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In this research paper the terms private security and private police are used interchangeably. However, private security more often refers to in-house security (personnel who conduct policing activities within an organization), and private policing refers to contract security (security guards/officers hired by organizations to secure and protect assets and personnel). These terms are used synonymously because the history and functioning of in-house and contract personnel is fairly similar. Contract personnel (typically uniformed) do policing more often than in-house personnel, but there are circumstances and contexts in which in-house personnel, although not uniformed, conduct policing activities very similar to those of public police and contract personnel.
The growth of the private security industry is generally perceived as a twentieth-century phenomenon. However, policing by private organizations can be traced back far into history. This is particularly the case with market economies in which competing interest groups influence the growth of private policing in contrast to single party societies, or single order religious or political societies, where competing policing organizations are generally not tolerated. The history of private and public policing is intertwined. In England, it is likely that private policing (rather narrowly defined historically) both preceded and necessitated the introduction of public police.
The emergence of state-controlled law enforcement, particularly in England, grew out of private organizations that were established to maintain public order, as well as to enhance private interests. Earlier work on private policing in London during the 1800s suggests that Jonathan Wild was one of the first private police agents to contribute to maintaining social order. During this period, property crime was rampant in London; Wild, who was labeled ‘‘thief taker,’’ retrieved stolen goods and helped police to solve many cases for a fee. Even the first forerunners of public police, the Bow Street Runners, were funded by prosperous merchants and business interests. Many competing organizations arose during this time. Wealthy merchants hired armed guards to secure private property.
In the United States, private policing in the form of contract services essentially grew out of a public policing, paramilitary model. New York was the first city to establish a police force in 1844; in 1855 Allan Pinkerton, Chicago’s first public detective and Cook County Deputy Sheriff, established the first private police organization, called the North West Police Agency, in Chicago. By the end of the century there were fifteen private policing agencies in Chicago and twenty in New York. Private police organizations probably grew not because of the inadequacy of the public forces, but rather because the demand for policing exceeded the supply, and because the private agencies could be manipulated more effectively than the public.
The Pinkerton, Burns, and Wackenhut agencies are some of the more well-known private policing agencies, and they still exist today under the same names. Both Pinkerton and Burns, as former U.S. Secret Service Agents, adopted that agency’s organizational style. The highly centralized operations of the Secret Service were characterized by the collection of information, dossiers on suspects, extensive case files, methods of surveillance, and undercover operations. They went to great lengths to separate themselves from private investigators whose reputations were unfavorable in the popular culture of the time.
These agencies supplied contract security guards in large numbers to major industrial establishments. The activities of private police agencies as strikebreakers during the early part of the twentieth century helped earn private police a tarnished image. Of particular interest were personnel involved in security functions within companies. Referred to as in-house security, their origins are of considerable interest, but are little studied. The industrial giant Ford Motor Company employed as many as 3,500 persons in the early 1930s in a private police force, which was known as the ‘‘The Ford Service.’’
In the 1950s and 1960s there was a steady increase in the number of people employed in the private security industry, particularly in the contract-security services. Today, private security industry employees far outnumber those employed in public policing. Private security companies in the United States number over ten thousand, with estimated annual revenues exceeding $15 billion. Conservative employment estimates for the United States suggest that there are about 67,000 registered private investigators, over 27,600 in-house store detectives, 371,300 security officers, and 95,800 managers and staff representing in total well over 500,000 personnel. The 1999 Contract Security Industry data reveal that there are over 719,000 contract guards. Employment of guards is expected to grow faster than the average growth for other industries.
Scope of Security Work
Specific occupations within the security profession are diverse. They include security officers, asset protection personnel, security directors of businesses, security supervisors, vendors of alarm services, investigators (e.g., those involved in pre-employment screening, background checks), technology services (e.g., access control systems), and guard services. Both contract and in-house security personnel can be found in a range of industries that include utilities, transportation, manufacturing, oil, pharmaceutical, health care, banking, insurance, retail, hotel, food services, and sports. In-house security departments in certain industries employ hundreds of people to coordinate security for thousands of employees. Some service industry security units monitor several hundred thousands of clients. In certain large industries, inhouse security operations typically have departmental budgets exceeding $15 million. These figures generally exclude budgetary allocations for contract security, security performed by nonsecurity units, and security consultants.
