Private vs. Public Policing Ethics

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

It is very clear that the private policing sector is growing rapidly even more so than the public policing sector. In general, to become a public police officer in Canada is rather challenging for most people. Individuals who want to be a public police officer go through myriads of checks, clearances, interviews, trainings, and above all they go through an emotional roller coaster. However, a lot of people choose private policing as a stepping stone in becoming a real police officer. The hiring process for the security guard position is a lot less stressful and a lot easier. The requirements are very minimal and it is not even comparable to real police training. I have noticed that security companies hire just about everyone for the position regardless of their age, gender, height, and weight. This could have good and bad sides. It is good in a sense that they are less discriminatory in their hiring process and seem to give people an equal amount of chance of getting the job. However, it could mean a bad thing as they might hire someone who is looking for that position for the wrong reasons. Van Buuren mentions about occupational values which could be equal to a corruption problem. For example, I have two friends who work in a certain security company (I prefer not to name the company). From what I have seen, they both like to work mainly special events such as concerts, and football games because they take cash from people who do not have tickets and lets them “slide in”. This is a pure corruption in my eyes. Also, Van Buuren talks about “Accountability” which doesn’t seem to affect the private policing sector on a same level as it affects the police departments. The private security guards go through a very minimal training and tend to overestimate their rights. I have been volunteering for the VPD for 5 years now and I have seen my fair share of misguided security guards who seem to think that they are the real police officers. Just like the Pivot society survey revealed, I have seen those security guards yelling and labelling homeless people (homeless looking people got yelled at too) and kicking them out of public spaces. It is a well- known problem, but nothing seems to be done in order to re- educate those rude security guards who seem to think that they are the “real deal”.

In conclusion, changing the legislation alone is not going to do anything unless the company trainings are developed further. These million different companies really should re- train their employees and make their selection process a bit harder.


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. garrettkicksbutt says:

    In your blog you raise a good point regarding the accountability around the private sector. I belive it will be much more difficult to hold members of a private policing body accountable, then it would be to do so to the police primarily because of the fact that private policing is private and has a very different policing mandate. At the the start of classes Mike told us that just as important as then work public police do is their image to the public. This creates a responsibility to the public they are trying to keep in good favor. The private sector of policing possess quite a different mandate. As with any private business the goal is to provide a service and make a profit. This creates a market in which security becomes a commodity. Public police are made to view security in a more philsophical/political lense, searching for ways to fulfill the deeper understanding of having the public being secure. This is apparent through the constant changing of what policing is and the available accountability structures available for public police. Public policing bodies should be in a constant state of change in order to keep up with changing perceptions of policing. Private policing, instead of a constant change, is looking for a constant climb in profit. This can be done through assessing the market they operate in and if profits depended on acquiring a more ethical stance on security I am almost sure they would investigate that avenue. However, the people who are in need of security choose to use private police with a similar lack of ethical concern and this causes the same consideration to be taken by security firms. Security firms will be quick to fire a deviant security guard in order to maintain contract obligations, but a seperate accountability body outside the reach of business or money might cost too much.

  2. Mike Larsen says:

    Interesting post!

    Rigakos, in his study of Intelligarde security officers, draws attention to the implications of ‘wannabe’ cultures and the occupational desire to perform ‘real police work’.

    You note that the hiring practices of private security firms have positive and negative implications. This is an interesting point. It is certainly true that private security positions are held by a more diverse group of employees.

    What do you think of Van Buuren’s point that policing should be governed by ‘public values’? How could we put this idea into practice?

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