Public Policing Verses Private Security


A police is an official personnel authorized to enforce law through provision of legal services and maintenance of order using every humane mean necessary. Policing is considered one of the major and important functions of criminal and judicial systems of any country. It is considered the strength of any democracy geared towards achievement of quality of life of its citizens is primarily determined in large extent by the ability of policing to discharge their duties and responsibilities.

Policing in United States

United States of America has experienced several security challenges both external and internal especially after the September 11th 2001 bombing of the twin towers by terrorists. The ability of policing capabilities to function effectively and efficiently has therefore come under serious questions through examining past, present and future policing strategies. This event place law enforcement agencies under tremendous pressure to review and conduct their security, crime prevention and response activities into check. This pressure extended up to private security organizations that were required to perform their traditional responsibilities of security provision to people, information and property besides tireless efforts in provision of homeland security both to external and internal threats while minding and considering their prime objective of market profitability (Bayley & Clifford, 2001, p.g 23). Private security firms protect 85 percent of United States infrastructure. The above events underscored the importance of private and public policing cooperation and high levels of partnership. This cooperation is vital with the realization that such a move would improve and strengthen these force’s abilities to protect the masses they were sworn to serve (Sue, 2011, 12).

Public policing; Roles and responsibilities

This is most vital agency of the federal government in enforcing laws, responding to emergences, maintaining peace, detecting crime, assisting victims of crime besides provision of assistance in prosecuting offenders. Police are also mandated by criminal code of America to search arrest and carry out detention of suspects pending investigation of matters involving security breach. Police service is also involved in community services, support and outreach programs such as crime prevention and drug awareness.

Traditionally, police are also involved in protection of massive private properties like shopping malls, privately owned airports as well as sporting arenas. The police service in these functions mostly acts for the general public welfare as opposed to private security who solely acts for the owner’s interest. United States experiences several forms of policing and its administration is decentralized operational from local, state and finally the federal policing (Bayley & Clifford, 2001, p.g 28). 

Private security: Roles and Responsibilities

Private security consists of corporate security departments, alarm companies, guard companies, security equipment manufacturers, investigative firms, as well as armored car businesses. Private security has grown as a major development across the world in private policing. They compliment the efforts done by the state in enforcing law and order through public policing. Private security personnel are persons privately employed to provide security from criminal activities away from public policing. Their main functions and responsibilities ranges from household to commercial responsibilities (Connolly, 2003, p.g 17).

Private security is utilized by shop owners to guard their premises and against shoplifters. They are used to secure employees and shoppers besides personal safety of the masses. They are also used to escort female employees from places of work, shopping malls to their automobiles especially at night mostly in high crime areas. Private security has also been used to secure neighborhood associations and apartments where public policing is unavailable. Household gates are usually manned by private security. They vest every person entering and leaving the premises besides maintaining law and order within and surrounding the premises. Many learning institutions across the country have utilized the private security in provision of secure learning environment during both the day and night. In this connection, some guards are used to escort night students to and from class to their residence areas. The services of private security have been hired to patrol business areas and housing in many large cities across the country. Their services are also customized to meet individual needs as well as those of customers in shops and hotels (Greene, Thomas & Paul, 1993, p.g 26).

The increasing demand of private security results from the inadequacy of security provision by public policing. United States is estimated to employ more than 2 million of its citizens in policing both public and private security. Out of these, 708,000 are full time sworn in federal officers with additional of 88,500 federal law enforcers bringing the total number of official public police force to 797,000 public law enforcers. The rest of security team is composed of private security. Private security is also used in valuable transport and cash in transit by use of armored vehicles with armed guards. Their services are also used by courier companies in transport of fast and secure products like gold, jewels. Their services are as well used when there is need to empty cash machines for banks as well as transporting money for deposits where private businesspersons may not feel secure. Private security is also used in facilitation of security training courses, technical counter-surveillance besides screening of persons for business purposes. Their services are also employed in drug detection exercises as well security consultation (Bayley & Clifford, 2001, p.g 34).

Public and Private Policing Compared

There are several problems and challenges involved in co-working together of public and private security roles and responsibilities. Although both bodies share a wide range of common goals like recovery of stolen commodities, deterring and discovering of criminal activities as well as protecting life and property, it’s observed that public officers regard their private counter parts as inferior, low and inexperienced. Hence this creates an environment of mistrust between private security and law enforcement. Hence various efforts and commitments have been made to establish a cordial working relationship between these two bodies (Cunningham, 2003, p.g 35).

Private security has been considered costly than public policing due to interests involved with private security. When the latter is concerned with the interests of the few able in the society, public policing is involved in general protection of the public regardless of their social status. Public policing is financed through the government exchequer while individuals and corporate privately owned companies finance private security. With regard to public police and customer service, these are two things that don’t exist, on the other hand, private security do maintain the highest level of customer relations due to volatility of their jobs. Unlike in public policing, private security has fewer restrictions placed upon them hence they focus effectively and efficiently in carrying out their responsibilities. Depending on their employers, private security has a bargaining power for their salaries and has more technical and sophisticated equipments as opposed to their counterparts in public sector who do not enjoy such privileges. Public policing are well trained and assured of job retention compared to private security (Greene, Thomas & Paul, 1993, p.g 34).

Policy recommendations for public policing and private security

The paramount responsibility of these two bodies is provision of security and ensure safe environment, several policy recommendations needs to be considered. First a formal commitment for cooperation need be established between leaders of major private security organizations and law enforcement. All stakeholders should establish a joint funding and research activities on law enforcement and private security cooperation. A task force should be established to ensure issues hindering cordial working relationships and cooperation are streamlined. Lastly, local partnerships should be established to ensure present and future partnerships in training and orientation programs are sustained.



Bayley, D. H., Shearing, C. D., & National Institute of Justice (U.S.). (2001). The new structure of policing: Description, conceptualization and research agenda. Washington, DC: U.S. Dept. of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice.

Connolly, P., (2003). The Role of Private Security in Combating Terrorism,” Journal of Homeland Security. Oxford University Press

Cunningham, W. C., Strauchs, J. J., & Van, M. C. W., (2003). U.S. Private Security Trends. Amelia Island, Florida: Hallcrest Systems, Inc.

Greene, R., Thomas M., and Paul R., (1993). “Merging Public and Private Security for Collective Benefit:” Philadelphia’s Center City District.

Reid, S. T., & Reid, S. T. (2012). Criminal justice essentials. Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell.