Since September 11, 2001, the private security industry has received much attention. What was once seen as a profession for the retiree and the want-to-be-cop is now a vital component, and fastest growing area in American law enforcement. “Private security is becoming a more significant force in public security and safety. 678,160 workers employed in private security compared with only 580,428 in public law enforcement. Private security in this country would continue to grow, increasing at a faster pace than public law enforcement. It is clear based on statistics, that private security in this country is larger than public police agencies and will play a more important role in crime prevention and security in the future.”1 Part of the reason for this rise in the use of private security is public law enforcements inability to properly patrol and protect the public. The public agencies are restricted by budget restraints and manpower restrictions as the private agencies are not. “Law enforcement budgets are already feeling the pressures of economic downturns and budget reductions more and more traditional law enforcement activities are being absorbed by the private security organizations. Their functions are to provide the security, safety and services that law enforcement agencies are unable to extend.”2
As we will see the rent-a-cop of yesterday is being replaced by the trained professional security officer of today. A security officer today will find himself working with a variety of sophisticated alarm and monitoring equipment and working in areas that were thought of as traditional law enforcement functions i.e. investigations, interrogations, crime scene protection, scene searching and traffic control. Because of this, the security officer not only needs to be trained in the basic areas of security work, but the basic areas of law enforcement; such as criminal law and investigation techniques.
Today’s security officer may find himself working in a variety of non-traditional security functions. The first area being what was commonly thought of as the job of the security officer. Working in an industrial setting conducting clock rounds and controlling building access. They may also find themselves working for an armored car service, in a hotel or motel, in a museums or library or for an alarm company. While these areas were common in the security field, today’s officer may find themselves working in areas that were considered strictly the domain of public law enforcement. Such as, private police forces for non-incorporated cities, gated communities, public housing complexes, and railroads.
Two areas that have not traditionally been included in a discussion of private security are private investigation and executive protection. I mention these here briefly because many security companies in my area not only offer the traditional uniformed security officer for patrol work they also offer private investigation and executive protection services. And because according to the U. S. Department of Labor, employment of private investigators is expected to grow steadily over the next few years. In the area of private investigation, many states do require a license for private investigators but do not have any kind of educational or training requirements. Executive protection professionals are not regulated at all.
Private security is a rapidly growing and changing field. Much has changed since its beginnings and much will continue to change in the coming years because public law enforcement will be unable to meet the demands of a growing society.
History of Security
Private security is not a new concept. Security forces existed long before a paid police force. Private security has a long history starting in medieval times when knights protected lords and ladies. In the colonies all able-bodied men were to stand a citizen’s night watch to protect the community from invasion and fire. ADT ( American district telegraph company) was formed in 1874. It is still today one of the largest alarm monitoring companies in the country. Washington Brink formed Brinks armored car service in 1891. In 1895 Allen Pinkerton was the first law enforcement officer hired to protect the interests of the railroads. It was in the private sector that the first SWAT (special weapons and tactics) unit was formed in 1899. Rangers would arrive in a special baggage car that carried eight men and horses. When a train robbery would occur these rangers would chase the robbers on horseback. William Burns founded his international detective agency in 1909.
Private security in this country has a long in some cases longer and more distinguished past than public law enforcement agencies.
Public law enforcement agencies can trace it’s origin back to Sir Robert Peel, home Secretary of England and the passage of the metropolitan police act of 1829. Sir Robert Peel‘s reforms developed the structure of today‘s Scotland Yard. A force empowered by law to prevent crime and apprehend offenders.
Before that time, London had a private security force consisting of a day time patrol, a night time patrol and a horse patrol to protect it’s citizens.
Private security officers today can be found everywhere from the hospital to the mall. In many cases they are required to perform the same responsibilities as a law enforcement officer . Yet the security profession does not get the same respect the law enforcement profession receives. . Part of the reason for this dim view of the security profession is the lack of training requirements. Training for law enforcement officers came first and has grown over the years. A “real cop” takes great pride in the achievement of graduation from a police academy.
Some states now are requiring certification and training standards for the private security officer. If every state were to create training and education standards for security officers to become certified security professionals, the “rent-a-cop” could also take pride in his ability to have passed a training course. Then the officer and the public would perceive him as a professional.
