Archive for the ‘Accountability in Private Policing’ Category

Police Body-Mounted Cameras: Cost and Benefit Analysis

One of this decade’s most discussed and anticipated developments, police body-mounted cameras, have been gaining more support as of late, and are subsequently becoming more widely implemented as a result of several cataclysmic events themed on police deviance and misconduct; excessive use of force, police shootings, etc. Such events as the Ferguson shooting has contributed to this up-rise and near obsession with being able to watch the watchers. Obama is in full support of this modifications to law enforcement attire and has even made a pricey contribution, yet, there are still some in power who are reluctant to follow his decision despite contemporary research evidence in support of it. These new body-mounted cameras have generated controversial discussion already with public-police relationships and further impact on both the perception and acts of police deviance.

The demand for police body-mounted cameras is a demand to install a light into a long-darkened room; to satisfy the needs of the public and criminal justice system for a definitive record when it comes to police deviance and misconduct; as objective and ominous evidence. The death of Michael Brown by Ferguson police fueled the fire for protests against police misconduct and inspired subsequent demand for video documentation of police activities. Michael Brown, who was 18 years old, was shot multiple times in the head and chest by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, despite what witnesses account for as Brown holding his hands up in surrender (Cavaliere, 2014). A campaign further supporting this was launched by Michael Brown’s parents a few months ago after another cataclysmic event, a viral video of the shooting of Cleveland 12-year old Tamir Rice, created to “ensure that every police officer working the streets in this country wears a body camera” (Brandom, par 2, 2014).

Announced in early December of last year, federal funding was increased when the White House pledged $263 million, $75 million of which was to be specifically used in the purchase of 50,000 new cameras (which is a lot for only covering only a fraction of employed officers in America). The additional funding will be divided up between police-community trust-oriented outreach programs, and police training that enforces instruction pertaining to the use of paramilitary equipment (Brandom, 2014). This is an addition to the six-month pilot program that the Washington D.C police began on October 1st of last year, a program that is still going on and cost $1 million initially for cameras.

There are those who are in support of this new policy, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, and then there are those who oppose them, saying that these cameras have the potential to be an invasion of privacy and may hinder the public from approaching police with information (Cavaliere, 2014). Whether in support of opposition, there have been several departments who have implemented this policy, Ferguson being one of them. When Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson discussed the addition of body-mounted cameras to his team, he mentioned that the receiving officers were without reluctance in that they “are really enjoying them,” and that “they are trying to get used to using them” (Cavaliere, par 8, 2014). Of course, not everyone is in support of this legislation. In fact, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh is adamantly opposed to the use of body cameras for his police officers. Walsh is quoted in an interview stating, “No. I don’t think it’s needed in Boston today. It’s a tool that people are talking about. There’s an experiment going on in Worcester right now…with body cameras. That’s something that we’ll see what shows with that experiment” (Enwemeka, par 7, 2014). Walsh further comments that he does not believe that the cameras will assist in mending the fundamental issues between the communities and the police (Enwemeka, 2014). Marty Walsh’s statements implied that he is reluctant for body cameras at this time, but that this future decision may rely on the success of the cameras in neighboring departments.  And that is essentially what these attire additions are right now; they’re experiments, trial runs. If the benefits outweigh the costs, body cameras have the potential to become mandatory.

There have been legitimate experiments conducted measuring the effectiveness of body cameras and officers as well, such as a yearlong study completed by Chief Tony Farrar of Rialto California Police Department’s patrol officers. “We randomly assigned a year’s worth of shifts into experimental and control shifts within a large randomized controlled field experiment…we investigated the extent to which cameras effect human behavior and, specifically, reduce the use of police force” (The Police Foundation, p. 2, 2013). The results of this 12 month study showed the patrol shifts not using cameras came into twice as many use of force incidents than the shifts with officers wearing the cameras. As for public complaints against officers, in the 12 month period during the study there were only three complaints filed, as opposed to the 28 complaints filed in the 12 months proceeding the study (The Police Foundation, 2013). “The findings suggest more than a 50% reduction in the total number of incidents of use of force compared to control conditions, and nearly ten times more citizens’ complaints in the 12 months prior to the experiment (The Police Foundation, p. 9, 2013). This study illustrated a significant effect on both use of force and public complaints against officers. This may be a foreshadow of the kind of results to come from wider implementation. There is some skepticism raised around the issues of privacy, as Cheryl Distaso asserts regarding the potential body camera addition to the Fort Collins Police Department. Distaso, with the Fort Collins Community Acton Network, addresses public concern stating “police officers might be able to turn them off when their behavior is questionable…[and] police officers enter people’s homes. They enter their personal space. And there is no way to opt out (CBS, par 8-11, 2013). Distaso also added, among issues of invasion of privacy, that it’s a general concern that the policy pertaining to the cameras was designed without the public’s input. This raises red flags for some citizens. Goldsmith (2010) argues that there are negative impacts upon the department and law enforcement deploying these cameras as well, as it produces a new visibility into their conduct. “Their uncontrolled visibility diminishes their power, making the surveillance of others less possible at times and exposing them to disciplinary and legal liability. Visibility of less flattering or illegal practices challenges their operation sovereignty based in anonymity and observation (Goldsmith, p. 915, 2010). He goes on to say that their have been negative consequences for police organizations due to the new communicative technologies and their social networking, and that, although these new technologies may increase the public’s perception of police accountability, it proportionally decreases their account ability (Goldsmith, 2010).

Despite the issues around skepticism about officer body camera use, there are bigger and more serous issues around police use of force and community and police trust and accountability. More serious issues that, according to Chief Tony Farrar’s study, these sorts of recording devices seem to heavily impact. As more research is conducted on more departments experimenting with this tool, we’ll have more information that will assist in whichever direction we decide to go with body mounted cameras. If there are certain areas and communities that have a real problem with use of force and with community-law enforcement relationships, based on what evidence has been concluded so far, the benefits would outweigh the costs when pertaining to whether or not police should wear body mounted cameras.


