessed the emergence of the modern private security industry and its expansion to the extent that in many countries there are now more private security officers than police officers. Indeed, Johnston (1992) has described the changes as the “rebirth of private policing.” For example, G4S, the largest security company in the world employing over 635, 000 personnel in more than 125 countries, emerged during this period. In 1951 Plant Protection Ltd was formed in Macclesfield, England. By 1958 it had over 200 employees and was undertaking its first cash-in-transit work. The name of the company was changed to Factory Guards in 1963, and the corporate member companies Store Detectives Ltd and Securitas Alarms were founded. In 1968 the company’s name was changed yet again, to the famous Group 4 Total Security Ltd, and the company has since through mergersand acquisitions grown into the largest in the the world (George and Button 2000), adopting the G4S brand identity in 2006.

What Is Privatization?

Privatization, and what constitutes it, is the subject of much academic and political debate. It can vary from very wide understandings relating to the shrinking of the state to the more precise definition of replacing public sector workers with identical private sector personnel. The underlying theme, however, is the reduction in the role of the state and a priori belief that the private sector is more efficient and effective at providing goods and services (Button 2008). Butler (1991) has identified a range of privatization policies, starting with the most complete – the sale of state assets to the private sector. Secondly, there is deregulation, whereby the regulatory burden on industries is reduced or removed, which may as a consequence lead to greater private sector involvement. Thirdly, there is contracting out, whereby public authorities contract out to the private sector to undertake functions that previously they provided directly. Finally, Butler distinguishes vouchers, where the government gives recipients of their service vouchers to shop around for the best service. Privatization could even involve the removal or reduction of subsidies or the provision of tax incentives (Johnston 1992). Where direct privatization has not been possible, attempts have been made at introducing market and private sector practices in the public sector. This led to the rise of what has become known as the “new public management” or “managerialism” (Loveday 1999). It is also important to note that privatization does not always mean an increasing role for private companies vis-a`-vis the state. There are other non-state organizations that have also benefited (Johnston 1992), such as charities, voluntary organizations, and consumer groups, by replacing the public sector in fulfilling governmental functions such as areas of market regulation or the delivery of welfare or justice services.

Privatization And The Police

In applying forms of privatization to the police, a range of different policies have been pursued in different countries (Chaiken and Chaiken 1987; Johnston 1992; Forst and Manning 1999). They range from the complete replacement of police departments with private security staff (O’Leary 1994) to hiring out officers to private organizations, to the charging of fees for services provided (Johnston 1992), for example, the policing of public events. Before international developments in police privatization are assessed, it is useful to examine scholars’ attempts to classify applications of these measures.

In a major study of how public policing could be privately provided in the USA, Chaiken and Chaiken (1987) identified four mechanisms. The first they called default transfer, whereby the police are unable for various reasons to meet public demands leading the private sector to step in to fill the gap. The second they called accommodation and cooperation, whereby the police informally allow private security personnel to carry out tasks they do not wish to do, in return for which they provide additional services. In an example of this policy, they illustrate how the policing of the homeless in bus and railway stations in some areas has been handed over to the security personnel employed at those venues. In return, if required to deal with an incident at a station, the police will respond immediately. The third type of privatization they termed legislation, whereby private security personnel have been given specific roles and powers in statute. For instance, in some US states retail security personnel have been given special powers of arrest and prosecution, meaning the police do not have to become so involved. Finally, they distinguished contracts, whereby the government has contracted with bodies to carry out specific tasks. The main criticism that can be leveled against Chaiken and Chaiken’s classification is that it does not embrace all the policies of privatization that have been applied to the police. For instance, as Johnston’s classification reveals, it does not reflect how the police have embraced commercial practices such as sponsorship and charging fees.

Johnston (1992) identifies three trends exemplifying what he terms the “privatization mentality” that has been applied to policing. Firstly, there is load shedding, directly and indirectly. This is where the police relinquish roles directly to the private or voluntary sectors, or these effectively usurp the police because the latter are unable to provide the service the public want. Secondly, there is contracting out, whereby government bodies or even the police themselves contract with a private organization to undertake a function for which they remain in ultimate control. Finally, Johnston identifies charging fees and selling services, whereby the police have begun increasingly to act in a commercial manner by offering their services for a fee, potentially in direct competition with private security. Johnston’s classification can be strengthened by including, within load shedding, Chaiken and Chaiken’s example of accommodation and cooperation. Further, by widening Johnston’s final category to the embracing of private sector management practices, the broader range of private sector strategies increasingly being adopted by the police can also be assessed. This research paper will now use Johnston’s amended trichotomy to evaluate the impact of privatization on policing across the world.

