Relationship Between Public and Private Policing Essay

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This paper will explore the historical relationship between public and private policing. It will also discuss how the relationship has changed in recent years.

Relationship Between Public and Private Policing
Since the terrorist attacks that struck inside the heart of our country on 11 September 2001, civilian law enforcement agencies have been busy performing not only their regular duties of crime prevention and response, but also taking on a large number of homeland security functions and all of this during a time when local, state and federal budgets are ever tightening. Similarly, private security institutions are under comparable pressure to carry out their traditional duties to provide protection of information, property and people, as well as sharing the additional duties of homeland security. Despite the fact that public and private police organizations share the same ultimate goal of protecting the public, they do not have a long history of working well together.

Security officers have historically been looked down upon by law enforcement personnel. Some police feel that there is a definite lack of pre-employment screening, certification, training, standards, and regulation of security officers. Other police officers feel that security personnel receive insufficient training, especially those who carry weapons. Another perception that some police have is the view that security officers are those who couldn’t make it as law enforcement officers so they settled for a career in security. Meanwhile, some security officers view police as snobs who do not have an understanding of the range of capabilities, functions and resources offered by the private security field and thus fail to appreciate the role they can play.

Private policing really got its start in the U.S. in the mid-1800s with the foundation of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency in Chicago Illinois by Allan Pinkerton, the first man to be appointed as a detective in the Chicago Police Department. Since the federal government did not have personnel that could follow criminals across state lines, and local police personnel were ill equipped to handle the job, the Pinkerton Agency was hired to deal with criminal gangs (BSIS, n.d.). The company also performed many duties that are now handled by federal and state law enforcement agencies such as guarding railroads, conducting criminal investigations, and providing security advice to banks and other businesses. “Policing is not necessarily the exclusive dominion of government, but rather a ‘service’ that could be assumed either by public or private agencies” (Elizabeth Joh, 2004). According to the Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2000 there were 797,000 law enforcement officers employed in the United States by local, state and federal agencies. In comparison, private security organizations throughout the country employed roughly two million security officers (National Policy Summit, 2004).

With these numbers it only makes sense for there to be a cooperative relationship between public and private police agencies. Joining the capabilities of the two sides would benefit each profession and greatly enhance the protection level that could be afforded to the citizens of this country. For example, the public police agencies usually receive more current threat information, while the private police agencies tend to maintain control over the areas or facilities that are considered vulnerable to attack. It has been estimated that “85 percent of the country’s critical infrastructure is protected by private security organizations” (National Policy Summit, 2004). One factor that I believe has had a positive impact on improving relations between public and private police agencies is the crossover of personnel. Many times when law enforcement personnel at the local, state or federal level retire from their agencies, they tend to take on positions of employment within the private police field as Directors or other higher level positions due to the degree of their experience. These personnel maintain their contacts from within the law enforcement realm which can facilitate opportunities for much needed training and education of security officers, as well as increased probabilities for the sharing of information between agencies. Another aspect which is closely related is the hiring of off-duty police officers to perform private security functions and details. Many companies feel that hiring an off-duty police officer to perform private security functions can be an effective crime deterrent when there is a visible police officer presence. Most public police agencies allow their officers, with advanced permission from the department, to work security duties or details while wearing their police uniform and even operating their department issued police vehicle.

Another advantage of hiring off-duty police officers is that they maintain the power of arrest and use of force at all times, whether on or off-duty. So when a crime occurs, you already have a police presence on scene that can handle the matter. There are even some police agencies which are actually commercializing their services. According to Massimiliano Mulone, “police organizations are selling the services they provide to private individuals/organizations, from renting off-duty police officers to offering training for the private security workforce” (2012). There are some negative aspects to hiring off-duty police personnel to perform private security duties. First of all, the average police officer will charge at least twice as much as the hourly wage a typical security officer will be paid. Another issue to consider is the fact that some police officers will not perform some of the more menial tasks that a regular security officer would be required to perform as part of their normal duties. Additionally, since the police officer is not depending on this part time job as a primary source of income, they may not put the same level of devotion into completing the tasks of the position as a security officer that is performing this job as their primary source of employment. Furthermore, “recent research finds that that fatigue associated with overtime and outside employment may contribute to accident and injuries involving police officers and may lead to more citizen complaints” (James Brunet, 2008). Another issue of concern is that while a police officer is performing in an off-duty capacity as a security officer, they can be called away from these duties to assist on-duty officers with incidents that occur nearby. Lastly, a company that hires off-duty police personnel to work in a private security capacity must be aware that there are unique legal issues to be considered, such as when Miranda warnings should be used and under what circumstances searches may be authorized.

In almost every major city throughout the country, shopping malls, hospitals, apartment complexes, university campuses and housing associations depend on various private police organizations for security. Evidence shows that private policing has considerably decreased crime rates in neighborhoods across the country. “After the ‘Grand Central Partnership,’ an organization of over 6,000 businesses, hired a private security force to guard a 70 block area in the midtown Manhattan area, crime rates dropped by 20 percent after two years, by 36 percent after three years and 53 percent after five years” (Kai Jaeger and Edward Stringham, 2011). Another example of this statement is the “introduction of private policing by Critical Intervention Services in a low-income area of Florida that reduced crime rates an average of 50 percent” (Jaeger and Stringham, 2011). The greater the number of private property establishments that can be covered by private police agencies will allow the public police officers to concentrate their efforts on responding to the more significant crimes.

The reality is that government agencies are being required to do more with less, cut budgets and ultimately cut the number of public police officers that are needed to protect the public. On the other side of the issue, private security organizations are constantly growing and providing more professional and better trained security officers in order to stay competitive in the private policing field. In many instances it is getting harder to distinguish between the public and private police officers and the overall duties they can perform. By combining the efforts of the two spheres of responsibility it would greatly benefit both sides, as well as provide a higher level of protection for the citizens of this country.

Brunet, J. A., PhD. (2008). Blurring the line between public and private sectors: The case of police officers’ off-duty employment. Public Personnel Management, 37(2), 161-174. Retrieved from Bureau of Security and Investigative Services. (n.d.) A Brief History. Retrieved from

Jaeger, K. and Stringham, E. (2011). National Center for Policy Analysis. Private policing options for the poor. Retrieved from Joh, E. E. (2004). The Paradox of Private Policing. Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology, 95(1), 49-131. Retrieved from Mulone, M. (2012). When private and public policing merge: Thoughts on commercial policing. Social Justice, 38(1), 165-183. Retrieved from National Policy Summit. (2004). Building Private Security/Public Policing Partnerships to Prevent and Respond to Terrorism and Public Disorder. Retrieved from