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Published: June 12, 2009

Risk UK magazine recently asked the question: Police chiefs have expressed concerns over the possible cutting of their budgets in light of the current recession. If the police chief's fears come to light and there proves to be a reduction in the number of police officers on the beat, how can the private security sector help? Do you think that the relationship between the police and the private sector is close enough?

Pilgrims’ Director of Operations Dave Freear provides his thoughts on this sensitive subject…

“This is an area thwarted with dangers. Many local governments have privatised various city functions, some successfully and others not so. When a private contractor takes over, their aim is obviously to make a profit and in some situations the cost has substantially increased, such as with areas such as car parking.

The same concerns would apply with regard to security, but even more so. Would they cut corners in order to save costs? Reduce training provided? Cut back on management and support? Basically all the issues that some existing users of manned security companies complain about, although they tend to be at the cheaper end of the market.

A security company on the beat is not the same as they are not the police. There are not the same quality checks in place nor do they have the same authority. Also, commercial companies have different incentives and drivers. Can you rely on their integrity?

Taking over certain duties may not cause issues, such as dealing with littering or incidents of graffiti, as well as taking on the non front line duties (paperwork, administration, monitoring stations, control rooms). The biggest concerns would be around front line duties; how would they deal with someone committing a crime? Criminals would question and may exploit their lack of authority. The general public would also question their authority and effectiveness, such as faced by community officers. This would be due to their limited powers, their lack of extensive training in comparison to police officers and the reduced selection criteria used.

If police provided specific training for the private security sector this could provide a possible solution. Police would have to have a set pass / fail training course in order to give it credibility. Alternatively they could fill roles behind the scenes or reporting crime, not taking active involvement in dealing with it. PSC’s could help by manning the monitoring stations rather than the police, then trigger police on to incidents.

The United States provides a good comparison and has proven to be a testing ground for exactly this type of scenario, although they have also considered using armed guards due to their more lenient gun laws. The problems mentioned above are exactly the same as those encountered on the other side of the Atlantic, therefore we would need to learn by their mistakes and prevent the same ones occurring here.

I agree with fears over cutting budgets and think it should be avoided, if possible. There is an issue with vetting and immigration as there is, let alone expanding this into the private security sector. What checks will be in place?

For it to work, the relationship would have to be closer, therefore the police would need to be involved every step of the way to ensure public concerns were dealt with.”