Public and Private Law Enforcement


Public and Private Law Enforcement

A Blueprint for Cooperation

Chapter outline

Introduction: The Relationship between the Public and Private Sectors

The interplay between public and private law enforcement and the modern delivery of public safety from privatized interest continue unabated. Everywhere across this rich country, public police entities engage the private sector, governments employ private sector companies for security of facilities and asset protection, communities turn to both arms of the justice model, and the military industrial complex appreciates the value of private sector involvement in military operations. It is the commonality of interests that spurs on this unbridled growth in cooperation. Despite the differences in legal powers, employers, and mission, private security officers and public police have many similarities.1

The historical legacy that characterizes the relationship between the public and private justice systems is less than positive though continuously improving. In 1976, the Private Security Advisory Council, through the U.S. Department of Justice, delivered an insightful critique on the barriers to full and unbridled cooperation between the public and private law enforcement systems. Struggling with role definition and resource deployment, the relationship has been an uneasy but steady one. The council stressed the need to clarify role definitions and end the absurd and oft-practiced negative stereotyping.2 The council cited various areas of conflict and ranked them in order of importance:

Put another way, each side operates from a series of perceptions, some accurate, others not. For the most part, the caricatures inhibit full cooperation. The Hallcrest Report I4 decisively addressed this issue. In characterizing the police role as inclined toward crime detection, prevention, and control, security will always be to some extent the public police’s antagonist. Private police give less attention to apprehension, crime detection, prevention, and technology than do their public counterparts. Comparatively, private security addresses similar subject matter but still dwells intently on the protection of assets, immediate deterrence, and commercial enforcement. Figure 7.1 note 5 provides a graphic illustration of the major distinctions between these two entities. Tables 7.1 note 6 and 7.2 note 7 further edify these occupational distinctions.

Learn about Hallcrest Systems, the consulting firm that produces outlook reports on the private sector at


Figure 7.1 Comparison between public and private police functions.

Table 7.1. Security Manager Rankings of Private Security Functions (Rank Ordered)

Proprietary Managers Contractual Managers
1. Protection of lives and property 1. Protection of lives and property
2. Crime prevention 2. Crime prevention
3. Loss prevention 3. Loss prevention
4. Fire prevention 4. Fire prevention
5. Access control 5. Access control
6. Crime investigation 6. Order maintenance
7. Employee identification 7. Employee identification
8. Order maintenance 8. Crime reporting
9. Arrest/prosecution 9. Arrest/prosecution
10. Accident prevention 10. Information security
11. Crime reporting 11. Crime investigation
12. Information security 12. Accident prevention
13. Traffic control 13. Traffic control
N = 676 N = 545

Table 7.2. Law Enforcement Executive Ratings of Law Enforcement Function (Rank Ordered)

1. Protection of lives and property
2. Arrest and prosecution of criminals
3. Investigation of criminal incidents
4. Maintaining public order
5. Crime prevention
6. Community relations
7. General assistance to the public
8. Traffic enforcement
9. Traffic control
N = 384

A cursory assessment of these figures shows fundamental agreement on the protection of lives and property. Departure occurs in the upper classifications of law enforcement since the thrust of any public police department must be for the eventual arrest and prosecution of suspects. In contrast, the private justice function is still concerned with preventive activities in the area of crime loss, fire prevention, and other order-maintenance functions. In the security manager rankings, criminal investigation and arrest and prosecution show up in the lower rankings. This prioritization, in and of itself, is a telling distinction, though it should not be viewed as justification for a sharp division. If anything, both public and private law enforcement share a generic goal—namely, the general enforcement of laws. As Bill Strudal points out in his article, “Giving the Police a Sense of Security”:

Our goal, usually not shared by police and security is law enforcement … if we accept the premise that police and security have the same goals, then why don’t we work together on a regular basis? There are differences; nobody can deny that … there are many other gaps between the two forces, but none is insurmountable with good training and dialogue.8

The similarities between function, duty, and obligation are very apparent when the tasks of investigation are considered. The skills of the private sector are essentially identical to those of the public sector. Review Figure 7.2 to see the diverse opportunities shared and borne by both the private and public sectors.


Figure 7.2 Common tasks of private and public officers.

Given the equal occupational capacity of both the private and public sectors to engage in these many activities, cooperation rather than division appears a wiser tactic. Surely, the concerns of private sector justice increasingly mirror that of the public model. Security’s threats and concerns are charted at Table 7.3.9

Table 7.3. Security 2001 Profile: Security Threats, Concerns


Employee theft, property crime, and access controls are the top concerns of security professionals. Computer and information security concerns continue to increase as the most important security-related concerns.

