Public Versus Private Security

Published 19 Jan 2017

The role of security in the United States is extremely critical in preventing crimes. Today, the discipline faces rapid changes after the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. Security has never been tighter to curve terrorism in the country. Traditionally, the government provides security to protect its people and properties, maintain peace and order, and implement crime prevention measures. Thus, public law enforcement was created to carry out such duties to ensure safety in a democratic society since 1844. Public policing has provided essential services to achieve justice.

However, with the arrival of the industrial revolution where many infrastructures were built and large companies flourished, several private inpiduals began to establish their own security personnel to guard their properties. A series of reforms were initiated in the field of security and generated new needs. At present, there are more private security agencies than police agencies in America. According to the 9/11 Commission, 85 percent of the country’s infrastructures are owned and protected by the private sector.

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The number of people employed by private security, moreover, is at least three times larger than the number employed by public law enforcement. The amount of money spent on private security is many times greater than state, county, and local law enforcement expenditures combined. (Morabito & Greenberg, 2005, p. 1, 6). The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that there are 16,661 public law enforcement agencies across America employing some 677,933 sworn officers. On the other hand, the number of private security agencies reached more than 10,000 with at least two million security officers. The U.S. private security service is a $39 billion industry and its demand is expected to grow by 4.3 percent by 2010.

Private and public policing have similar functions that often overlap. In general both services want to deter crime, prevent loses, and bring wrongdoers to justice. Police and private officers respond to emergencies and perform life saving measures to victims of crimes and disasters. Despite these similarities in roles and responsibilities the two agencies differ in many ways. Public policing are offered by the local, state, tribal, and federal agencies whose main concerns are street crimes. Police officers are mandated to serve and protect the public as well as to enforce the law while private security officers are in business not to serve the general public but to safeguard the interests of inpiduals or organizations who hired them.

The ultimate goal of private policing, which offers its services for a fee, is purely economic gain. It is a profit oriented service rather than restoring public order. Police officers are trained to be independent without bias in the performance of their duties. Meanwhile, private security officers are flexible executing tasks that they are paid to do and always on the side of their clients. As agents of the law, police are granted special powers or have higher authority to search, arrest, and detain unlike in the private sectors that are only deputized to use such powers like making a citizen’s arrest.

Public police are accountable to the courts and to elected legislatures and executives…and they are formally charged with the enforcement of criminal laws and the prevention and detection of crime. (Joh, 2004, p. 57). Private security officers are simply accountable to their customers and employers and obligated to protect their needs. Private policing is categorized into corporate security and private security firms. Corporate security is maintained by large corporations where they have security departments to operate their own security measures. Private security firms contract their services to the public, banks, businesses and other entities.

Their range of services consists of providing security guards, alarm monitoring, insurance investigation, armored transport, mobile patrol, protection of executives, forensic analyses, investigating corporate fraud, protection against computer crimes, and security consultation. In terms of employment, those in the public law enforcement have better chance of job security than those in the private and perhaps better benefits like retirement plans. There are high turnover rates in the private sector with insufficient pre-employment screening, minimal recruitment training, standards, and regulations. The training in public policing is rigid and candidates are thoroughly checked regarding their background information.

Police officers have higher educational attainment compared to the private because of the existence of academies making sure that the candidates are adequately equipped for the job. At times, those in the public policing would take part time jobs in the private sector while others would take private security jobs as a stepping stone to become a police officer.

As the largest provider of policing services in the country, private security firms more often are managed by former members of government law enforcement agencies like the police force, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, and military personnel. Primarily, those in private policing are focused in protecting assets and properties rather than crime. Its emphasis is on the preventive means rather than detecting and apprehending perpetuators to control crime and disorder. Private security officers have no civil protection since they do not hold legal powers and can be sued directly for illegal actions.

In comparison to the public police, its private counterparts suffer from a serious legitimacy deficit. One of the main reasons for this is that they lack the law’s justification. There are few, if any, statutes or laws that give the private security industry governmentally granted rights or powers. (Borja, 1998, 74).