Load Shedding

This is where the funding mechanism as well as the delivery of the service is moved from the public to the private or voluntary sectors. It can happen directly, whereby the police actively abandon certain functions or indirectly whereby, because of constraints on resources, they are unable to supply a service that is wanted and the private or voluntary sector steps in to fill the gap.

One of the most significant areas in which the private sector has sought to provide services when the police are unable to meet demand is in the provision of patrol (see Noaks 2000). One of the best documented examples of the private sector successfully filling this gap is the emergence of the private security firm Intelligarde in Toronto, Canada, to police public housing estates. Rigakos (2002) shows how these deprived estates were largely abandoned by the police to disorder and crime. Intelligarde, modeled as the “parapolice,” with a tough, enforcement-focused approach, reestablished a degree of security that the police were unable to guarantee.

Canada is not the only country in which other actors have filled the gaps that the police are unable to address. In South Africa, beset by high crime levels and a historically poor relationship between the police and the community, it is commonplace among rich and poor alike to take matters into their own hands through the hiring of private security or community initiatives (Wood and Shearing 2007; Steinberg 2008; Marks and Bonnin 2010). As Marks and Bonnin (2010) have documented, these can take a number of guises, adopting such descriptions as street committees, neighborhood associations, street patrols, community policing forums, and neighborhood watches depending on their emphases and objectives.

There have also been examples of more purposeful, direct load shedding. Over the last 50 years, the history of the British police has been one of incremental reduction of tasks. The police no longer check unoccupied properties or escort cash-in-transit vehicles, which they once did routinely among many other functions. There are other areas of policing where load shedding has been prominent in more recent years. Public order policing in the UK is a significant dimension in which the police have sought to reduce their role. At football matches up to the late 1980s, it was common for many police officers to be deployed within the grounds to undertake safety and public order policing functions. As a consequence of the Hillsborough disaster, when a human crush resulted in the deaths of 96 people, there were a number of reports into the safety and security strategies at football matches, the most important of which was the Taylor Report published in 1990. Following its publication, football clubs agreed to undertake a greater role in safety with the police concentrating on crime, public order, and emergency management.

As a consequence, police presence at most routine matches has declined significantly and been replaced by stewards and safety officers. Indeed, there are some Premier League football matches that take place with no police officers within the ground. To illustrate this change, in 1989 Nottingham Forest Football Club would typically have had 150 police officers supported by 75 stewards in the ground. In 1995 this had fallen to 22 police officers along with around 250 stewards inside the ground (Frosdick and Sidney 1997).

A further area where the police have effectively shed their role in the UK is the investigation of fraud. During the 1950s and 1960s, if an organization suffered a fraud internally, it would be common for the police to undertake the investigation. Such is the extent of fraud in many organizations today that the police will normally require prima facie evidence before they become involved. They may, indeed, even expect the investigation to have been completed by private means. Indeed, the recent Fraud Review Team (2006: 69) in the UK uncovered the following response from a chief constable to an organization that had reported a £100,000 employee fraud:

The investigation of fraud is extremely expensive in terms of hours spent obtaining statements and preparing a prosecution case. The Constabulary is required under the Crime and Disorder Act to produce a crime reduction strategy. Our strategy identifies priority areas and police resources are directed to those priority areas. Fraud is not one of them.

As a consequence of this – and often a reason to keep control of the investigation – many organizations have turned to the private sector to undertake the initial and sometimes the whole fraud investigation (Fraud Review Team, 2006). This type of load shedding has exhibited both direct and indirect tendencies. The police have been able to avoid having to investigate some frauds, which can be labor intensive, but may capitalize on the benefits of a successful investigation by the private sector.

At the international level, the limitations of military provision in unstable regions of the world, as well as corporate advancement into emerging markets including areas of high security risk, have also opened up substantial opportunities for the private security sector. O’Reilly (2010) notes how the longer established of the international security consultancies, such as the British firm Control Risks Group, emerged in the 1970s as many corporations began to extend their reach into high-risk regions of the world and faced, in particular, the threat of executive kidnap and ransom. With respect to this problem in Latin America, he explains, “By making this threat manageable, they also made it insurable” (p. 185). Since that time, the relationship between such consultancies and the insurance sector has been fundamental to their existence and development. O’Reilly observes that these early successes began to assuage initial corporate fears about moving into hazardous environments and encouraged further ventures that, in turn, required additional specialist services and cross-selling of tailored insurance products.

