Deviance and Accountability in Private Policing

Posted: October 7, 2011 by losantonio in Accountability in Private Policing

Deviance and Accountability in Private Policing

According to Wikipedia, private policing is a particular model of law enforcement that is increasingly being used by non-governmental entities. These non-governmental entities may own as well as operate such private policing bodies. There are several types of private police; some are geared towards railroad security (such as the Canadian Pacific Railway Police) while some are geared towards corporate, commercial, retail, and property security (such as Intelligarde International and Intercon Security). Private policing actually predates the Industrialization Age. Watchmen, for example, essentially played  the role of police during the 16th century to about the 19th century in Great Britain. They were paid by wealthy individuals or organizations who hired them. The rise of private policing in Canada took place during the early-to-mid 1990’s (Statistics Canada) and currently private police personnel outnumber public police personnel by about 5 to 1. For starters, it is more convenient to employ a private police force because it is cheaper. It is also easier to become part of such a force as requirements and training are not as strict, intense or robust as those found in public police forces. Private police may not necessarily uphold the Law to the fullest in ways that the public police do but there is an expectation and they are subject to it nonetheless. The question is, how are misconduct and corruption addressed within private policing when they do arise? What measures are or ought to be taken to address such issues? Going into this topic I thought about what forms of deviance might occur within private police forces, and it turned out that I was on the right track – my Police Deviance and Accountability instructor Michael Larsen stated that both public and private police forces share many of the same forms of deviance. Again the notion of grass-eaters, meat-eaters and birds, to name a few concepts, come into play; all of which have roles in institutional failure within any police force. However, unlike public police forces, private police do not have a review or complaint board (independent of the force) established to handle issues of misconduct and/or corruption. As the semester progresses, I hope to find more information on how exactly accountability is handled by private police bodies. It will be a challenge to acquire more literature on the topic as it is only just beginning to be explored by policing scholars.

In terms of preliminary research on Deviance and Accountability in Private Policing things were, as expected, not as straightforward as one would hope. Plugging in the topic title into Google yielded (on the first page) about 10 to 11 book/scholarly sources of which I had to pay to have more access to. However, there was one link to a document on the private policing industry in South Africa that I found interesting, particularly the “Accountability of Private Security” section. Typing in “private policing” or “private police” yielded slightly more expanded results. Now the Wikipedia page on private police is visible on the first page, including 3 or 4 useful links.

The Wikipedia page displayed a vast amount of information on private police, though mostly in the American context. Its contents were: Definitions, Examples (from the U.S., South Africa and, surprisingly, Robocop), Relationship to Anarcho-Captilasim (i.e. free market society), History, and lastly, Perceived Advantages and Disadvantages.

The second link of interest titled “Private Policing” is a document written in 1996 by Dr. Christopher Reynolds. It talks about the state of affairs in Australian policing, particularly in private policing. Among other things, Dr. Reynolds discusses the changes in social and political factors as well as economics, all of which contribute to the demand for private policing strategies. Although his Accountability and Responsibility section applies primarily to Australian society, in my opinion it is still of critical importance to my blog topic.

The third link of interest is a document published by Statistics Canada titled “Private Security and Public Policing in Canada.” It talks about the differences in public versus private police organizations (i.e. age differences and male-to-female ratios within private and public police forces, number crunching, etc), otherwise it is pretty self-explanatory.

The fourth link of interest is a news article published by dated July 26, 2007. It talks about Canadian Pacific Railway Police personnel being scrutinized for making “false arrests and imprisonment, assault and battery, and unlawful interference with Charter Rights” of 6 CPR employees during a labour strike.

Finally, typing in “accountability private policing” yielded more results. One article that caught my attention was titled Public vs. Private Police: Which Would You Choose? (Dated May 7, 2010). In particular, the section I’m interested in is the Accountability section which talks briefly about some differences in the way public and private police handle accountability for their actions.

Since this is just the preliminary stage, I hope to expand my knowledge in this topic and share that knowledge as the semester progresses.


  1. Mike Larsen says:

    This is an interesting first post.

    For a local perspective on these issues, I would recommend looking into the work of the Pivot Legal Society. Pivot has released a report on private security officers in Vancouver’s DTES:, and has taken on several legal cases on behalf of Vancouver citizens who have experienced brutality at the hands of private security personnel:

    For your next post, it would be helpful to offer readers a brief overview of the accountability mechanisms that apply to private policing organizations in Canada – and how these differ from those associated with the public police.

    Good work!

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