Many private security officers have specialized technical capabilities which not all the public law enforcement personnel do no possess. They have expertise in safeguarding computer networks, financial institutions, chemical plants, malls, hospitals, and others institutions. They are equipped with advanced technological resources to stop crime. Those who are under 25 years old and over 54 are likely to work in the private policing where women are also highly represented. Public law enforcement often faces lack of financial resources due to tight budgets. Their wages and morals are affected. However, the private security also suffers the same fate as the industry has become very competitive.

As a result, members of both agencies try to augment their income by transferring to the other side or taking part time jobs during their off duty. Police officers easily gain the trust and confidence of the public as they are visible in the community unlike the private security officers who are confined in the offices and premises of corporations. In addition, private policing has a broad meaning that uses different job titles such as agents, safety patrol, private police, bodyguards, security guards, executive protection agents, mall security officer, and private patrol officer among others. Private security programs are generally organized to protect the assets of the organization, and to prevent and control loss.

Equally important are controlling losses from vandalism, waste, fire, and natural disasters, as well as damage to reputation and standing in the community. (Lubrinco, 2002, ¶22). According to the Hallcrest surveys, public law enforcement has the following priorities: “protection of lives and property, arrest/prosecute suspects, investigate criminal incidents, maintain public order, crime prevention, and community relations”. Meanwhile, the private security priorities involved protection of lives and property, crime prevention, loss prevention, fire prevention, access control, and investigate criminal incidents.


Realizing the potential force of private security in number and resources as well as its expertise, the government has initiated a partnership and collaborative effort between private and public law enforcement agencies in the country for the sole purpose of homeland security. It is perceived that this partnership is vital in preventing domestic and international terrorism. This cooperation will also fill the gap that the two agencies lack and define their overlapping roles to function effectively. In the past, the private security group has already been working with police by sharing information but this time the collaboration is serious enough to warrant such a noble mission by sharing one goal in defending the country from terrorist attacks.

Working together, private security and law enforcement can realize impressive benefits: creative problem solving, increased training opportunities, information, data, and intelligence sharing, “force multiplier” opportunities, access to the community through private sector communications technology, and reduced recovery time following disasters. (Morabito & Greenberg, p. 3). Perhaps this would be the best time to develop trust with each other eliminating misunderstandings of the past and move forward to secure freedom from those who want to destroy it.

Private and Public law enforcement have a lot to learn from each other. Each could complement the weakness of the other and affirm their strengths together as they open opportunities towards a manageable security plan for America. Unifying their resources and information gathering could lead to better and efficient crime prevention efforts. Coordinating and understanding the responsibilities of each other could likewise result in a more accurate and timely response during emergencies and disasters that could help and save numerous lives.

Clearly this collaboration will have a positive impact not only on national security but in our communities knowing that the citizens are properly protected from the bad elements of society. Our country would be a better world to live if all security agencies of private and public joined forces to keep us safe. With terrorism at hand, efficient security measures are top priority but this could only be achieved if there is harmony among law enforcement agencies.


  • Morabito, A. & Greenberg, S. (2005). Engaging the Private Sector to Promote Homeland Security: Law Enforcement-Private Security Partnerships. U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Assistance. NCJ 210678. Retrieved February, 17, 2007, from
  • Joh, E. E. (2004). The Paradox of Private Policing. The Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology Vol. 95, No. 1. Northwestern University, School of Law. 0091-4169/04/9501-0049
  • Borja, J. (1998). Some aspects of the private provision of security (with focus on policing). A Thesis. ERASMUS Programme in Law and Economics, University of Vienna. Retrieved February 17, 2007, from
  • Lubrinco Group Ltd., Inc. (2002). The Role of Private Security in Law Enforcement (Presented at the 1998 conference of the American Society of Law Enforcement Trainers). Specialized Training. Retrieved February 17, 2007, from
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