One element of the security industry’s international expansion that has evoked particular controversy is the provision of military-related services. Avant (2009) notes how the accelerated expansion of this sector can be observed to have occurred in two distinct phases, associated with Africa’s adjustment to a post-Cold War, postcolonial era in the 1990s, and the conflict in Iraq in the new millennium. The earlier phase saw the sector and its activities constructed as a matter of growing political concern, whereas the latter has seen it establish itself as serving an essential role in an era of uncertainty, albeit with acknowledged and often serious limitations still remaining. The downsizing by many countries of their military forces after the end of the Cold War has provided extensive opportunity, indeed an expressed need, for the private sector to play a role in defense, security, peacekeeping, and reconstruction. With respect to Iraq, Isenberg (2009) identifies the three main roles of private security companies as being as follows: personal security for senior civilian officials, nonmilitary security of buildings and infrastructure, and nonmilitary logistics security, often through subcontracting by US government or Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) contractors or employment by Iraqi or foreign companies. It should be noted that, for the security industry today, Iraq is a somewhat unique case in that the demand for private security is closely tied to the Western military intervention in that country. Of the two main leading supplier countries of private security, the USA and the UK, British industry spokespersons Bearpark and Schulz (2007) argue that most UK private security providers along with other European companies largely refrain from providing frontline services in conflict zones, placing more reliance on private sector clients who are protective of their corporate reputations. Thus, the UK security sector is gaining much ground in another area of burgeoning marketplace demand: global maritime security.

Contracting Out

In this form of privatization, a governmental body retains responsibility for the funding of the activity but contracts with a third party to deliver the service. The Confederation of European Security Services (CoESS), a joint initiative of European trade associations for the security industry, observed that the UK is the country that has gone furthest in transferring traditionally public security functions to the private sector (Palmer and Button 2011), applying not only to police organizations but the justice system as a whole. Its immigration detention functions have been contracted out since the 1970s, and a wave of subsequent outsourcing commenced in 1992 with the privatization of prisoner escort services, certain prisons (reported to number 11 of 130 at the time of writing of the CoESS report), and some security functions within public prisons, such as the monitoring of offenders under curfew, the security of the lower courts of law (magistrates’ courts), and the securing of many police custody suites or police premises as a whole. In the case of police organizations, such practices have gradually extended from relatively uncontroversial functions such as catering, cleaning, and maintenance to “back office” tasks hitherto undertaken by police officers (Button, Williamson and Johnston 2007).

Embracing Private Sector Management Practices

The third aspect to privatization is the embracing of private sector management practices. In the UK throughout the Conservative periods of government of the 1980s and 1990s, and continuing under the Labour governments from 1997 to 2010, there has been a gradual application of market principles within the public sector, including the police. This process has been termed “managerialism” or “new public management” (NPM) (see Loveday 1999). Most public sector organizations were subject to a Financial Management Initiative which emphasized the “three Es”: economy, efficiency, and effectiveness. The rudimentary basis of this initiative was the setting of objectives and determining priorities and, ultimately, the encouragement of modes of working more characteristic of the private sector. These principles were further cemented with the encouragement of what later became known as “policing by objectives” in the issuing of a Home Office Circular (114/1983), a means of offering central government “guidance” to police forces on a wide variety of operational and policy issues that came to be regarded as binding by most forces due to the authority held by the Home Office in police governance structures.

By the early 1990s the pace of reform had intensified. The Police and Magistrates Courts Act 1994 shifted the balance of power in the “tripartite” structure of police governance (comprising the chief constable, the Home Office, and the police authority, made up of locally elected councilors and magistrates), still further in favor of central government. It emphasized the “chief executive” role of the chief police officer (in the UK known as the chief constable or, in the two London forces, the commissioner), who was responsible for managing the police service rather than administering it. The Act also reconstituted chief constables as budget holders, enabled the Home Secretary to set national performance targets, and introduced greater business interest into the police authorities, by reducing the number of democratically elected councilors at the expense of independents (expected to be from the business community) (Loveday and Reid 2003). Another significant event was the Sheehy Inquiry into Police Rewards and Responsibilities, tasked with critically examining the thorny issues of the police rank structure, remuneration, and conditions of service and remuneration. Following considerable police resistance to the recommendations, these were largely rejected, although some changes, such as performance-related pay for top-ranking officers, were implemented. Some constabularies appointed accountants to key positions in the hierarchy, and in Merseyside the chief constable’s team became known as the “Board of Directors” (Loveday 1999). In the government plan for the criminal justice system, more secondments in the private sector for senior managers in the criminal justice system (including the police) were advocated and have now began to be implemented through the Workforce Modernisation Agenda.

The application of NPM to the public police has been the subject of much research (Loveday 1999; Loveday and Reid 2003); however, the focus of this research paper will be the selling of policing services, charging of fees, and pursuit of sponsorship. The police have long charged for “special services,” particularly for the officers they provide at football matches and public order events (Gans 2000). Under the Police Act 1964 (now section 25 of the Police Act 1996):

The chief officer of police of any police force may provide, at the request of any person, special police services at any premises or in any locality in the police area for which the force is maintained, subject to the payment to the police authority of charges on such scales as may be determined by the authority.

Under section 18 of the same Act, the police authority can also supply goods and services to local authorities. It is not the aim here to explore the debate over what constitutes “special policing services,” rather to illustrate some of the services the police have provided. As mentioned, it has been a long-standing practice for the police to charge for the services they provide at football matches and other public events on private land.

Such practices extend much further in the USA, where Reiss (1988) found three models of employment of the public police for private purposes. The first was where the officer found secondary employment and charged for his/her services directly. The second was through police unions who coordinated their secondary employment. Finally, a model exists where the police department contracts with the organization for secondary employment, for which they receive fees and then pay the police officer.

Through sponsorship, police forces can also raise an additional 1 % of their budget. An expose by the British national newspaper the Sunday Times illustrated some of the more bizarre sponsorship deals many forces would apparently consider. Posing as executives from a fictional firm called “Keystone Security” (Keystone Cops!), for the appropriate fee several forces offered to emblazon their name on their vehicles. One force offered to name an anti-burglary campaign after the company, and in another it was suggested their name could be displayed on the wall of a new police station shared with the local authority. Many forces have indeed been successful in acquiring money in return for advertising. London’s prestigious department store Harrods has in the past sponsored a police patrol car, and a liquor store chain called Thresher sponsored a police van for £10, 000.

Linked to the charging of fees and selling of services, Bryett (1996) has also identified four methods in which privately owned non-police resources have been expended to the public police. At its simplest level, monies and physical resources have been given to the police. Clearly, the donation of large sums of money or resources raises concern over the independence of the police should an investigation into the donor ever become necessary. At a second level, another donation is that of space, which can also be a form of physical resource. Bryett provides one example from the USA where the McDonald’s food chain gave part of one of its stores as premises for a police station. A third type of private sector aid is giving time. This most frequently takes the form of private individuals offering their time as police auxiliaries, termed “special constables” in the UK. At another level it might be helping the police in a search for a missing person or for evidence. The pursuit of cooperative ventures between the public and private sectors is the fourth means of cooperation. For instance, in Montgomery County in the USA, the local police department cooperated with IBM to produce a sophisticated computer disaster and security capability. In the UK the Private Finance Initiative has also enabled some forces to contract with the private sector to design, finance, build, and manage police facilities. Some of these have included police stations and firearms ranges.

Assessing The Impact Of Privatization

The emergence of a substantial private security industry undertaking functions that, in modern times, came to be associated with the state has not been without its problems. Before some of these are examined, however, it is important to note that the outlook is not entirely negative. Private security personnel provide services that are essential to public safety and which, if the private sector did not provide them, would in many cases not be supplied at all. The private security industry can be a strong partner to the state to enhance the overall resilience to crime and terrorism, as in the case of Project Griffin, an initiative launched by the UK’s City of London and Metropolitan forces in 2004. Its approach is to train private security officers to provide their own companies with better protection against terrorism, as well as to assist the police and other organizations through information sharing and securing cordons in the event of an emergency. The project has subsequently been extended around the UK, and the model exported to a number of other countries, including Canada and Australia. There is also the strong argument, based on some of the examples of outsourcing provided above, that in some circumstances the private sector can supply an equal or even better service to the state at a lower cost. This brings benefits to society as a whole, particularly in an era of fiscal constraint.