Brandom, R. (2014). The Verge. Obama announces funding for police body cameras. Retrieved at announces- funding-for-police-body-cameras

Cavaliere, V. (2014). Reuters. After unrest over shooting, Ferguson police now wear body cameras. Retrieved at shooting- idUSKBN0GW13M20140901

CBS Denver. (2013). Fort Collins PD Starts Using Body-Mounted Cameras. Critics say they are an invasion of privacy. Retrieved at collins- pd-starts-using-body-mounted-cameras/

Enwemeka, Z. (2014). Mayor Marty Walsh: Boston doesn’t need police body cameras. Retrieved at body- cameras

Goldsmith, A. (2010). Advance Access. Policing’s new visibility. Vol. 50, 914-934.


The Police Foundation. (2013). Self-awareness to Being Watched and Socially-desireable Behavior: a field experiment on the effect of body-worn cameras on police use-of-force. Retrieved at The¨¨ %20Effect%20of%20Body-Worn%20Cameras%20on%20Police%20Use- of- Force.pdf

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. 


While the private security sector is not a new phenomenon, there has been rapid and substantial growth of the industry in recent years. Private security encompasses a number of various aspects of public order, crime prevention, and investigation. The private sector has experienced (likely the most significant) growth in systems technology development, however, private security personnel are what is most often equated with the term private security.

There is a tendency to conceptualise public and private security as two separate and largely divorces entities; however this view is not reflective of the reality of policing. Private security personnel outnumber public police officers worldwide (in British Columbia the ratio is approximately 2:1) and are retained by both private individuals as well as government bodies. With the expansion of the private security industry, and the blurred lines of the private and public sectors, there are a number of societal and political consequences to consider. Jelle van Buuren (2010) brings awareness to a number of the ethical concerns which have arisen from the concept of security as a commodity.

A key theme Buuren identifies is that of inclusion-exclusion. With security being viewed as a commodity, an industrial market approach is being taken – with a focus on maximising profits. Capitalising on security appears to be a far cry from the perception of security as a public good, and opens the door for a stratified level of distribution. Allocating security on the basis of generating the greatest profit is worrisome as those on the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum, who are already marginalised, are likely to become even more so as they do not possess the means to ensure the same level of security as the more affluent.

This distribution by market rather than need was apparent during a study, conducted by Pivot Legal Society, regarding the impacts of private security on marginalised residents in Vancouver during 2007. The report as well as the recommendations can be accessed here. The Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association (DVBIA) is publicly funded through property-tax and is managed by a non-profit group of property owners who are active in promoting business, tourism, safety, and street beautification in their business district. The improvement of business districts includes dispersing the considerable homeless and under-housed residents of Vancouver. The interests of the elite, who are able to buy security, are recognised with the dispersal of the homeless population –  those thought to be unsightly and contributing factor to the success of establishments in the district. Those of low socio-economic status are effectively barred entry/access to certain areas, which limits their participation to some degree in society, on the basis of presumed undesirable behaviour.

A listing of Business Improvement Areas (BIA) within the city of Vancouver, as well as Council reports detailing BIA budgets, can be accessed here.

During the study conducted by Pivot Legal it was found that homeless and under-housed people not only had more frequent interactions with private security personnel, but that these interactions were often problematic. As the lines of public and private policing have become increasingly blurred it appears that private security personnel are uncertain as to their limitations of power, and are routinely overstepping their authority. This is problematic as those who are most often in contact with private personnel are those who are most marginalised and who lack the resources to complain about/challenge such abuses of power.

Traditional mechanisms of oversight and accountability are not seen within the private security sector, which makes the complaints process even more challenging in instances of misconduct. No over-arching body exists overseeing all private security corporations nationally, let alone on a provincial level. As disciplinary action occurs in-house, one must make a complaint with the specific company the security agent is employed by.

Pivot Legal found during the course of their study that a number of those living in the Downtown Eastside were unaware of their rights surrounding private security – what exactly was within the scope of private policing powers. Many were unaware that their rights were being infringed upon, and those who did recognise the overstepping of authority were unsure as to how to go about making a complaint.

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.

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.

My blog post will review normative consequences of private policing, particularly its ethical concern and outcomes. I will attempt to explain these practices in terms of ethics behind private policing and I will also use my own experience as a Downtown Ambassador to give a perspective on the behaviors of a public policeman.

One term that caught my eye in the readings Ethics and Security was ‘uniform justice for all’. This term was used in the context of how a lack of consideration for such topics was rife in public policing bodies. Private policing has a mandate to ‘limit participation’ and exclude on the basis of ‘assumed good or bad’ creating an idea held by themselves and those they police, that security is about exclusion and gates. Private policing is said to lack of any overall ethical goal in their practice. This is because someone has paid for them to patrol their property and not for ‘public good’. Do the young security guards, who unknowingly take up the task of perceived public good, know of the impact they are having on their own ethical standing? The answer is no.

My experience as a public policeman, working for the downtown ambassadors was a good one. I was called to business to apply soft pressure in order to remove unwanted characters from the premises. At no point did I ask myself whether or not what I was doing had any impact on the persons I was policing. The orientation in becoming a security guard involved what not to do such as use any force, try and police in public space and searching people. This way of training did not lend to any ethical matters or concerns that might be involved in being a public policeman. I believe if such instruction would give it would cause a different outlook in the security guards. They might begin to see themselves as the one who polices and is responsible for the security of others instead of the guy called to shovel out the drunks.

Is the answer to having public security held accountable to crack down on legislation and impose large fines for any violation? Should security guards be held accountable at the individual level? I thing before we make any huge sweeping changes in legislation, we need to inform the people doing the job of policing. Instead of focus what is ‘wrong’ during the orientation into becoming a private policeman and effort should be made to teach the young security guards what their job really entails. By instilling in them certain ideas around security and what the term really means, private policing agencies can be sure that human rights violations and the like will be much less likely, as the potential perpetrators will know why what they are doing is really wrong.

Analysis Of Private Security Ethics To The Case Study Of Private Policing

Private policing overtime has been growing much faster than public law. The growth of private policing is expanding extremely fast and has less requirements than public law. Today you can spot private security members anywhere you go. For example, a security guard at a construction site has a job to make sure that no one trespasses on the construction site at night. Private security also provide protection, patrolling/scanning areas and can be hired personally to protect oneself from danger. Private security is all around us and is expanding very rapidly.

