A report from the Security Research Initiative (SRI) discusses findings from responses from more than 1,000 serving police officers on attitudes towards the private security sector (private security suppliers and corporate security departments).

Overall, said the report, it was evident that the police officers surveyed view the private security sector as useful in some of the aspects of the work that it does, even necessary in some cases. That said, there is a lack of appetite in the private security sector taking a greater role in supporting or working in partnership with the police, the report said, but especially where this would amount to private security undertaking ‘police’ tasks in public space. 

Key findings from the report include:

  • Close to 6 in 10 believed private security plays a minor role in protecting the public
  • Close to 7 in 10 believed security officers do not act as the eyes and ears of the police, although more than 4 in 10 thought they should
  • The police generally favored private security supporting private events, although for some this was because they saw the role as
  • administrative (e.g. checking tickets on entry) rather than policing
  • Corporate security departments were seen as important in helping the police in their work by 62%, security officers much less so, 36%
  • 8 in 10 stated that business needed to be primarily responsible for protecting itself against fraud and cyber crime. Only only a half of the sample believed that the police has a responsibility to investigate all frauds and all cyber crimes

Future Possibilities

  • Close to 8 in 10 were against security officers working on behalf of the police as first responders to incidents
  • More than half disagreed with the suggestion that collaborative working between the police and private security is essential given the current limitations of police funding
  • Respondents were critical of businesses, with approaching 9 in 10 indicating that they need to be more committed to sharing information with the police
  • A much smaller majority – but over a half - admitted that the police also need to improve here, in terms of being more committed to sharing information with businesses
  • Police officers responding were not typically supportive of private security seconding officers, nor in conferring additional powers on private officers. Even the idea of businesses injecting money into the force to enable a response to certain crime types was not overwhelmingly viewed as positive

General Perceptions

  • A majority of respondents believed that both the police and the public had a generally negative view of private security
  • Very few believed that police officers viewed private security as essential partners (4%). About 3 in 10 felt private security was tolerated
  • albeit more than half felt they were sometimes of assistance.
  • More than half felt that private security officers are not sufficiently well trained to be useful
  • More than three quarters felt that private security does not enhance the UK policing brand
  • More than 6 in 10 felt that private security did not enhance the reputation of the police
  • Close to 3 in 10 agreed with the suggestion that some specialist private security services operate with more expertise than the comparative services offered by the police
  • More agreed than disagreed that there are individuals in the private sector that they respect for their excellent work (43% compared to 17%)

The Level of Trust

  • Half felt that the private security sector cannot be trusted
  • More than two thirds of respondents did not consider private security trustworthy to charge a fair price
  • Nearly four fifths of respondents did not agree that private security could be trusted to be impartial
  • Approaching 8 in 10 police officers admitted to being suspicious of the profit motive of private security
  • More than three quarters of officers noted that the lack of accountability of the private security sector undermines police confidence

Key Opportunities

  • Nearly three fifths of respondents felt that there is a lack of leadership in the police service about how best to work with private security
  • Generally speaking, the police do not profess to be extensively knowledgeable about private security or highly experienced in working
  • with them
  • There is some evidence that much of what the police know about private security comes directly from interaction with private security rather than for example internal training
  • Half felt that if the police were responsible for accrediting private security, it would increase police trust in the work of the private security sector. A majority also agreed that police trust in private security would increase if the police were involved in training them
  • The role of private security (and especially suppliers) in helping to prevent crime is not enough to persuade police officers of its worth. They need to be more informed about the work that it does, not least in supporting the public good, and making a distinction between using private security to replace police on the front line

Professor Martin Gill, who led the research, noted: "The SRI members wanted to conduct a study to look at where the security sector should go, what the barriers to progress are and suggest ways in which it can develop. Hopefully the findings will be seen as a starting point. What is clear is that private security is an essential part of public protection but it is not strategically harnessed and its potential is under estimated and under played. It is not in anyone’s interest for that to continue."

Tom M. Conley, CPP, CISM, CMAS, President & CEO of The Conley Group, Inc., told Security magazine: “After reading the SRI report, 'Towards a Strategy for Change for the Security Sector' along with an accompanying piece of work, 'Police Views on Private Security,' the results of how law enforcement in the UK views private security in the UK is not surprising whatsoever. Not only does the law in the UK prohibit security from carrying firearms, but UK law also prohibits security from carrying ANY less-than-lethal weapons, even those that are used for self-defense. This irrational blunder is perhaps more plausible when one understands the sheer absurdity that most UK police officers do not carry firearms. This ridiculous and unreasonable policy for UK police has affected security in the UK to the point that they are literally unable to develop and deploy the operational capabilities needed to address real protective issues. In short, UK law literally prevents security professionalizing. This low level of professional esteem of security in the UK is further evidenced by the fact that there is a very low per capita number of IFPO Certified Protection Officers (CPO) in the UK. When private security in the UK starts to professionalize, we will see a dramatic increase in the number of CPOs. Only when antiquated and nonsensical law change occur will UK security then have the ability to truly support law enforcement in the UK. And, unless that changes, I suspect UK police will continue to view private security there as having little or no value when, in reality, it is UK’s outdated laws that have no value.”