Another recurring stumbling block, at least perceptually, is public law enforcement’s attitude of superiority. Table 7.4 10 indicates that traditional law enforcement takes a dim view of the contribution of proprietary and contractual security when compared to its own role, though the merger of functions and roles will likely shrink this chasm in the near future. But there is a road to travel.11

Table 7.4. Private Security Contributions to Crime Prevention and Control: Ratings by Law Enforcement and Private Security Managers


SCALE: 1 = very effective, 2 = somewhat effective, 3 = not effective.

In appraising the findings of this perceptual study, the Hallcrest II authors suggest:

Here again, law enforcement executives gave markedly lower ratings than did the private security managers. They agreed, however, on the areas that deserved the highest and lowest ratings. Thus, both the law enforcement executives and the security managers felt that private security was relatively effective in reducing the dollar loss of crime, and relatively ineffective in apprehending larger numbers of criminals. This ranking is consistent with the preventive orientation of private security, which is more concerned with loss control than with arrest and prosecution for crimes. Consistent, too, is the finding that proprietary security managers gave themselves highest marks for maintaining order.12

Unfortunately, slight differences in approach and methodology have increased the divide between these camps. And with these attitudes in place, it becomes a much more difficult task to partner and cooperate. A 2004 Policy Summit co-sponsored by public and private law enforcement associations lists the main reasons why these alliances falter:

To the detriment of all, these petty differences continue to the present.14 John Driscoll, in his article “Public and Private Security Forces Unite in Dallas,” asserts “this negative approach prevents the two similar entities from realizing their commonalities and capitalizing upon mutual cooperation.”15 Driscoll recounts the “Dallas experiment” that stresses interaction between the parties in sharing “criminal information bulletins, recruit[ing] class training blocks, field training officer and security officer meetings, and additional joint information seminars.”16 The elitist attitude taken by public law enforcement fosters a polarization between the public and private sectors. Though role conflicts and perceptual views of the public and private sectors are compelling arguments, there are other forceful explanations for the natural tension between these competing interests. What is undeniable is the march forward into the public realm, with examples so numerous it is now difficult to catalog. Private sector operatives now watch over airports and parks, act as first responders and protectors of federal and state installations, deliver safety and security to the Olympics and sporting events, conduct surveillance, and assess critical infrastructure. In the final analysis, the playing field will be leveled a little more each day by the ever-growing numbers of private security forces.17

Public Interest versus Private Concerns

Public law enforcement is and has always been tasked with the needs of the public good. Few private security companies have to be concerned with domestic disputes, the transportation of the deceased, stray animals, or protection of the homeless and other downtrodden individuals.18 The Private Security Advisory Council characterized police work as a public interest function. Public police have “a wide range of responsibilities to protect essentially public concerns and their efforts are closely tied to statutorily mandated duties and the criminal justice system.”19 The advisory council further relates that the police are burdened with constitutional limitations and must interpret and implement certain guidelines in the performance of their law enforcement duties. Additionally, public policing is further restrained by public budgeting and financing processes. Police management policies and an administrative hierarchy within most major police departments must evaluate and allocate resources according to the needs and demands presently operating within this community structure.20

Norman Spain and Gary Elkin, in their article, “Private Security versus Law Enforcement,” relate with precision:

One of the traditional functions of the public police is to deter crime. In reality, their ability to do this is drastically limited. The primary reasons are that the police have little authority to change the conditions that foster crime and they have no authority to decide who will reside in their jurisdiction, whom they will police. Private security forces, on the other hand, may alter—at times drastically—the environment in which they operate. They can have walls and fences erected, doors sealed, windows screened, lights put up, and intrusion detectors installed. They can often play a decisive role in determining whom they have to monitor—who is to be an employee of the company—by conducting background investigations of potential employees.21

Such a supposition is difficult to dispute, since private security is primarily concerned with the private concerns of private property assets and particular individuals. “Individuals and privately funded organizations and businesses undertake measures to provide protection for the perceived security needs that involve their private interests, not in the public domain. Private security is an option exercised to provide an additional or increased level of protection than that afforded by public law enforcement, which must respond to the larger concerns of the public.”22