Despite significant differences in the scope of work between law enforcement officers and private police, security professionals as a group are in various ways similar to law enforcement officers. First, they are similar in the sense that both organizations serve like interests. Though private security serves the narrow interests of the organization for which it works both groups strive to reduce crime and prevent client losses. Thus, each organization’s goals include order maintenance functions and protecting their respective clients. Interestingly, while the client base of private security is arguably smaller, the fact remains that with the expansion of large, privately owned property—where much of public life takes place—the role of private and public policing has become increasingly blurred. Consequently, private security is not only concerned with corporate interests but also the public who constitute a significant client base.
Second, security professionals often are former law enforcement or military personnel who join the private sector upon retirement. The presence of a large number of such personnel in private security has had considerable influence on the organizational culture of security departments. The military model has served as the framework for instilling professionalism in private policing through militarization, a process that has fostered such attributes as obedience, physical training, education, and the display of uniforms. At the same time, historically, law enforcement agencies hired individuals with prior military experience. Law enforcement remains the primary occupation for military retirees and military ‘‘wannabees,’’ as it provides all the trappings, such as uniforms, caps, and brass, available to military professionals.
Finally, the observable behavior of personnel in both organizations is often identical. For example, security personnel wear uniforms and drive vehicles similar to those of law enforcement. Further, some of the functions such as securing premises, patrols, and crowd management are very similar for both organizations.
The fact that personnel employed in private security, especially in recent years, far outnumber law enforcement officers and that they engage in pursuits similar to those of law enforcement, suggests that the police could have willing partners in cooperative efforts to achieve common goals.
Nature of Security Work
Very little is written about the nature of private police work. Public perceptions of private security attest to the assumption that security work is done by ‘‘rent-a-cops’’ who lack the requisite training and education. The nature of private policing involves more than patrol and guard duties. Activities may include establishing perimeter security through such elements as guard services, signs and notices, fence design criteria, protective barriers, locks, alarms, and protective lighting. While most of these responsibilities are tied to asset protection, these activities are also designed to prevent insiders and outsiders from committing crimes. Employee theft is a major concern for all workplace organizations. Measures are designed to prevent other detrimental activities such as workplace violence, drugs in the workplace, and white-collar crime.
Security work includes fire protection with attention focused on the causes of fire, fire brigades, fire control surveys, fire alarm technology, and fire protection plans. Security departments are also concerned with access control issues including swipe cards and badge systems, personnel movement, automated access systems, degrees of restriction, and other classification systems that support access control.
It is not uncommon for security departments to be involved in the planning stages of developing business environments. Security analysts interface with architects to ensure security features, such as electronic surveillance equipment, in the design stage. Personnel security is another feature of security departments. Some of the tasks included within this area include employee crime, employee suitability, preemployment screening, executive protection, and other evaluation programs relating to personnel.
Another major function of most security departments is risk management, disaster management, and emergency preparedness. Some of these tasks include risk identification, risk analysis, risk reduction, and program evaluation. Risk management includes defining vulnerabilities, and planning and conducting security surveys. Emergency planning and the management of both natural and human-induced disasters constitute the core of a security department’s functions. Within this framework of risk, insurance plays an important role for security managers, who must consider the application of varieties of insurance such as bonds, federal crime insurance, kidnap and ransom insurance, fire insurance, and liability insurance.
Security managers are also concerned with computer crime and information security. One of the major tasks for large corporations is securing proprietary information from unwanted disclosures. Other functions include legal and liability issues.
Security managers have to be concerned with developing strategic alliances and relationships within the organization to maintain security effectiveness. In addition, security managers have to develop relations with the media, public law enforcement, fire departments, and other security organizations.
Typically, security officers have no more authority to act than private citizens, except when they are deputized by local enactment or are provided with special powers. Private police (citizens) enjoy arrest powers, which are typically similar across all the states.
One of the primary concerns of security management is to ascertain by what legal authority security officers can investigate suspected shoplifters, embezzlers, and the like. This may help management determine the level of training security officers should receive to accomplish their objective of protecting the business environment. The potential legal bases include (1) security officers with citizen powers; (2) security officers with special legislatively authorized power; and (3) security officers who are also police officers. In the case of security officers working under the authority vested in them through state legislation or local ordinances, their legal authority is the same as that of public law enforcement officers. However, in most instances, particularly in private enterprise, private security personnel operate in the capacity of ordinary citizens. Therefore, the focus of this section will be on citizens’ legal powers.
