Private Security Is For Visibility Presence

Posted: March 27, 2013 by dougheffernan91 in Accountability in Private Policing

Private security officers are people who are hired to protect property, assets, or people. Their job is to don a uniform to show high visibility presence to deter crime or any illegal behavior in general from taking place in the first place. Private Security has greatly emerged over the past few years, and today we sit at approximately 140,000 licensed private security guards in Canada, where as there are only 70,000 police officers. The fact that there are twice as many private security officers than police officers can be very alarming as many people’s rights could be in jeopardy any given day. Private security nowadays covers a multitude of industries, large and small, all related to the provision of security services, investigations, crime prevention, order maintenance, intelligence collection and military services (Van Steden and Sarre, 2007, p. 226).

In December of 2007, the City of Vancouver authorized $872,000 to help fund the expansion of the Downtown Ambassadors Program which is a private security patrol project run by the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association. Pivot Legal Society, in 2007, asked 154 people from the Downtown Eastside to take part in a survey in regards to their interactions with private security guards. This research showed a lot of potential issues with private security officers such as:

  • Only 12% of respondents to the survey said they had face to face contact with private security guards once a month.
  • A third of the respondents claimed to have had face to face contact with private security guards 4 times or more a month.
  • Many respondents also used the space provided to express they had face to face contact with private security guards “every day” or “all the time”
  • The survey also identified a strong correlation between housing status and the frequency of interactions with private security guards as homeless people tend to be more frequent targets by private security guards.

The survey brought on a whole new spotlight on the private security industry as issues such as accountability and just the way private security companies run their organizations are brought into question. The survey as a whole outlines the many issues against having private security guards in charge of keeping the downtown eastside clean and making the businesses more attractive to customers. This ties into the “Inclusion-Exclusion” concept Van Buuren talk about as he says states that security pretty much is a commodity now and that it can only be “purchased” or used by the wealthy and the poor are left without any security. The rich are able to use private security forces to do their dirty work for them because they have the luxury of being able to afford it. This leads to the wealthy and poor being completely separated. This makes it look like as if we live in segregated communities – both controlled by the wealthy. This is also related to the concept of “Private Justice” as it reiterates how the wealthy and powerful people are segregated from society. However the concept also reveals how private security organizations, since “owned” by the rich and powerful people, have “private orders” given to them. This leads to unethical and illegal practices and complaints and such being handled internally, meaning the public won’t hear of it and nothing will be reported to the police – and if lucky the person the complaint is against might face some sort of consequences. The most interesting of concepts Van Buuren talks about is “Occupational Values” which describes how the private security industry hired personnel whom work solely for the client and does whatever the client says. Reason being that the people private security hire are not prepared for the type of work nor do they receive efficient enough training. Also the fact that the whole hiring process is very laid back, it often leads to people being hired who may have criminal records or even people deciding to join security for all the wrong reasons in the first place. The use of illegal force by the private security guards and the harassment and removal of the homeless people from public spaces from the PIVOT survey results are a perfect example for this concept.

There tends to be a notion that private security guards have little accountability when they go beyond their authority and engage in unethical behavior. Which in my opinion can be true due to many factors such as some believing they are being underpaid for the type of work they are doing so they go to extents to either prove themselves or simply don’t care about the consequences. Some don’t realize that they have just as much authority as a regular citizen but instead they feel like they can control people and take away some of their rights. The most common being that the second one throws on a uniform they feel as they have more power than regular citizens and that they can do whatever they want to fulfill their duties. Having worked in the security industry myself, I can honestly say that there have been times I have crossed the line due to the so called “more power” I felt I had over a regular citizen at the venues. However what people fail to realize is that sometimes citizens try to belittle private security guards by taunting them for being “wannabe cops” which eventually leads to someone acting out of frustration. However, in conclusion I do agree with Van Buuren’s take on the problems of the private security industry as I read through the concepts put forward I couldn’t help but recall everything I have either done or witnessed in my time as a security guard.


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

Steden, R. van and R. Sarre (2007), “The Growth of Private Security: Trends in the European Union”, Security Journal, Vol. 20, No. 4, pp. 222–235.

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 a good post. You have done a good job of applying Van Buuren’s points – though, I note that Van Buuren is not condemning private security. He is calling attention to some important ethical dilemmas. Your remarks – from experience – regarding the ‘power of the uniform’ and the impact of a lack of respect for private security workers are interesting. Do you feel that additional standards, training, and accreditation (in other words, professionalization) would be beneficial?

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