Private Police: Coming to a Neighborhood Near You?

Psst! Private police may be already there.

One of more than 30,000 gated communities that exist in America where private, not city or county police, guard and even patrol.

imagesIf you are wealthy you most likely already do not rely on public police for all your police services.

By 1997, an estimated 20,000 gated communities had been built across the country. Approximately 40% of new homes in California are behind walls. In 1997, estimates of the number of people in gated communities ranged from 4 million in 30,000 communities up to around 8 million, with a ½ million in California alone.

Hot Springs Village (Arkansas) is the largest gated community in the United States with more than 26,000 heavily-wooded acres. HSV is governed by the HSV Property Owners’ Association, a private, tax-exempt home owners association. — Wikipedia

For the wealthy, their neighborhood may already be gated with a private guard in attendance around the clock to screen visitors and control access. You may also have your entire neighborhood under constant video surveillance. At your place of work, you most likely will have uniformed private security at your entrances and parking facilities. You most likely will also have employees who do a number of security and quasi-police services for your company; services above and beyond what public police can or will provide.

I write about this today because I am very concerned about the future of our public police in light of the negative publicity police have received since the early days of Ferguson. If things do not dramatically change in the very near future, police as we know them may cease to exist.

Over the years and since 9/11, private security expenditures have already greatly overshadowed what citizens pay in their municipal taxes. Slowly, but surely, private security is protecting the homes and business of those of means.

In response, citizens who live in poor neighborhoods, lacking the resources or political power to get police to listen to them and be responsive, and change, they cry, in desperation, for community control of police.

To try and get a handle on this, I have listed three of the largest and most powerful security firms in the world. Take a look at the services they provide. And then start thinking about the possibility that a city, or other political jurisdiction, could enlist them to provide the services that particular jurisdiction desires. There would be no conflict as to which laws they may be directed to enforce and those which the community wishes to overlook. Think about it. It may soon come to pass.

1. G4S

1. G4S

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G4S describes itself as “the world’s leading global security and outsourcing group,” specializing “in outsourcing of business processes in sectors where security and safety risks are considered a strategic threat.” The British multinational security giant was set up in 2004 when London-based company Securicor amalgamated with Danish business Group 4 Falck. Currently, G4S employs more than 620,000 people, which makes it the third biggest employer in the private sector globally. In 2012 G4S turned over well over $12 billion. The company offers a range of services, including the supply of security personnel, monitoring equipment, response units and secure prisoner transportation. G4S also works with governments overseas to deliver security.


2. Securitas AB

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Established in Helsingborg, Sweden in 1934, Securitas AB is a worldwide security company with head offices in Stockholm. In 2012 the company had around 300,000 workers spread out over 53 countries and an annual revenue of over $10 billion. Securitas AB’s services include guards and patrols, investigations, home alarm systems, loss prevention, security consulting and guard dog supply. Its three chief departments are Security Services Europe, Security Services Ibero-America and Security Services North America. To facilitate its cash in transit service, Securitas AB operates specialist vehicles with metal safes as well as a fleet of bulletproof jeeps. It also specializes in securing sporting, business and recreational events.

3. ADT

3. ADT

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ADT Corporation was founded in 1874 and today is one of America’s leading alarm and security monitoring companies. Based in Boca Ranton, Florida, the company operates in 35 countries around the world, supplying alarms, monitoring equipment and peace of mind to homes and small businesses. In South Africa, ADT provides armed response teams and around-the-clock surveillance. Originally known as American District Telegraph, ADT started out as a telegraph delivery business. Then from 1910, under new leadership from AT&T, it started to switch focus to other fields such as fire and intruder alarms. In 2011 ADT boasted an estimated 6.4 million clients and yearly turnover of $3.1 billion. And in 2012 it split from Swiss parent company Tyco International and commenced trading on the New York Stock Exchange as an independent company.

[More security companies and their rankings can be found HERE.]

Recently, Carimah Townes wrote about private security in the Washington, DC area and the death of a young man, Alonzo Smith, by security police in “Think Progress.”

“Special police officer activity is even harder to track. As is the case with the two involved in [Alonzo] Smith’s homicide, official investigations are conducted behind closed doors. And because they technically work for private companies, special officers and their employers aren’t legally obligated to respond to public records requests.

“Beyond DC, a handful of cities and states contract with security companies to employ special police officers who face far less scrutiny than traditional law enforcement, even though they operate almost identically. These companies establish their own standards and procedures, disciplinary measures, and managerial discretion (my emphasis)

“They are then hired by local businesses, government agencies, schools, and developers who might want extra security in their buildings— many of which are occupied by poor residents of color.