Pivot Legal Society conducted a survey, which developed a lot of new information about private policing and their affects on the homeless residing in the Downtown area of Vancouver.  It was found that the private security was abusing their power against the homeless. The homeless were mistreated by private security in many ways for example: having the homeless moved off of public property such as sidewalks, as well as conducting illegal searches, and engaging in profiling where they specifically looked for homeless citizens that looked like they were on drugs of any sort. The private police in Vancouver were out of line mainly due to the fact that many rights of the homeless citizens were broken.

Jelle Van Buuren focused on private security ethics as wells as the values of the public. By using his study we can analyze the issues that were brought up in the report created by Pivot Legal Society. Van Buuren talks about the concept of “Rolling Out The State,” this is the change of policing system in which the public police forces once provided almost all policing services, to one in which policing services are provided by a range of public and private agencies (Van, J. 2010). This is important, because we once had Vancouver Police controlling much of Vancouver and providing policing. But now in Vancouver there is more private security than normal officers.For example, my friend he works for a private security organisation and without much training he is able to provide safety for the public. Not only do these officers have less training than the VPD, but they don’t have the same power as them. So when private police go out on the field they shouldn’t be asking the homeless to move off public property or even be searched that isn’t their job. Another concept Van Buuren focuses on “Occupational Values,” this is what we call corruption in private security. For example, instead of looking out for the safety of the public and doing their job as needed. They rather focus on themselves and do things that will benefit them. For the VPD one needs to go through many clearances, which may not be the case for private security. Also, being trained properly and finding the best officers for the job separates the VPD from the private security. Lastly Van Burren speaks about, “Accountability,” private security is a single organization depending on the name of the organization such as, Paladin security. They are bound by the judicial system, but there is little reliable proof that it is effective (Van. J, 2010). Even though the private security organizations have been breaking many laws there hasn’t been much going on to fix the problem, because the judicial system hasn’t been providing just actions.

In conclusion, even though private security is much larger in numbers than public police there are many flaws in the system. With the help of Van Buuren a better analysis of the Pivot Legal Report could be drawn. It helps raise the issue that private police still have some issues in their system and need to be fixed before they can move forward. Private security have been focusing on the homeless in Vancouver Downtown much more than any other members of society, this profiling is causing a problem for many homeless citizens that are being treated unlawfully.


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. 

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.

We are spending a week (alas, only one) studying police deviance and accountability in the context of private policing or ‘commodified social control’.

Here are the abstracts for our two classes:

 One of the most pressing issues driving research on police deviance and accountability is the ongoing ‘pluralization’ of policing associated with the expansion of the private security field and the blurring of boundaries between public and private policing. The governance framework for private security – from recruitment and training to accountability and oversight – is multifaceted and uneven. In this class, we will examine forms of deviance associated with private policing, drawing on the PIVOT Legal Society report on private security in Vancouver.

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


In this class, we will concentrate on the debates surrounding accountability for private policing and security. We will consider the differences between approaches that regard private policing as a commodified ‘club good’ and approaches that regard it as part of a broader ‘public good’. We will discuss the issue of values and ethics in the context of private security and consider accountability and regulatory mechanisms associated with private policing in Canada.

Reading: 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.

 Food for Thought:

For this unit, I would like you to apply the ideas developed by Van Buuren in his analysis of private security ethics to the case study of private policing in the DTES prepared by Pivot. How can we use Van Buuren’s analysis to make sense of the findings of the ‘Security Before Justice’ report?

This is an open-ended question, and you can focus on themes that seem most important to you. There are a few points to bear in mind:

  • Remember – you are writing a post about two readings, but you must prepare it in a way that it is understandable to persons who have not read the material. Be sure to ‘unpack’ and clarify concepts. Provide citations where appropriate.
  • Do not attempt to be exhaustive, or to work through the readings point-by-point. Give both texts a thorough reading, take note of key points, and write your post about these.

This post is due by the end of the day on March 26.

By Jacqueline Tarantino

Kwantlen Polytechnic University

Contact: jacqueline.tarantino [at]


While the presence of the private security industry is not new, there has been rapid growth of the sector in recent years[1]. This expansion has a number of possible societal and political ramifications in the understanding of policing. The ratio of private to public agents may vary country to country[2], but the overall upsurge in private security personnel is apparent on an international scale (Buuren & Boer, 2009, Sect.2, para.1). Private security encompasses a multitude of industries[3] related to investigation, crime prevention, and order maintenance (Buuren & Boer, 2009, Sect.5, para.4). The increased involvement of the private sector in these areas, coupled with an increase in the number of personnel, has successfully blurred the lines of the private and public sectors.

There is a tendency to conceptualise public and private security as two distinct, and largely divorced, entities (Buuren, 2010). However, with the private security sector continuing to expand, a transgression into areas traditionally considered to be the domain of public policing.  A “hybridisation” (Buuren, 2010) of policing is emerging, rendering the dichotomous understanding of policing outdated and irrelevant leading to a growing need for policing to be re-defined.

Continuing to adhere to this dichotomous perspective does not allow for an effective definition of private security to be established, perpetuating a lack of clarity with regards to powers of private security agents and how to implement needed regulatory measures. Traditional activities which were once solely linked to public policing can no longer be used to differentiate between public and private sectors as considerable overlap and coordination of practices now exist (Buuren & Boer, 2009 Sect. 4, para.1). This has created mass confusion surrounding the jurisdiction of private security; legislation which governs the private sector; and the powers which may be exercised by private security agents.

Recent years have seen an increase in development of urban areas, and in turn, an establishment and expansion of ‘mass private property[4]’. These “hybrid places” (Buuren & Boer, 2009, Sect.3.8, para.1) allow for the misconception that they are public areas due to their widely accessible nature; however, these spaces are privately owned, and to large extent, privately governed (Buuren & Boer, 2009, Sect. 3.8, para.1). With the general public (and private security agents themselves) uncertain as to the scope of powers afforded to the private security industry, an overstepping of legal authority can, and does, occur (Security Before Justice, Executive Summary section para.6).

With the considerable expansion of the private security industry, and the overlap into traditionally public areas of policing, it is imperative that accountability measures presently in place in the private sector be reviewed, as well as consideration given as to how accountability may be improved. Within the public policing arena a number of oversight committees and regulatory practices currently exist. Some suggestion has been put forth that the private security industry be subjected to similar oversight models (Buuren & Boer, 2009, Sect. 5.2, para.1); however, these accountability mechanisms are a continued source of contention regarding effectiveness in evaluating the performance of policing organisations and dealing with instances of misconduct (In Search of Security, Sect. 1.3 para.4). Consideration must be given to how to implement an effective accountability mechanism which may adequately address the evolving face of policing activities.

A Call to Re-Shape the Understanding of Policing

While it is generally believed that the public police sector remains the primary police service provider, it is no longer the case that they have a monopoly on the industry (In Search of Security, Sect 1.2 para.1). The private industry has greatly expanded in recent years, reaching into all aspects of the security industry typically associated with public policing – including areas of high policing (In Search of Security, Sect. 1.2 para.1). Policing has become “multilateralised” (In Search of Security, Sect. 1.3 para.3) with private security being employed by private organisations as well as contracted by government, and public police agents acting under state directives while also being made available for private hire (pay-duty[5] police). In addition, collaborative efforts between public and private agencies are also being seen. Joint public-private investigations have occurred in industrial market settings as was seen with the mass scale FBI-IBM corporate espionage sting operation in the early 1980s (Marx, 1987). Private security agencies and public police organisations have also worked in tandem during large scale events which promote mass public visitation, such as with the Vancouver Olympic Games in 2010. The inability to categorise or differentiate private and public policing activities through traditionally accepted definitions calls for a reworking of how policing is characterised.

Private security personnel are the traditionally accepted understanding of what the private security industry encompasses. Private organisations provide security services to clients for a fee; however, some corporations employ their own in-house personnel for general security while contracting external firms to perform specialised tasks such as risk assessment or forensic accounting (Brodeur, 2010). The private security industry has seen substantial growth in technology systems development, yet there continues to be a lack of research focused on this segment of the private sector, as well as operations in high policing (Brodeur, 2010).

Private security, however, extends beyond employment by private organisations. The private security industry is seeing an increase in contract employment by government agencies, and through publicly funded subsidisation. In Vancouver, British Columbia, Business Improvement Associations, such as the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association (DVBIA), are contracting private security personnel to patrol business districts to create a sense of safety and deter disorderly/ disruptive behaviour (Security Before Justice, Executive Summary section para.1; In Search of Security, Sect 3.2, para.5). The security personnel employed by the DVBIA are patrolling largely public property and are funded by taxes levied, and collected by, the City of Vancouver (Security Before Justice, Part 2 para.23). The Vancouver Police Union launched a suit to halt the City of Vancouver from funding the program as the services being provided by the private sector are normally provided by the Vancouver Police Department (Security Before Justice, Part 7, para.2). Private security services are being funded by the public to police public spaces – those traditionally thought to be the exclusive domain of public police organisations.

Public policing is also adopting practices traditionally associated with the private security industry. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) as well as the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) contract with provinces and municipalities to provide policing services[6] (In Search of Security Sect. 3.4.2 para.2). An industrial market approach is being assumed by public policing agencies who are promoting security as a commodity, a far cry from the perception of security in the interest of a public good (Buuren, 2010). The RCMP’s assumption of a service-provider role also seems to be eradicating a proposed characteristic used to differentiate private and public policing practices. Private security personnel are believed to be unique in that they are privately accountable (Brodeur, 2010). Current models of oversight committees do not allow for provinces (clients) contracting RCMP policing services to hold RCMP personnel and operational practices accountable; rather the RCMP is only subject to accountability measures by a federal oversight agency.

Public police organisations are also providing the service of public agents for private hire. In these instances of pay-duty a fee-for-service business practice is employed as a means of generating revenue (In Search of Security, Sect.3.4.2 para.5). Municipal bylaws have been introduced withholding licencing/ permit for events unless pay-duty police officers are retained[7] (In Search of Security, Sect.3.4.2 para.5). Pay-duty officers maintain the authority of public police agents even though they are retained by a private party. The municipality continues to provide insurance (through public taxes) for public police under private contract when suits of malfeasance arise (Rigakos, 2002).

With both private and public police agencies demonstrating considerable overlap of activities, it becomes increasingly difficult to ascertain the scope of powers and authority personnel in each sector may exhibit.

Of growing concern is the potential for over-stepping of powers by private security personnel. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms applies predominately to governmental activities as opposed to those of non-state organisations[8] (In Search of Security, Sect. 1.3 para.2). As the private security industry continues to expand the general public becomes increasingly more likely to encounter private personnel in both private and public settings, leading to confusion regarding the limitations of power which may be exercised and the rights of individuals. There is also concern over the increased convergence of physical appearances between private and public uniformed agents and the potential of public compliance with requests of private security personnel due to an aura of power generally reserved for public agents (Brodeur, 2010).

The Constitution Act gives Canadian Parliament the authority to enact criminal laws, as well as sets out criminal law enforcement powers of public police organisations (In Search of Security, Sect. 4.2 para.1). While there is no explicit recognition of non-state policing/ security agencies, provisions do exist regarding the law enforcement practices of non-state agents (powers which are allotted to all ordinary citizens) (In Search of Policing, Sect.4.2 para.1). Given the nature of the work private security personnel engage in, there is a greater likelihood that this collective will make use of private citizen law enforcement powers than any other grouping of individuals. The evolution of policing raises the question of whether related legislation should be amended to recognise non-state police as a separate entity from ordinary citizens.

The powers of arrest and detention afforded to private security personnel are considerably more restrictive than those granted to public agents. While state agents operate under the parameters of reasonable and probable grounds when making an arrest, private agents may only detain those who are witnessed committing an indictable offence (Security Before Justice, Part 5 para.4). As private property owners’ powers are transferable to agents acting on their behalf, private security personnel may also arrest for summary offences which are related to the private property they are tasked with securing (Security Before Justice, Part 5 para.6).