Yet it would be wrong to ignore some of the challenges associated with private security. In some countries there has been evidence of significant problems arising in association with the burgeoning size and role of the private security (Palmer and Button 2011). These have included, among others, criminal infiltration of the industry, little or no training for security personnel, abuses of authority including the excessive use of force, and generally low standards of professionalism. Some of these will be briefly considered.

There are a number of countries that do not regulate private security, or do not regulate all the private security activities in an industry, or where the enforcement of regulation is minimal. As a consequence, in some countries there are problems with individuals of inappropriate character, namely, significant criminal records, working in the private security industry. At a more serious level, on occasions, organized crime has captured control of security companies enabling them to use company resources and staff for their criminal means (SEESAC 2005). The collapse of the Soviet Union and its satellite countries has also led to the dominance of security companies by former state security services operatives in that region. In Russia between September 1991 and June 1992, over 20, 000 KGB officers left or were discharged. Many of these personnel moved to the private sector to work for and establish private security operations. Indeed, Volkov (2000) estimated that nearly 50, 000 former officers of state security and law enforcement were working for private security agencies. Many of these personnel have taken the culture and tactics of their old employers to their new private masters.

Some of the most disturbing examples of abuse and excessive force by private security personnel have been documented in South America. At the most disturbing end of the spectrum, private security has been implicated in repressive social control, including organized death squads, most notably in the slums of Brazil.

In Sa˜o Paulo during the last 3 months of 1999, of the 109 citizens killed by the militarized police, 69 were recorded as having been dispatched by off-duty officers working part time in private security. As Huggins (2000: 121) has argued.

In Brazil today, death squads continue to operate, paralleled by a growing ‘rent-a-cop’ industry, with each social control entity directly ‘serving’ different population segments to the benefit of one over the other. The poor are treated as undifferentiated ‘criminals’ by death squads and ‘rent-a-cops’, and richer Brazilians are protected from the poor by their private security forces.

A major critique that has been raised by leading security scholar Clifford Shearing and a number of his collaborators is that the expansion of private security has highlighted and exacerbated security inequality (see Wood and Shearing 2007). They do not discount the value of private security in certain circumstances, and the potential for poorer sectors of society to harness its resources in circumstances in which public provision is lacking. Yet they also observe how, in developing countries, the rich are able to purchase their own security measures to supplement slender state provision, while poorer areas are often left with a security deficit.

In addition, in many countries the private security industry also is characterized by poor quality security personnel, lowly paid, poorly trained, and lacking motivation (Button 2008). This has highlighted the need for effective regulation and control of the private security industry. Most countries do regulate the industry but the standards vary considerably (Palmer and Button 2011). The need to raise standards has invited the concern of a number of international bodies, most notably the United Nations. Work by the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime in 2011 culminated in an intergovernmental expert group making preliminary draft recommendations on the principles of a model regulatory system for the private security industry.


In Western democratic countries, policing is rapidly evolving against a backdrop of significant and ongoing political and economic change. This is creating a need for police forces to establish new ways of working in order to meet the burgeoning demands upon them, as well as substantial opportunities for commercial security companies to address areas of deficit. In financially austere times and under the shadow of global terrorism, more active partnership between the public and private sectors is becoming a necessity, the counter terrorism initiative Project Griffin being a key example as to how the public sector can harness private security resources.

In parts of the developing world, police forces may be ineffective, lack legitimacy with the public, or even present a threat to citizens’ security, making private or community security provision a necessity. Business opportunities in emerging economies, more politically and economically volatile than traditional markets since their legal and institutional systems are less well developed, are promoting the security industry’s international expansion as it serves the needs of enterprise. A substantial, and growing, international private security industry is now an established fact of life in a globalized world.

These changing drivers of insecurity, and responses to them, illustrate that neither the providers of security nor those who study them can stand still. Criminologists need to recognize the changes and their implications in terms of the functions of policing and who delivers these, which will vary from one jurisdiction to the next. They must also take account of their ramifications for the oversight and accountability of policing agencies, both public and private, as well as the partnerships they are entering into. The pace of social change is presenting enormous challenges for policy makers, practitioners, and researchers and the need for innovative solutions.


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