Under common law every citizen, like the law enforcement officer, has a right to make an arrest. A private citizen can make an arrest for a criminal offense without a warrant if the arrested person has committed a felony in his/her presence or if the arrested person has committed a felony offense outside the presence of the citizen but the arresting person has reasonable cause to believe that a felony has been committed. The scope of a citizen’s arrest power is similar to that of a law enforcement officer. However, a citizen’s arrest is always made at the arrestor’s own risk. That is, if the arrest proves to be unlawful, the arrestor is exposed to the risk of criminal or civil liability. A private police officer is subject to these limitations and must balance the need to protect the interests of his employer with the need to avoid making false arrests.
Many states do not authorize citizens’ arrests for misdemeanors. Among those states that do have such provisions, the rules regarding misdemeanor arrests are not uniform. Some state statutes are narrow and limit misdemeanor arrests to ‘‘public offenses,’’ which refers to disturbing the public peace or violating the public order. In most states, however, a private person may arrest one without a warrant who commits a misdemeanor in his presence.
In addition to the provisions of various statutes on misdemeanor arrests, some states provide special legislation enabling merchants and their agents to deal with shoplifters and other offenders. It is clear that these statutes have originated from the need to prevent the large losses that occur each year in this industry. Once again, there is no uniformity in these statutes.
The amount of force a private citizen or a government officer can use in making an arrest depends on the type of offense and the status of the arresting person. A general rule is that the amount of force used to arrest a person cannot exceed the extent of resistance offered. Again, if the arrest is for a felony offense, the authority of a private citizen is that of a law enforcement officer.
Regarding searches and seizures, the Fourth Amendment guarantees every citizen ‘‘to be secure in their persons, houses, papers.’’ The amendment, however, only protects against intrusions from governmental officials, not from private citizens. Therefore, if evidence is seized from a suspect without any official knowledge, or without collusion with a law enforcement officer, the evidence is admissible in a prosecution and does not violate the Fourth Amendment. This is not to imply that a private citizen can seize evidence from any person at any time with impunity. Persons who enter private premises without authority or improperly seize the property of others may be subject to civil liability. Furthermore, one may be guilty of violating a criminal law and may be subject to prosecution for unauthorized entries and seizures that are not consensual. If a private citizen is in any way acting as an instrumentality of the police, or the police have knowledge of the citizen’s action, there is a good possibility that the exclusionary rule will apply in any future prosecution and the evidence seized will be suppressed.
Thus, when a private security officer working in the capacity of a private citizen seizes evidence, even if the evidence is seized unlawfully, such evidence can be used for prosecution. However, if the security officer is given legal status through the states’ required licensing or deputation process, the security officer would lose his status as a private person and illegally obtained evidence would be inadmissible in the court. This does not rule out the possibility, however, that a private security officer could also be sued for illegally obtaining evidence from a suspect. In general, the most conservative approach is to abide by the rules that apply to the public law enforcement officer. This also helps make the case that the private officer has acted in a professional manner (i.e., like a public law enforcement officer). Abiding by the constraints and requirements of public law enforcement will avoid any mistakes that might jeopardize the case.
It is clear that public law enforcement officers have a right to search persons upon a lawful arrest, but the private security officer may enjoy a broader privilege to search beyond the immediate suspect. What about searching employees who are not arrested? Can a security officer search employees’ lockers or desks on suspicion of some misconduct? These questions are significant in view of current concerns about use of drugs in the workplace and employee theft. Generally, employers reserve the right to search employees’ lockers or desks either as a preemployment condition or as post-employment consent to search. In some instances, employers have duplicate keys to lockers and desks. Where there is no reasonable expectation of privacy, that is, the employee does not enjoy the privilege of calling the space his own; the employer, through the security personnel, generally reserves the right to examine the contents at any time.
Public Vis-À-Vis Private Police
In recent years there has been an increase in the attention paid to developing working relationships between seemingly similar but fundamentally different organizations that regulate public life. There are numerous examples of established relationships between law enforcement and private security organizations at the city, state, and federal levels. Some of these cooperative efforts date to the early 1980s. However, very little research has addressed the attitudes of law enforcement officers and security professionals toward each other. Findings from earlier research in general suggest that security professionals believe that law enforcement officers do not respect them. The findings also suggest that law enforcement officers are primarily concerned with arrests and less concerned with crime prevention. In addition, it has been found that law enforcement agencies solicit information from security agencies but do not reciprocate in kind. Another common finding is that police officers believe that private security forces are not professional, that they are client-oriented, and that they are reluctant to prosecute. Other studies have found that security professionals rated their relationship with the police as good to excellent, while the police rated their relationship with security professionals as good to poor. Cross-national research on law enforcement and security relationships in Singapore, Brazil, China, India, Russia, and South Africa also suggest similar findings.
Recent work in the United States on the relationship between law enforcement officers and security professionals’ suggests that security professionals believe law enforcement officers have a negative view of security professionals, while law enforcement officers believe that security professionals view police positively. Law enforcement officers typically have a neutral view of security, while security personnel hold the police in relatively high regard. On the issue of working relationships, interestingly, police officers believe that the existing working relationship between the two sectors is good. Conversely, security personnel view the state of the working relationship as poor. Not surprisingly, the results also suggest that police officers perceive security personnel as unequal partners in crime prevention, though security professionals were more likely to believe that they are coproducers of crime prevention efforts with policing agencies. Despite these differences, both groups acknowledged that there are at least some cooperative efforts between the two sectors, and that they could do more to foster and encourage a better working relationship with the other.
Due to the changing nature of security work, the distinction between public and private policing is becoming blurred. For example, public law enforcement officers often moonlight as security officers. While in some instances these officers wear official police uniforms and drive police cruisers while working at off-duty jobs, police officers working as security officers often act in a manner similar to private security officers. Private security forces in some areas are vested with full police powers. Examples from South Carolina (Sea Pines and Hilton Head Plantation), Virginia (Aquia Harbor), Oregon (Sun River), Tennessee (Fairfield Glade), and Pennsylvania (Poconos) suggest that their security forces remain privately controlled, paid, and attired, but are court sworn with the full capacity to arrest, search, and seize. In the Poconos, private communities have their security patrols deputized under Pennsylvania’s dormant 1895 Night Watchman Act, originally adopted to enable coal companies to create their own union-busting police. In Michigan, similar legislation recently vested private security at certain malls and hospitals with total police power. Frenchman’s Creek, a wealthy gated enclave in Florida’s Palm Beach Gardens, boasts its own five-man Special Tactical Operation Patrol (STOP), which does not have full police powers but is equipped with camouflage clothing, night-vision scopes, infrared heat detectors, high-speed vehicles, and specially trained dogs.
In some types of police/security relationships, the distinction between public and private police is even further blurred. If one examines the nature of public and private police relationships, one can use the metaphor of cold-fusion to describe the complex and legally blurred relationships between law enforcement and security. An example of this type of interaction involves a joint police/security interaction where the recording industry contributed $100,000 to assist the Federal Bureau of Investigation (F.B.I.) in investigating pirated tapes and records. In another example, the F.B.I. and IBM Corporation jointly participated in a sting operation involving the sale of computer secrets in Silicon Valley. In yet another example, the Law Enforcement Intelligent Unit (LEIU) was founded as a private organization for local and state police to share intelligence files. Its membership is restricted to public police. The nature of the organizational culture permits the exchange of information that would not otherwise be possible by agents acting strictly in a public capacity. Thus these relationships provide opportunities for blending, but they blur boundaries between law enforcement and security organizations.
The Future of Private Police
Despite great increases in the number of people employed in the private security industry, researchers know very little about what they do, how they do it, and what it means to the general public and the employees who come in contact with them. The popular culture clearly portrays an image that is not complimentary. Newspaper and magazines in the 1980s and early 1990s often described the lack of professionalism and inappropriate training among security officers.
While private policing involves more than just security officers, the public in general, and even students who major in criminal justice, only think of security officers when the term ‘‘private security’’ is uttered. Further, it is not uncommon for college students, both criminal justice and noncriminal justice majors, to describe security officers as ‘‘rent-a-cops,’’ ‘‘toy cops,’’ ‘‘unintelligent,’’ ‘‘paid baby-sitters,’’ and ‘‘overweight and unskilled.’’ While both law enforcement and security professionals envision increased cooperation between the two groups in the future, security professionals have greater hope than public police for a relatively equal relationship.
The official society for security professionals, the American Society for Industrial Security (ASIS), has over twenty thousand members worldwide. In conjunction with some universities, the ASIS is working toward developing model course curriculum and program offerings. Many criminal justice programs in the United States offer course work or a concentration in security management as part of their programs. Some universities even offer degree programs in security. Security programs are typically housed in criminal justice departments and their course work is generally modeled after traditional law enforcement/police administration curricula. To make security education more relevant to academics and practitioners, changes in security curricula are needed in order to broaden its scope by incorporating methodology-based business and social science courses. ASIS membership has also supported programmatic and curricular changes, calling for the inclusion of social science and business-related courses in security education.
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