Moral or Egalitarian Purpose

Entrance into the vocation of public law enforcement is considered by most a moral and social commitment—a vocation rather than a mere job. This career distinction is generally not applied to individuals who commit their lives to the service of private security. But is such a viewpoint fair and rational? Is not the protection of assets, governmental facilities, communities, business interests, private proprietary holdings, or contributions in military and security initiatives a noble endeavor? If private security were not involved, what would be the state of American industry and its physical plants, the security of courthouses and judicial centers, transportation facilities, and neighborhood associations? How would the dynamic of the battlefield change in foreign wars? How would the allocation of military personnel be impacted? For that matter, how many more employees would the public sector have to hire, on the backs of already beleaguered taxpayers, to cover the diverse functions of private sector justice? By what standards are these judgments of moral superiority or social importance designed? Critics and theoreticians who scathingly condemn the nature of private justice often forget the historical contribution private security has provided. Long before the establishment of a formal, publicly funded police department in pre- and postcolonial America, private security interests were the only entities providing protection for individual persons, assets, and business interests. Remember that the nature of a system of town watches, the “hue and cry,” calling for posse formation and community cooperation, constables, and part-time sheriffs could hardly be characterized as public in design.23

Judgments about private sector justice cannot be made in a vacuum but must be evaluated in light of the range of services the industry provides a troubled world. To be more particular, who would protect the majority of federal installations? Who would protect the majority of American museums? What force or body would ensure safety and protection in the college and university environment? What other bodies would provide adequate crowd control at entertainment events? What cost would society incur to ensure a public police officer in each bank? Should taxpayers’ money be spent in the transportation of money and other negotiable instruments? What police department would provide adequate security for American corporations? How far could city budgets be stretched to provide a secured environment for its multiple retail establishments if security services were absent? When these queries are explored, public law enforcement’s tendency to preach from a high moral pedestal is not as convincing. Richard Kobetz and H. H. Antony Cooper, in their article “Two Armies: One Flag,” cogently state:

It is no exaggeration to aver that without the aid of those presently engaged in the various tasks of private security, the resources of public law enforcement would have to be expanded far beyond the limits that the taxpayer could afford and would pay. Even those who do not contribute directly to the cost of providing private security services benefit to some notable extent from their existence. Private security is not a public luxury. It represents a substantial contribution to the general security of the community. In their impact on the community public and private law enforcement are one and indivisible.24

A Caste System of Professionalism

Private security has long been an underclass when compared to public law enforcement. Differences in orientation, training, requirements, and social status accorded these positions have a great deal to do with the class or status differentiation. While much time and energy has been expended in the professionalization of public law enforcement,25 negative stereotypes, justified or not, still exist concerning private security personnel. The most powerful trend is the continued growth of the private security industry, both in real terms and relative to law enforcement. In 1987, the director of the U.S. Justice Department’s National Institute of Justice (NIJ) wrote that

cooperation becomes increasingly essential with the growth of the private security industry. [In policing,] resources to meet the increasing demand have dwindled. In most major cities, police personnel have declined, and the number of police employees per 1,000 population dropped 10 percent between 1975 and 1985. Shrinking tax revenues throughout the country and outright taxpayer revolts … have curtailed growth in government. Police, like other public administrators, have become familiar with cutback management.26

The Private Advisory Council expounds that these attitudes

are based on incorrect assumptions that private security personnel perform the same job duties as patrol officers and investigators in law enforcement, and that a broad generalization can be made about the nature and personnel of all components of proprietary and contractual security—guards, private patrol services, private investigators, armored car guards and armed couriers, and alarm response runners and installers. Certainly, the security industry and private justice practitioners must concede there is a distinction between the level of training and qualifications for certification. The security industry has been its own worst enemy in this area by failing to promote high level, sophisticated standards of educational requirements.27

In response to the call for increased state and local regulation of the private security force, Richard Lukins, in his article “Security Training for the Guard Force,” castigates the industry for its lack of action:

This trend has not caught the affected components of the private security industry—the guard services and proprietary security managers—completely by surprise but it does not appear that they were totally prepared either. And certainly no one can say that our industry has established an imposing record of self-regulation.28

Lukins further relates that the present impression of a security guard as not more than “half a cop” will be deleterious to future professionalism in the security industry.29 The quest for professionalism requires more than rhetoric. As outlined in Chapter 2 on regulation, licensing, and qualifications, the road to professionalism is filled with impediments. Those impediments—a lack of educational discipline or cogent body of knowledge, an accepted code of ethics, a prestige or status consensus on occupational roles, or a seal of social and governmental legitimacy—are all attainable goals.30 To get beyond the characterization that a private security practitioner is nothing more than a play policeman, the industry will have to aggressively implement the standards of professionalism. On the other hand, much of that judgment is the result of prejudice and stereotype. “Private security is aware of this status differential imposed by many law enforcement personnel and deeply resent it since they feel that law enforcement neither understands nor empathizes with their crime prevention role. This in turn leads to a lower level of esteem by private security for law enforcement personnel.”31 Petty bickering and hate mongering further erodes the ambition of professionalism. Constructive suggestions regarding increased standards and performance objectives are more in order. Certification programs such as that offered by ASIS International and its Certified Protection Professional programs make a real contribution to substantive professionalism. The CPP program’s chief objectives are as follows:

Attaining professionalism will require both dedication and perseverance. Howard C. Shook, former president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), remarks that the private security sector has “proven its worth and can defend itself from detractors rather easily.”33 Harold Peterson, in his work “Private Security v. Public Law Enforcement,”34 calls for a natural respect between the public and private sectors and highlights the unique and extremely sophisticated expertise exhibited by the private justice system. He warns the traditionalist in law enforcement:

There are those in both the community and law enforcement who believe that the public police alone are responsible for crime reduction. If, as a chief, you think like this, I’m afraid that your agency will fail the public you serve.35

A Failure to Communicate and Cooperate

Predictably, a lack of respect between the public and private sector leads to a lack of communication. The Private Security Advisory Council cogently concludes:

Since many law enforcement personnel perceive themselves as having a higher degree of status than private security, and do not properly appreciate the role of private security in crime prevention, there will be a tendency to avoid communication with private security personnel. One might expect that private security would communicate freely with law enforcement as a perceived higher status group. But the intensity of feelings expressed by private security and the ambiguity of their relationship with law enforcement … would seem to indicate an uncertainty as to the equality of status with law enforcement. Private security, then, would generally tend to avoid communication with law enforcement; without effective communication cooperation cannot be imposed.36

Like squabbling relatives, this state of interaction is counterproductive but easily correctable. Many of the perceptions, viewpoints, and preconceived notions about the role of private security as it relates to public law enforcement that each party possesses are highly biased and unscientific. For example, it is ludicrous to argue that the training and educational requirements for all public law enforcement positions are markedly higher. Some major police departments, such as the one in the city of Philadelphia, with a metropolitan area of more than 6 million people, historically required no more than an eighth-grade education. While this may be an exception to the general requirement of a high school diploma, it is folly for public police personnel to perceive their educational requirements as always being more rigorous. Of course, there has been a strong tendency toward higher educational requirements with a recent flurry of legislative activity concerning the regulation, licensing, and education mandated for private security.37 The perception that only public policing has erudite training is fundamentally flawed.

Another rationale often espoused by the public sector, which justifies its lack of communication, is functional separation. Some see no benefits to communication because of distinct occupational roles. The perception that private security protects only those interests that are strictly private is incorrect. Consider Table 7.5,38 which charts the public functions performed by the private justice sector.

Table 7.5. Sites with Experience in Private Provision of Protection Services

State Jurisdiction Type of Service
Alaska Anchorage Parking meter enforcement
Parking meter collection
Parking lot security
Arizona State Parking lot enforcement

Flagstaff School crossing guards

Maricopa County Building security

Phoenix Crowd control
California Federal U.S. Department of Energy facility security

Hawthorns Traffic control during peak hours

Los Angeles Patrol streets surrounding private university
Traffic and security for special events

Los Angeles County Building security
Park security

Norwalk Park security

San Diego Housing project security
Park security

San Francisco Building security

Santa Barbara Airport security
Prison transport
Colorado Denver Building security

Fort Collins Building security
Connecticut Hartford Sport arena security
Florida Dade County Courts, building security

Fort Lauderdale Airport, building security

Pensacola Airport security

St. Petersburg Park security
Hawaii State Parking lot enforcement
Idaho State Regional medical center security

Idaho Falls School crossing guards
Kentucky Lexington Housing project security
Massachusetts Boston Hospital, courts, library security—city
Library security—federal
Nevada Federal Nuclear test site security
New Jersey Sport Authority Sports arena security
New York State Response to burglar alarms in state office

Buffalo County security—federal

New York City Security compounds for towed cars
Shelter security
Human Resources Administration security
Building security
Locate cars with outstanding tickets
Arrests for retail store theft
Management training, police
Campus security
Pennsylvania State Unemployment offices security
Welfare offices security

Philadelphia Parking enforcement

Pittsburgh Court security—federal
Patrol city park
High school stadium security
School crossing guards
Transfer of prisoners
Texas Dallas/Fort Worth
Airport security including baggage checking Building security
Utah State Building security
Training for transit police
Washington Seattle
Building security
Sports arena security
Washington, D.C. District of Columbia Federal Planning and management
building security

Those asserting a limited public role for private security inaccurately portray the industry. Private security personnel have willingly taken on, been legislatively granted, or freely pursued these traditionally public functions: