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Police and Private Security: The Ongoing Evolution of Responsibilities

Before the creation of the established police entity in the United States, private security carried most of the duties and responsibilities performing investigations, hunting fugitives, protecting the President, and acting as night watchmen to prevent crime.

Once city police became established as a staple of modern society (NYPD being the first to be created and accepted) and creation of Federal agencies to take over the duties of protecting Presidents (Secret Service), tracking wanted criminals (U.S. Marshals), and conducting investigations (F.B.I.), private security’s roles have shifted to mainly protecting private property.

While this is an over simplification of what took more than a hundred years to accomplish, the evolution is not over. Once again, we are seeing duties and responsibilities shift due to changes in the economy, budgets, and the results of disasters, both man-made and natural.

Even prior to the attacks of September 11th, law enforcement realized that in certain instances, they are not able to perform all the functions wanted and needed by our society. Police responsibilities and duties have grown through the decades of being not much more than a night watchman using call-boxes and whistles to combat gangs; becoming social workers; teaching drug prevention; staffing schools as resource officers; acting as computer-crime investigators; training as special response units; and especially in the last decade, becoming counter-terrorism specialists–all while budgets and funding are being drastically cut.

In short, law enforcement is being asked to do more with less. At the same time the number of police personnel has remained relatively stagnant (with a short boost by Community Policing Grants in the ‘80s and ‘90s) at under one million personnel in the United States.

In contrast, the private security sector has grown to more than 1.2 million personnel in the U.S. and now protects over 50% of the nation’s critical infrastructure. The private security sector has seen an increase in the number of criminals in private prisons rise by 47% in the last decade. And the future prediction of the private sector is that of growth, especially in the area of cybersecurity.

After incidents like 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and other mass casualty and highly publicized incidents, law enforcement has learned that they cannot be everything to everyone at the time of an incident.

Even every-day calls for service are becoming harder to handle for many police agencies. Dallas P.D. recently established a policy that they would no longer respond to retail theft calls where the amount is under $50.

As roles continue to evolve there has been some outstanding joint efforts being conducted around the country that are proving to be a “win-win” for police and private interests. There is better funding available through the private sector, thus greater resources that the public sector just does not have.

Efforts to reduce crime in downtown areas are now being turned over to private sector personnel in coordination with local police and are believed to be greatly responsible for the reduction of crime in so called Business Improvement Districts.

Other programs like the FBI’s InfraGard Program, which shares information and assists in private sector training, is a good example. Associations such as the International Association of Financial Crimes Investigators (IAFCI) partners the resources of private security sector banks, credit card companies, etc. with all levels of law enforcement agencies who deal with financial crimes. And other associations like (ISC)2 is a cyber-security group that establishes training and certifications for both groups–public and private.

Over the years we have seen security perform police functions and police perform security functions as well as a combination of both entities. What lies on the horizon is anyone’s guess; however, it is clear that a closer partnership between public police and private security is a trend that will only become more valuable as both groups try to safeguard people and assets and reduce crime.

Leischen Kranick is a Managing Editor at AMU Edge. She has 15 years of experience writing articles and producing podcasts on topics relevant to law enforcement, fire services, emergency management, private security, and national security.

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