Public and Private Policing

The growing privatization of police services is a global phenomenon. It was first widely noted in the United States in a 1972 Rand Corporation study commissioned by the National Institute of Justice. Several years later, Stenning and Shearing observed that a “quiet revolution” toward private policing had occurred in Canada. South documented a similar trend in both western and eastern European countries. And an update of the original Rand assessment in 1985 concluded that private security outspent public law enforcement by 73 percent and employed two and a half times as many people.

Public and private policing have many similarities, as well as differences and the distinction between public and private police are often blurred. Private policing, while emerging as a new industry, is not a new phenomenon and predates the existence of public police as witnessed today (Wilson 1994, p. 285). There are at least three reasons for the dramatic increase. First, in both post-industrial and developing nations, there has been an increase in what Stenning and Shearing call “mass private property”: shopping malls and gated communities.

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These spaces have traditionally fallen outside of the domain of public police, although this is now changing. Second, the fear of crime among those with property has grown faster than government’s willingness to spend more money on police protection. In many countries, this fear of crime among the propertied classes was intensified by the transition from authoritarian to democratic rule. Third, private police forces have often placed a higher priority on visible patrol than public police, hoping to deter crime through their presence.

As early as 1971 Scott and McPherson worried that private policing might infringe upon civil liberties with impunity. Formal and familiar mechanisms exist around the world to hold public police accountable for their actions, but accountability mechanisms for private police are less well understood and often emanate from private rather than public institutions. In many cases, the state has little power or incentive to hold private police accountable.

Stenning, however, believes that the inadequate accountability of private police has been overstated; marketplace competition, consumer pressures, demands of organized labor, and potential civil liability, he argues, compensate for lesser state regulation and oversight. Public policing has been known to have a monopoly on policing until the increased trend of private policing in the United States. Public police consist of the governmental department charged with the regulation and control of the affairs of a community, now chiefly the department established to maintain order, enforce the law, and prevent and detect crime.

Private policing refers to that policing activity of crime prevention, detection and apprehension carried out by private organizations or agents for commercial purposes. Private policing may be defined to include those people who work for a security company or are employed by an individual or firm to carry out security work, crowd control or private investigations. In seeking to describe the policing activity of private police, however, most functional definitions stem from the perceived role of the public police (Nalla & Newman, 1990).

Private police look and behave like public police and describing their function often involves a comparison of the activities and responsibilities of the two. Despite the differences, public and private police tend to mirror each other to a certain extent (Nalla & Newman, 1990). Private policing is provided by a private individual or organization, rather than by a public body or the state like public policing is. Private police are seen to be concerned with the protection of personal and corporate interest while public police represent the interests of the public and seek to enforce the regulations of the judicial system.

The police are “persons with a special legal status employed by governments to preserve the peace” (Shearing, Farnell & Stenning, 1980,) Private policing, in comparison to public policing, has been described as passive policing as to active policing, or as proactive and preventative rather than reactive: where public police generally react to the crime, private police through surveillance and presentation are seen to prevent crime. (Wilson 1994) Private policing targets private crime and is in the business of protecting private and corporate interests.

Private policing usually operates behind the traditional and legal boundaries where the public police cannot lawfully cross unless by invitation or probable cause. This leads to the private policing sector having a “broader enterprise than public policing, with a wider range of functions. ” (South, 1988, p. 4) One difference between public and private police is private investigators are hired by individuals or businesses for a certain purpose and work mostly behind the scenes or undercover doing surveillance while Public policing is known to society as the police who protect our communities and arrest those individuals who commit crime.

Public policing has the role to maintain law and order, preserve peace and prevent crime. Public police are employed by governments and paid for by tax dollars and grants. Another difference between the role of public and private policing is the private providers of security is their flexibility. They can, and will, perform most tasks they get paid to do. Their customers can demand a lot from them, since they are directly answerable to the paying clients and their needs.

The private entrepreneurs are also forced to ‘do right’ by the market. If they fail, they will lose their money. Public police do not have the negotiation factor and are paid on salary, no matter how they perform or how efficient they are in performing their duties. Many have said that private policing is for the rich and public policing is for the poor. This could be effectively argued based on the fact that private policing is not designed to consider the general good for society, like public policing.

Private policing is primarily protecting the interests of their paying clients and focuses more on “loss prevention”, rather than “crime prevention”. Private policing has been scrutinized and concern has expressed that private security can be overly intrusive, less than scrupulous in its adherence to self-imposed guidelines and, on occasion, the law, and threatening to civil liberties. Although public and private both play a major role in society, they do have different responsibilities.

The responsibilities of a public officer include preserving the peace, preventing crimes and other offenses, assisting victims of crime, apprehending criminals, laying charges, prosecuting and participating in prosecutions, executing warrants, performing the lawful duties assigned by the chief of police, and completing the required training. The responsibilities of a private officer include training for private investigators and security guards is generally the responsibility of the employer.

No license is required if the private investigator or security guard is hired . in house,. which means that he or she is an employee of, for example, an insurance company, court house, law firm, or store. Compared with police officers, private security in Canada is characterized by the following: lower wages, minimum or no recruitment standards, higher percentage of part-time work, higher turnover rate, lower levels of education, and minimum or no training (Marin,1997).

In conclusion, Public and private policing are major components in the criminal justice field. It would be impossible for our communities to feel secure without the combination of both forces. The focus has been on public and private policing to effectively interact and cooperate with each other. Understanding the importance of one another’s responsibilities and roles could lead to a great partnership. Throughout recent years, some law enforcement agencies have come to realize how to benefit from private policing.

Private security personnel differ from police officers in a number of ways. Private security personnel work for clients who pay them for services rendered, while police officers are responsible for serving and protecting the public. Minimum requirements and training are considerably less for private security than for police officers.



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