“Today, D.C. has 120 private companies that employ 16,580 law enforcement agents: 7,720 special officers along with 8,860 guards, stationed at apartment buildings, colleges, commercial buildings, and hospitals, compared to approximately 3,700 Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) officers in the city. Some are stationed in D.C. government buildings, including the Wilson Building, where the mayor and city council member’s offices are located. And 4,523 of those special officers are armed (my highlighting).

“Even though they are hired by private companies, special officers are commissioned by the city government to work alongside but independently of the MPD.

“The primary difference between the MPD’s officers and special officers is that the latter group’s authority is limited to the private properties they’re hired to protect, whereas the MPD has jurisdiction everywhere. In many ways, though, the line between MPD officers and special officers is a blurry one…” (my emphasis).

Read her entire article HERE.


  1. The trouble is that private police have been used to suppress labor strikes in America during the 19th and 20th century. Even if you live in a gated community like an apartment complex, it is sometimes hard to get the private security police to respond because their main job was to protect business areas. There were people from other apartment complex having picnic or swimming activities far in the night and in the morning hours in my own apartment complex. I had to call the private security company several times because they were not responding in a timely manner. The taxpayers is probably indirectly paying these private police forces since we are giving tax breaks and subsidies to the corporations.


  2. You will still have the wealthy people and the corporations still needing the public sector police to keep the population under control.


  3. I have worked in healthcare security for over a decade. I am currently in a supervisory position. I do not support replacing public police with private “police” (As some radical libertarians do). Instead, I believe that society needs to find a better balance between private and public protection. Remember, private protection preceded public protection by millennia. Government police are pretty recent invention.

    Private protection is not always used to protect rich people as the article and Gunther seem to be inferring. Look at my role. Do you consider nurses, behavioral health clinicians, EMT’s, housekeepers, hospital patients and random people visiting hospitals to be wealthy? Well, that’s who my colleagues and I protect and serve. And in a sector with high rates of assault like healthcare (One of its few rivals is late night retail according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics) you better have a robust protection program. And no, just calling in the cops doesn’t cut it!

    This leads me to my main point: Private protection should be used to fill gaps that public police are unlikely to fill. Would there be any particular advantage to bringing in the local cops to provide security at the hospital? Do they understand the culture of a healthcare organization? Are they prepared to handle agitated PATIENTS with minimal force? Or will they just stand around, hit on nurses and play with their smartphones in the ER until something cool happens? Or look at bars or nightclubs. Professional–And I mean professional–security staff can protect patrons and save on excess police calls. They can also help the club owner to stay on the good side of the liquor commission. Bucket-of-blood bars tend to close down pretty quick, as I’m sure the Chief knows.

    And so what if a rich person hires private protection. Public figures tend to have unique issues (Read: Stalkers) that most of us don’t have. Having personal protection specialists (What popular culture calls “bodyguards”) available may actually save taxpayers money due to a reduction in police calls for service from this high profile person.

    The police are primarily reactive. If you want to have a free(er) society, I’d argue that’s not a bad thing. But some places and some people have an extra set of issues, and that’s where folks like me come in (As an added bonus, I don’t have to be a drug warrior or fill traffic quotas to work in my field). This discussion should be about balance, not about replacing anyone.


  4. What bugs me is that you have public sector police officers guarding important government buildings like the Governor and state legislatures; however, the rest of the government workforce have private sector police in order to protect them.

    “And so what if a rich person hires private protection. Public figures tend to have unique issues (Read: Stalkers) that most of us don’t have. Having personal protection specialists (What popular culture calls “bodyguards”) available may actually save taxpayers money due to a reduction in police calls for service from this high profile person.”

    From what I have heard, the LAPD had stationed a patrol car outside Michael Jackson’s residence every day until his death. You wonder how much that cost the taxpayer? Many ordinary people have to deal with stalkers as well such as ex-spouses, ex-girlfriend/boyfriends and some of those stalkers happened to be law enforcement as well and the ordinary can’t afford to hire private bodyguards to protect them 24/7. Historically speaking, the private police were used by corporations to harass, frightened, and even murder striking workers particularly when the towns were company towns and had more immunity from prosecution due to city, county, state government turning a blind eye since those governments were brought and paid for by the corporations and the wealthy people.


  5. Yes Gunther, corporations have used private security and a cozy relationship with government police to intimidate labor throughout history. I am well aware of this. I am pleased to tell you, however, that I have never been assigned to beat up nurses because they voiced complaints about their working conditions ; ) . I think your view of my field is myopic and distorted by your obsession with corporate power.

    Of course police protect state capitols and federal buildings because they are PUBLIC PROPERTY. Are you suggesting that my hospital or perhaps some random corporate office downtown should have local police protection? Having police involved in these activities would be controversial to say the least. I suspect you would be the first to call this fascism.

    I’m not sure you understand the difference between the roles of private protection and public police (They are NOT the same job). I’m also not sure you understand the difference between public and private property, but this is common, in my experience. Many aggressive people I deal with think they have a right to cause disturbances at a hospital because, they claim, they are on “public property.” But providing a public service does not mean that your institution is public property (Like a sidewalk).

    And I am fully aware that normal working people have stalkers and domestic issues. My wife has dealt with a couple possessive exes. Some of the better firms offering personal protection services offer pro bono services to victims of domestic battery/stalking. Sometimes there is a partnership between some these firms and domestic violence shelters or similar organizations. As I suggested in my first comment, they are filling gaps that the police are unlikely to fill (Assisting with development of a victim safety plan, escorts to court, etc.).

    You balk at LAPD posting a patrol car outside Michael Jackson’s residence, but then you advocate a proliferation of public police in spaces that are served pretty well by private protection staff that actually understand the culture of the organization they work in. If police do not understand the neighborhoods they are serving, why do you want them protecting your workplace. Are you fixated on their guns and expanded arrest powers or just there status as government employees? Do you automatically associate police with superior training and ethics (If so, then why does this blog exist?). Having worked in this field for a while, I can tell you that a gun and police arrest power would matter very little to me.

    Just a few things to think about, Gunther, because you are all over the place on this one. Shouting about “The corporations, man,” does not make people safer. But I guess that’s why I work in this field and you don’t.


  6. Correction: I made an error in my pending reply to Gunther. After re-reading his comment, I realized that he was not complaining about private sector employees being protected by private security. Rather, he was talking about government workers being protected by private contractors instead of sworn officers, like those who work in state capitols. Hence, my disagreement is not as vociferous as before. I apologize for my mistake. Gunther is not correct on everything, but he is not as confused as I made him seem.

    But, I’m not sure that all government agencies will find it feasible to place sworn police officers in every government office. My wife worked in public aid and they had an armed private security officer in the building. I’ve seen the same setup in social security offices and even federal buildings (The US Marshals typically contract federal building/courthouse security out).

    Aside from that error, I stand by most of my critique: Private protection can be used very effectively to fill gaps that police can’t or wont fill. And repeating stories about strike breaking and other ugly episodes from the past (Or even more recent overreactions, such as the incident at the pipeline in North Dakota) does not change this.


  7. I still don’t like it when you have politicians who hate government; however, they get protection from the public sector police. If they don’t like government so much, then maybe they should forfeit protection from the public sector police, and put those cops on security duty to protect ordinary government workers or re-assign the officers back to regular police duties. I still standby about the private police considering the fact that private police in North Dakota attack those protestors with dogs and spray with no legal justification and poor training.


  8. One thing you can say about the public sector police in the communist countries is at least, you could find them guarding railroad yards, airports, ports, factories, and other government buildings not just the ones that house the top politicians even though the crime rate was low in those countries. At least those governments were determined to provide policing no matter where their citizens were working.


  9. “Do you automatically associate police with superior training and ethics (If so, then why does this blog exist?). Having worked in this field for a while, I can tell you that a gun and police arrest power would matter very little to me.”

    No I don’t associate police with superior training and ethics; otherwise, people like Rev Couper would not fighting so hard to improve the police in the first place.

    “I’m not sure you understand the difference between the roles of private protection and public police.”

    I am well aware of the difference of the private protection and the public police. However, it doesn’t change the fact, that many of the private police (like the public sector police) are not up to standards likeand not being held accountable as Rev Couper pointed out. Nowaday, some private police companies (like the public sector police) are becoming more like a military force when you look at their equipment and in some cases are taking over regular police functions: If the private police had superior training and ethics, the public would probably want them to replace the public sector police a long time ago.

    “Shouting about “The corporations, man,” does not make people safer.”

    Well, proclaiming loudly “that we support our police” does not make the communities any safer and making that kind of statement has not lead to any kind of long term meaningful, positive reforms of the American police.

    “But I guess that’s why I work in this field and you don’t.”

    Yeah, and many people like Rev Couper tried to work in the public sector police and bring meaninful changes, but face resistance and outright hostility from their fellow officers; otherwise, policing in America would be up to the standards of the various European police departments,


  10. “But I guess that’s why I work in this field and you don’t.”

    Well, there was a court case where a person who had a high IQ who sue his police department for discrimination because of his intelligence; however, he lost. I would not be telling people why you work in policing (whether public or private) and they are not. You need to look every person’s situation on a case by case basis before you make a broad statement like that.


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