The security profession has received a lot of attention of late in regard to air port security. Can they handle the new demands of the job? In many cases, the answer to that question would be no. Not because the profession itself has major non-fixable flaws but because the security industry itself , in an effort to save money, cuts corners when it comes to employee hiring practice and training standards.
Agencies were resistant to change in the early days of law enforcement . Then it was realized that to effectively protect citizens and investigate crime, the old outdated ways had to be revised. Community based policing went from a popular buzz word to a philosophy of policing being used by all major police departments in this country.
Now that private security has come to the forefront of public attention, it is time to revise some old held beliefs about the profession. Such as, the trend to hire the least qualified candidate and provide only minimum training. In my opinion, since the security officer of today needs a strong background in criminal justice, security companies should make an attempt to recruit graduates from local community colleges and universities. Sure, a college grad will be asking more money to start but having a well trained officer is worth the extra expense.
An example of security today, in my home state of South Carolina, security officers have the power of arrest while on duty. I live in a resort community where most of the security work is in hotels and resorts along the beach. This poses a unique challenge to security personnel. We are required to patrol the hotel property, like all other security officers, but we are also called on to investigate accidents . What is different about this area is., security personnel are called upon to investigate all incidents in the hotels such as watching resteraunt staff make safe drops at the end of shifts, investigation of possible sexual assaults, domestic violence, noise complaints, illicit drug use, and theft.
One of the complaints I hear is that the security officers are not doing their job properly. Meaning, he may conduct hourly rounds, but that’s it. When he’s called on to investigate an incident it will either not be done properly, not done at all, or the police are called over something minor that could have been handled by the security officer and the hotel staff. This is because most are not trained in criminal justice or in how to conduct an investigation. Most of the training the officer will receive before starting work will cover report writing, patrol methods, public relations, and telephone answering techniques but nothing on arrest, investigation and search and seizure. Part of the problem for the lack of training is many security companies in this area are nationwide companies. The corporate office will be in a state where the security officer does not have the power of arrest, therefore company training standards are uniform. They don’t offer training for different situations or different states that may have different statues pertaining to the security officer. The companies that are locally owned do not take the time to properly train new officers because state law does not require it. They don’t feel the need to properly train an officer and do not actively recruit officers that have prior experience or an education because they feel this officer will be asking for too much money. They lack vision to see that a properly trained educated security force will do a lot to change the view of the security industry as a whole and to improve how the company itself is viewed by potential clients. Many potential larger clients in this area would prefer to pay more for better service. As, I’m sure many potential clients in every area would be willing to do.
The industry itself must take the first step toward improving the profession. Uniform training standards probably will not be adopted by state legislature, so it’s being left up to the industry to police itself so to speak.
All of this reminds me of a conversation I had with a co-worker once. Said co-worker happened to be my supervisor, I was a site supervisor. I was complaining about some of the new employees he was sending to me. They lacked the most basic skills. By the most basic skills ,I mean the ability to write a coherent report, without spelling and grammar errors. The report didn’t follow any logical pattern, it was just a mess. I asked him why our company would employ such a person. It made the rest of us look bad. This was his explanation. “Every security company in an effort to make more money will take, as he put it ,dump assignments.” Sites no one else was willing to work. So they hire the least qualified to staff those positions and occasssionally these employees would have to be sent out to other assignments. The rest of us, the ones trained and able to do a competent job were sent on assignments that required trained competent officers. I think that , in a nutshell , shows the issue with private security today and why if this trend continues the industry will never be taken seriously.
Training and professionalism in security is one of the most important topic the security industry must address. Now that international terrorism has become a very real threat to American security and safety, the untrained, under paid security officer from as little as five years ago just won’t do. If the industry insists on staying in the dark ages, the profession will never gain the kind of respect and place among respected law enforcement agencies that it deserves.
Clede, B. 1993. Security Officer’s Manual.
Gaines, Larry K, Kappeler, Victor E, and Vaughn Jpseph B. 1994. Policing in America. 363-364.
Germann, A. C. , Day Frank D. and, Gallanti Robert, R. J.1988. Introduction To Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice.