An Analysis of the Pivot “Security Before Justice” report in context of private security ethics

Posted: March 25, 2013 by paul552 in Accountability in Private Policing
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Private police can be considered as law enforcement bodies that are owned and controlled by non-governmental organisations or entities. Beginning in the late 1990’s growth in public law enforcement began to decline and there was a boom in the private security industry. In the contemporary era private police greatly outnumber public law enforcement officers by twice as much in developed countries such as United States, Canada, South Africa and various other countries, as governments around the world outsource their security functions to private policing organisations.Today, private security firms are increasingly involved in providing personal bodyguards, patrolling industrial facilities, various commercial establishments, office buildings, transportation facilities, recreational complexes, entire shopping districts and residential neighbourhoods. In modern crime-ridden societies wealthy citizens and business owners prefer using private police as they utilise a proactive, prevention-orientated approach to deal with crime rather than the traditional method of engaging in reactive policing.

In Canada, the City of Vancouver allocated $872,000 on December 13 2007 to fund the development of the Downtown Ambassadors Program, a private security patrol project administered by the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association. In the same year the Pivot Legal Society conducted a survey as well as two focus groups on 154 residents in order to shed light on the experiences of those living on the margins of society and it raised certain issues on democratic policing, accountable governance and respect for human rights as well as practice standards, oversight and accountability within the private security industry. Some of the key issues highlighted through this research were that there were frequent interactions between the private security guards and residents of the Downtown Eastside especially homeless and under-housed residents, private security guards were increasingly overstepping their legal boundaries by compelling residents to move from public property, the illegal use force against marginalized groups, the lack of accountability regarding private security guards and controlling access to public and private property by employing certain tactics such as informal bans and “profiling”.

Jelle Van Buuren describes the ethics involved with private security and its various implications in “Private Security Ethics: Reintroducing Public Values”. His studies can be used to analyse the issues raised in the case study report prepared by the Pivot Legal Society. Van Buuren highlights the fact that the rise of the private security industry has certain normative implications as it can influence the culture, norms and values embedded in security practices which can have a profound effect on society. The process of “Inclusion- Exclusion” can occur as a result of this impact. Private security serves the interests of the wealthy and ruling elites and they tend to remove the marginalised parts of the community from public spaces which are occupied by the wealthy. As private policing is primarily concerned with proactive policing involving the prevention of crime and disorder they regulate entry, limits participation and excludes people on the basis of profiling. These exclusionary private policing tactics are deployed to clean public spaces by concentrating the disorderly conduct outside the city centre. Private security guards employed by business owners in the Downtown Eastside resorted to these same exclusionary tactics of “profiling” to clean public and private spaces in order to make business establishments more attractive to customers. The concept of “Private justice” devised by Van Buuren in context of the normative ramifications of the private security industry, explains that the rich and the powerful are insulated from society by private security practices giving rise to “private orders”. A private justice based system is formed running in parallel to the public judicial system and the private sector resort to discrete and illegal methods to settle internal problems. This notion explains the harassment and removal of “panhandlers” and other marginalized groups from public corners in the Downtown Eastside by private security guards such as Paladin guards which were in clear violation of the law. The concept of “Insecurity as a Profit Maker” proposed by Van Buuren explains that the security industry transforms risk, government failure and public fear into opportunity in order to preserve the profitability of the security market. The constant encounters and confrontations that occur in the downtown eastside between private security and marginalized groups such as the homeless, panhandlers etc can be perceived as a lack of security or a threat to private business interests  in the area and instil fear in business owners, thereby promoting the business interests of the private security firms. Van Buuren points out that though private security organisations can be held accountable through state regulation, industry self-regulation, civil liability, labour laws, contractual liability and accountability through the market, there is no reliable evidence that demonstrates the effectiveness of these factors. The PIVOT legal society report on private policing clearly demonstrates that none of the private security officers were held accountable for their crimes and none of the above factors were helpful in holding the responsible private security organisations accountable. Van Buuren’s notion of “Occupational Values” describes the private security industry as being lacking in norms and values, incompetent, corrupt and always focused on the wishes of the client rather than on public values. The lack of training, hiring of personal with criminal histories etc by certain organisations can degrade these values further. The illegal and unethical behaviours that are characterized in PIVOT’S report of the Downtown Eastside such as the illegal use of force by Paladin security, the removal of marginalized groups from public space, the various security firms gaining confidential information on certain individuals from the police etc can be attributed to the lack of Occupational values put forward by Van Buuren.

The concept of “Rolling out the State” coined by Van Buuren deals with the multiplicity of governance authorities and explains that security governance is maintained by a wide range of private and public authorities and the relations between public and private policing range from coordination, indifference and co-production to hostility. This notion can be used to analyse the events that transpired in the PIVOT report regarding the Vancouver Police Union’s plan to launch court action against the city’s decision to expand the private Downtown Ambassadors program run by Genesis Security. Though there were tensions and hostility between the two organisations, an informal level of cooperation was reported between The Vancouver Police Department and Paladin Security, with confidential personal information of individuals being shared between the two of them. This reinforces Van Buuren’s view by portraying both a mutually beneficial and a hostile relationship that exists between public policing organisations such as the Vancouver Police Department and private organisations such as Paladin and Genesis Security, in the Downtown Eastside.

In conclusion, Van Buuren’s theories gives us insightful information on some of the reasons for the alleged and reported incidents of illegal and unethical behaviour committed by private security which was depicted in the PIVOT Legal Society Report on private security in Vancouver. It raises certain issues regarding the moral standards, oversight and accountability within the private security industry.


PIVOT Legal Society (2009). Security Before Justice: A study of the impacts of private security on homeless and under-housed Vancouver residents

Van Buuren, J. (2010). “Private Security Ethics: Reintroducing Public Values”, in M. den Boer & E. Kolthoff (eds) Ethics and Security. The Hague: Eleven International Publishing, pp. 165-187.

  1. Mike Larsen says:

    This is an informative post, and an excellent application of Van Buuren’s analysis to the Pivot case study. Well done!

  2. prodigypenn says:

    Nice post, I thought it might be important to add that Public Police departments, for example the RCMP in Surrey are so overloaded with cases as they must deal with all of the issues in a city rather then private security which deploys a certain number of officers for a single clients needs is really the reason why most of the work public police do is reactive. The bigger the area for a private security team to cover the more reactive their work becomes, for example I would like to draw on my own personal experience. I currently work as the team lead for the Surrey School Board contract under Paladin Security. The area my mobile team must cover includes over 150 different sites. Although; we do patrol quite frequently which is ‘proactive’, A lot of the work we do is alarm response, which is ‘reactive’.

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