While the legal authority given to private security personnel may be more limited than that of public agents, use of uniforms and marked vehicles by the private industry are fostering confusion in the general public as to the true extent of private security authority. The use of uniforms by state police organisations allows for enhancement of police visibility to the public also allowing for divisions, and individual officers, to be easily identifiable (Brodeur, 2010). Uniforms and the distinct markings of police cruisers also create a sense of unity and authority – by making the presence of police obvious, the potential exercising of police power acts as a deterrent (Brodeur, 2010; Security Before Justice, Part 6 para.3). This same authoritative aura is being bestowed upon private personnel, leading the public to concede to the demands of private security agents even when no legal authority compels them to do so (Security Before Justice, Part 6 para.4).

The blurring of lines distinguishing public and private nodes of policing and the confusion surrounding jurisdiction and powers of private security requires regulatory measures be implemented to ensure organisations and individual agents are accountable. Current public police oversight bodies may provide a template for private security review mechanisms; however, consideration should be given as to how accountability measures presently in place may be improved.

RCMP Oversight

The Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP (CPC) is an independent agency created by Parliament as a means of impartial oversight and investigation of RCMP conduct (Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, 2011, About Us section, para.1). The CPC is governed by the RCMP Act (1985), which outlines the processes of receiving complaints and investigation into allegations of misconduct. There is vast criticism, however, that the CPC is not sufficiently independent and growing concern from the general public regarding the impropriety of police investigating police (In Search of Security, Sect. 5.4 para.3; CPC Annual Report 2009-2010). There is also concern regarding the effectiveness of the CPC as its authority is limited to issuing recommendations, with no powers to initiate criminal proceedings or sanction those found to be involved in instances of wrongdoing.

Allowing police officers to investigate themselves in instances alleging misconduct undermines the legitimacy of oversight mechanisms. In-house and inter-departmental review of incidents of complaint does not project a sense of impartiality or fairness to the public. Not only do the investigations into alleged incidents of misconduct need to be free from partisan bias, they must also be transparent, appearing to the public to be completely objective inquiries.

Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit

The deaths of Lester Donaldson and Michael Wade Lawson (both black males shot in separate incidents by on-duty police officers) sparked public outcry for improved complaint procedures and accountability mechanisms (Clare Lewis Report, 1989, Introduction section). Based on findings and recommendations of the Claire Lewis Report: The Task Force on Race Relations and Policing (1989) Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU) was established.

The SIU in Ontario is a civilian law enforcement agency, unique in that it is completely divorced from the police, and possesses the authority to lay criminal charges against police officers where wrongdoing is found to have occurred (Special Investigations Unit, 2011, Home section, para.2). Criminal investigations are conducted by the SIU into a limited range of incidents – those involving serious injury, death, or allegations of sexual assault (SIU, 2011, What We Do section, para.1).

Private Security Accountability Mechanisms

There is a general lack of consensus with regard to accountability mechanisms in the private industry of security. While a number of proposed models exist, there is little to no conclusive research of the effectiveness of implementing a particular measure. The lack of an appropriate definition of private security, and recognition of overlap of public and private policing activities, creates great difficulty in accountability as clear parameters of acceptable performance and conduct have yet to be established.

Formal state regulation may be implemented to clearly limit the scope of activities and ensure minimum standards are met through issuance of licencing, certification, and permits. Within Canada there is no national consensus regarding minimum standards of training or employee background screening processes. Provincial governments are able to enact legislation governing private security operations in their respective jurisdictions[9].

Industry self-regulation may occur through a variety of already existing legislation governing business practices. The private security industry may be liable in civil suits launched against individual personnel and/or organisations (Buuren & Boer, 2009, Sect.5.2 para.2). Labour and employment laws may also act as a means of accountability as employees and employers are accountable to one another through various labour standards boards and union committees. Private organisations contracted to provide security services are also subject to contractual liability (Buuren & Boer, 2009, Sect.5.2 para.8) where breach of contract may arise when services provided are not in accordance with client specifications.

There has also been some suggestion of replacing public police oversight boards and establishing policing oversight boards (Buuren & Boer, 2009, Sect. 5.2, para.10). These proposed boards would oversee both private and public police agencies, recognising the growing inability to differentiate between public and private sector activities. A multitude of mechanisms may be employed – both in terms of state-regulation and security market self-regulatory practices – allowing for “robust accountability” (Buuren & Boer, 2009, Sect.5.2 para.10).


There is a growing need to shift the focus of understanding the concept of policing from private and public nodes to policing as an activity (Brodeur, 2010; Buuren & Boer, 2009, Sect. 4 para.1). Due to the significant overlap of practices, which is now apparent, the current legislation in place governing private organisations/agents is no longer reflective of the industry’s growth especially in terms of approaches to accountability.

As privately owned security organisations are being contracted by governments and are increasingly more visible in public spaces there has been suggestion that private bodies be overseen by existing public oversight committees. This appears to stem from a presumption that the public sector is fully trained and accountable (In Search of Security, Sect.1.2 para.1); yet public police accountability mechanisms have garnered significant criticism. While some measures have been taken to improve upon the concern regarding response to citizen complaints[10], the existing system of public police governance is in need of advancement and establishment of more effective managerial practices (In Search of Security, Sect.1.3 para.4; Public Safety, 2007, Sect.1.1 para.3).

Ontario’s SIU is largely held to be the ideal template for developing an effective oversight body as it possess the unique features of being a fully civilian agency and has the power to lay criminal charges when warranted; however, some shortcomings are still apparent. As outlined by section 113 of the Police Service Act (1990), the SIU’s jurisdiction extends only to incidents involving serious injury, death, or allegations of sexual assault. Two recognised definitions of serious injury exist: the Oster definition and the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police (OACP) definition[11]. While the SIU has been in operation for more than twenty years no uniformity has been established in how to go about defining serious injury. The Police Service Act (1990) requires police departments to forward any complaints which fall under the SIU’s jurisdiction to the SIU. While the SIU adheres to the Oster definition of serious injury, police services are given discretion over which definition they use in their departments. This is problematic as complaints made to police services may not be forwarded to the SIU for investigation as they are not believed to fall within the limited jurisdiction.

Public police oversight agencies are also widely criticised for being largely reactive in nature, only allowing for accountability ex post facto. Review by oversight bodies occurs only after an incident alleging misconduct or inappropriate practices has occurred. This practice recognises isolated instances of rogue behaviour attributing these incidents to a few ‘bad apples’ while perpetuating the myth that order exists throughout the rest of the organisation. Current oversight practices do not allow for detection or accountability of large-scale corruption in divisions and departments. It is believed that adopting a more proactive approach through use of audits conducted by oversight committees will allow for greater transparency into the operations of policing organisations (Public Safety Canada, 2007,Sect.2.5, para.1). While an increase in transparency is important, aspects of policing, as well as the general culture of the organisation may be resistant to public insight into operational practices. Accountability also pertains to the performance of organisations. Methods, such as CompStat, may be used to assess the effectiveness of an organisation in achieving aspects of its mandate.

As the private security industry and public police sector have become increasingly integrated in terms of both tasks performed and information shared, it is arguable that all policing agencies, regardless of whether state or non-state, should be overseen by the same review boards. Current public oversight bodies should have an expansion of jurisdiction so as to incorporate the private security industry. Operational reforms need to be implemented so as to increase the effectiveness and authority of existing review agencies. Oversight bodies which presently allow for police to investigate police in instances of alleged wrongdoing are not conducive to arm’s length review and are a source of contention with the public. Review boards must be independent from policing agencies and comprised of civilians. The power to lay criminal charges in instances of wrongdoing – as is seen with the SIU – needs to be granted to these civilian oversight agencies so as to improve the effectiveness of these committees as accountability mechanisms of policing.

As private and public security is becoming increasingly more integrated there is growing concern over the potential for Charter violations with respect to privacy clauses. Informal networks of information sharing between the private and public sectors are expanding (In Search of Security, Sect.1.1 para.8). Private and public organisations are regularly exchanging information about local crime and known offenders and ‘troublemakers’ (In Search of Security, Sect.3.4.1 para.1) leading to concern over how this disclosure of information may infringe on individual rights to privacy. With the private security industry becoming more prominent in areas of high policing and technology systems development there is cause for concern over private organisations having access to private personal information as well as ownership of data. State organisations and private corporations are governed by different legislation concerning privacy and access to information. This division of public and private domains is problematic as information sharing between agencies has become increasingly prevalent and liaisons between private and public policing bodies have blurred the lines of these sectors.

There is a noted propensity of private security personnel to overstep their legal authority in public places (Security Before Justice, Executive Summary section para.6). However, there appears to be some transgression on the part of public agents as well. There is a lack of clarity over the rights to privacy of those who occupy the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum living in public-housing units, shelters, or on the streets. Determining the boundaries of public and private space in this context is becoming increasingly problematic (Manikis, p.17). Without clarification of the parameters of policing being established effective accountability cannot be achieved.




Brodeur, J. (2010). The Policing Web. New York, NY: Oxford University.

Buuren, J. van (2009) A Report on the Ethical Issues Raised by the Increasing Role of Private Security Professionals in Security Analysis and Provision. Amsterdam: International Peace Research Institute.

Buuren, J. van & Boer, M. den (2010). Private Security Ethics: Reintroducing Public Values. In M. den Boer & E. Kolthoff (Eds.), Ethics and Security (pp. ). The Netherlands: Eleven International.

Clare Lewis Report: The Task Force on Race Relations and Policing. (April 1989). Retrieved from

Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP 2009-2010 Annual Report. (2010). Retrieved from

In Search of Security: The Future of Policing in Canada. (2006). Retrieved from

Manikis, M. (2008). Criminal Justice and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In J. V. Roberts & M. G. Grossman (Eds.), Criminal Justice in Canada: A Reader (pp.15-25). Toronto, ON: Nelson Education.

Marx, G. T. (1987). The Interweaving of Public and Private Police in Undercover Work. In C. D. Shearing & P. C. Stenning (Eds.), Private Polcing (pp.172-193). Newbury Park, CA: SAGE.

Police Services Act, Revised Statutes of Ontario (1990 c. P.15). Retrieved from

Public Safety Canada Task Force on Governance and Cultural Change in the RCMP. (2007). Retrieved from

Rigakos, G. (2002). The New Parapolice: Risk Markets and Commodified Social Control. Toronto, ON: University of Toronto.

Security Before Justice: A Study of the Impacts of Private Security on Homeless and Under-housed Vancouver Residents. (November 2008). Retrieved from

Special Investigations Unit: Ontario. (July 25, 2011). Retrieved from



[1] British Columbia, alone, has seen an increase of private security personnel by 300 percent between 1991 and 2005 (Security Before Justice, Introduction Section, p.5).

[2] Throughout Europe private/public agents ratios range from equal numbers to 2:1 in favour of private security. Canada currently has a ratio of 2:1 in favour of private security agents.

[3] The private security industry includes the obvious services of security guards and armoured vehicle personnel as well as loss prevention personnel, security consultants and engineers, forensic lab technicians, K9 units, and surveillance specialists.

[4] (E.g. shopping centres and stadiums)

[5] Pay-duty police officers are sworn state agents whose services are retained through public police agencies by private parties. The powers of state agents (law enforcement and powers surrounding arrest) are retained even while under private contract.

[6] The RCMP is under contract to provide policing to municipalities in most places across Canada. The OPP holds more than 300 individual contracts with municipalities in Ontario.

[7] Bylaws may specify certain numbers of pay-duty officers be hired depending on the type of event and number of people in attendance. Supervisory police officers may also be required depending on the number of general patrol officers needed.

[8] Unless it may be demonstrated that a non-state organisation or agent was acting on behalf of the state.

[9] British Columbia’s Security Services Act; Quebéc’s Bureau de la Sécurité Privée; Ontario’s Private Security and Investigative Services Act etc.

[10] Ontario established the SIU, a civilian oversight body with the power to lay criminal charges, and British Columbia is in the process of implementing a new independent civilian oversight agency (based largely on the SIU model) in attempts to rectify the concern of having police investigate police.

[11] The Oster definition was set by Hon. John Oster, the SIU’s first Director, and outlined serious injury to be that which was likely to interfere with the health or comfort of the victims; required admittance to a hospital; and/or resulted in broken or fractured bones or burns, the OACP definition is considerably narrower (SIU Annual Report 2009-2010, FAQ section).

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. The reality in this day and age is that policing in Canada is evolving. There’s an ongoing demand for security around the world. And in Canada, it’s no surprise that these demands are essentially blurring the boundaries between public and private policing. 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. Criminologists recognize this phenomenon as the ‘pluralization’ of police. As Burbidge (2005) notes,

The activity of policing encompasses many tasks that, while traditionally associated with the public police, may also be performed by private security: arrests, detentions, investigations, routine foot patrols, fraud investigations and forensic accounting, security surveillance, investigations for insurance, crime prevention consulting, property protection and medical and emergency response.

Deviance can be defined as the violation of culturally reinforced social norms and formal rules. Deviance can be approached or broken down in many different ways; one approach is to break it down into three types: Nonfeasance (failure to perform legal duty), Misfeasance (failure to perform legal duty in a proper way), and Malfeasance (commission of an illegal act). Corruption falls under the umbrella of Deviance and involves deviant, dishonest, improper, unethical, or criminal behaviour by a police officer. According to Punch (2009), policing and corruption go hand-in-hand. Corruption is largely influenced by the nature of police work, police culture and the police organization as a whole. Punch (2009) adds that corruption is found in all countries, in all forces and at every level of the organization at some time. To add, the core elements that fuel corruption are abuse of official power, abuse of trust, and sometimes system failure. Because of its prevalence in the security industry, corruption, and ultimately deviance, can also be found in the world of private policing. Most security providers, either in the public or private sector, have their own standards referred to as official paradigms (formal ideology of an organization) and operational codes (standard operating procedures or ‘the backstage of policing’, or ‘how things really get done’). The actions of public police, if perceived to be deviant, can be reviewed by a panel external to a public police organization. The public have access to “formal channels…to lodge complaints against the police.” (Law Commission of Canada, 2002). It’s important to note that even the accountability structures of public police [police investigating police, RCMP accountability and oversight] are subject to analysis, so what about the private policing sector? How is deviance and corruption addressed? Does the rule of law (i.e. the legal rules governing police powers and practices) apply to private policing? The bottom line is how then can private police be held accountable for their actions?

Accountability plays an important role in the governance of public policing. Unfortunately not much work has been done to address the accountability of private police entities. “Most provincial private security and investigators acts focus on regulating security firms as a business.” (Law Commission of Canada, 2002). Burbidge (2005) qualifies this as “a governance deficit with respect to private policing.” According to him, it only makes sense that the oversight and accountability structures that apply to public police should also apply to private police since private police today are already beginning to function like public police as well as perform many of the same duties that the public police do. Punch (2009) breaks down the accountability of public police into the following: (i) democratic and political accountability, (ii) legal accountability, (iii) internal operational and policy accountability, (iv) managerial accountability, and (v) community accountability. Should the same principles be applied to private police? According to the Law Commission of Canada (2002), some private security executives claim that they are already subject to (i) criminal liability, (ii) industry self-regulation, (iii) labour legislation, (iv) contractual liability, and (v) accountability through the marketplace. This, according to the executives, makes them far more accountable than their public brethren. In either case, these existing accountability structures (for both public and private police) do not accommodate the reality of police networks today.

It’s been suggested by the Law Commission of Canada that law reform should be looked at when considering accountability measures that can be applied to both policing sectors. It’s also very important that such measures or structures be developed with the rule of law and protection of the rights and freedoms of individuals in mind. ‘Professionalization’ of the private security industry has been recommended to ensure that policing is carried out in a democratic way. One form of professionalization that relates to our study of police deviance and accountability is the enforcement of minimum standards for training. It’s argued that this may help improve the quality of private policing. Also, this may give way to the establishment of policing colleges that could be funded by both the public and private sector. This could help in the professionalization process by giving public and private police access to standardized training and education facilities. Another possible solution to governance and/or accountability is to put private policing agencies under the supervision of public police agencies, since private police personnel currently outnumber public police personnel. The main goal of this proposition would be to create a stronger network or partnership between “governmental and non-governmental entities that have important roles in maintaining public peace and security, under one general umbrella.” (Law Commission of Canada, 2002).

Going over some recommended local sources for this post, I found one particular issue interesting mainly due to the sense of reality associated with it particularly because it’s a local (Vancouver) issue and gives us a sense that it’s within our reach. That is, it’s something we can easily relate to. Vancouver’s Pivot Legal Society (2008) got 154 Downtown Eastside residents in 2007 to complete a survey concerning interactions with private security guards in the area. The study revealed a correlation between housing status and the frequency of individuals’ interactions with private security guards (verbal or physical). Pivot’s findings also suggest the growing need for “rigorous monitoring and accountability mechanisms for policing bodies.” Even within the local scope, the pursuit of such goals will be the catalyst we need so that private and public policing can be delivered with justice, equality, efficiency, accountability, and the freedoms and rights of Canadians in mind.

In the UK, governance of private security has been mostly effective because the government is the primary employer of private policing personnel. In Canada however, each province has its own legislation for private policing. According to Burbidge (2005), “the challenge is not to create a private policing governance structure that is parallel to the public policing sector.” The emphasis should be on integrating approaches in police governance outlined by policing functions and powers. An important finding I found was an outline that the Vera Institute of Justice (2002) came up with in terms of effective governing of the private policing sector: Effective governance and accountability of private policing is possible when private policing firms are (a)periodically reviewed by an oversight agency that aggressively seeks public comment on the performance of the firm; (b)subject to civil liability in the courts for the misconduct of their officers; (c)required to provide their officers with training appropriate to the roles they will play; (d)required to document an annual review of each officer’s performance against written standards; (e)required to maintain records of their officers’ movements and activities for occasional external review; and (f)encouraged to participate in professional associations that certify firms’ compliance with industry standards.

As for the future of overall governance of police, the Law Commission of Canada illustrates some controversial or contested points. The Commission’s document ‘In Search of Security: The Roles of Public Police and Private Agencies’ talks about two distinct sides regarding the governance of public and private police. The expansionist side emphasizes on “strategic re-investment in government spending and increased regulation of the private sector.” This assumption is based on the theory that spending on public policing is not doing enough to improve public policing operations or services, so resources are diverted. The state-retrenchment side argues that authority and jurisdiction are placed in the hands of the private sector because of widespread demand for private security and because public police aren’t able to meet the demands of the public anymore. Both approaches to address the governance of policing are too radical, implausible and inadequate.

The ‘theories’ in the above paragraph are just hypothetical proposed solutions that, in reality don’t really fix anything. These theories don’t offer any real sense of a solution because it feeds on us assuming that government authority, resources and public police personnel will be reallocated into the private sector. I’m simply saying in this context that, yes, pluralization of police is on the rise but we can’t assume that the government will readily jump at the opportunity to govern plural (private) policing bodies just because they are having difficulties with maintaining order as well as difficulties with governing public (provincial or federal) policing bodies such as the RCMP. In many ways modernization, urbanization and the increasing demand for property security gave rise to private policing. As Caroll (2004) noted, private security is “often perceived or actually acting as social control agents in quasi-public places, rather than mere guardians of property. Their role has evolved to one of ‘policing and security’. With the ‘policing’ role, comes an expected higher level of standards and accountability.” In my opinion, discussions regarding the governance of private policing are currently flawed because private police “don’t have consistent standards relating to hiring, screening, training, equipment and uniforms, use of force, response options, statutory authority and service delivery,” Caroll (2004). Clearly, developing professional standards within the private security industry and improving them (i.e. professionalization) should be the first thing to tackle if we really want to initiate proper accountability structures for private policing bodies with some help from the government as well as community input.

Why should we care about accountability in private policing? First, the private security industry doesn’t have a public complaints process similar to the public police. Also, other options for regulation should be available (i.e. public police policing the private police or creation of policing boards as in the UK). Second, very little official data such as the size of the industry itself (i.e. the number of employees and establishments, the amount of revenue generated, expenses) is available to policy makers and analysts when it comes to the private security industry. Therefore, we (or rather, the government) is/are unable to develop a proper framework for oversight and accountability mechanisms directed towards private policing. This should not hinder us from pursuing such mechanisms; rather, it should be the driving force behind achieving such a goal. This can only be done with some help from the government with professionalization set as the first and foremost step. Third, as more and more private security firms begin to offer services in domains previously exclusive to public police, more and more clients expect their interests to be policed rather than the public’s safety within the community. “Without effective external oversight, the safety of the public may be compromised.” Law Commission of Canada (2002).

There are also a number of key issues arising pertaining to deviance and accountability of private police. Burbidge argues that because of the expansion in both the size and diversity of private policing in Canada, it will be challenging and time-consuming to regulate the police (public and private) as a whole. Accountability structures for public and private police, on their own, may not be satisfying local communities as they need to. Also, these existing accountability mechanisms for public and private police may not reflect the new age in policing in Canada. Burbidge stresses that efforts be made to regulate policing practices instead. This is just my opinion, but going down that path seems very difficult and even more labour-ridden to the point that it may not seem highly realistic at all. For one, the effectiveness of accountability mechanisms for public police has become questionable. Some argue that police are treated unfairly by an inefficient oversight process. Some citizen groups say that when accountability measures are put in motion, they prove to be ineffective. Also, it’s argued that not all accountability mechanisms across Canada are the same. In terms of the private sector, as mentioned earlier there is very little data known for us to know what should be done to deliver proper accountability measures. With that said, how then can we actually regulate what the police (public and private) do?

Going back to the introduction section, public policing activities are increasingly being performed by private police as well. So, the better route to take in developing an appropriate accountability or oversight mechanism would be one that considers “broader forms of regulation that encompass the policing sector as a whole.” Law Commission of Canada (2002). The propositions that fall under this category are policing boards and public police as regulators of private police. These new regulatory models are described in pages 51-53 of the Commission’s article In Search of Security: The Roles of Public Police and Private Agencies.

Earlier I mentioned that corruption, and ultimately deviance, can also be found in the world of private policing. However, deviance within the private security industry may not come in the same forms as those found in the public sector. Private security firms come in many ‘sizes’. Some come in the form of multinational corporations, while others are smaller, specialized establishments. It’s not hard to see what levels of deviance may flourish corresponding to the ‘sizes’ of these firms. The competitiveness within this industry itself may tempt certain firms to ‘cheat’ their way into the hands of a potential client or even ruin other firms with white-collar or corporate forms of deviance. Or, in a smaller scope, deviance can simply come in the form of a security guard supposedly arresting a homeless person for “assault by trespass”, Pivot Legal Society (2011). These instances of assaults against citizens are forms of deviance that can also found within public policing. It may be the only similar type of deviance between the two policing sectors. On a different note, if labour legislation in the private security industry protected potential victims from the abuse of power, it would be similar (to a degree) with the public police’s internal operational and policy accountability process.

Some argue that legislation should be made to clearly specify what private police organizations can and cannot do while others suggest governance legislation that will apply to both public and private police organizations. It will take a significant amount of time, effort, and resources to tackle the governance of the new era of policing Canada is currently undergoing. It’s still widely assumed that the public police are the primary security service providers, but there is an ever-growing overlap with the private policing sector. It’s clear that governance structures need to be modified to ensure that policing is delivered in accordance with the Charter of Rights, democratic values of justice, equality, accountability and efficiency.

Burbidge, S. (2005). The Governance Deficit: Reflections on the Future of Public and Private Policing in Canada. Canadian Journal of Criminology & Criminal Justice, 47(1), 63-86.

Caroll, E. (2004). The blurring of Public Police and Private Agencies. Policing and Security Counselling Services.

Law Commission of Canada (2002). In Search of Security: The Roles of Public Police and Private Agencies.

Pivot Legal Society (2011). Harbour Centre and Fusion Security face more lawsuits. retrieved November 16, 2001, from Pivot Legal Society:

Pivot Legal Society (2011). Private Security Brutality Sparks Legal Action. Retrieved October 20, 2011, from Pivot Legal Society:

Pivot Legal Society (2008). Security Before Justice. Retrieved October 20, 2011, from Pivot Legal Society:

Punch, M. (2009). Police Corruption: Deviance, Accountability and Reform in Policing.  Portland (Oregon).