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Police: Private Police and Industrial Security

Public Vis-à-vis Private Police

In recent years there has been an increase in the attention paid to developing working relationships between seemingly similar but fundamentally different organizations that regulate public life. There are numerous examples of established relationships between law enforcement and private security organizations at the city, state, and federal levels. Some of these cooperative efforts date to the early 1980s. However, very little research has addressed the attitudes of law enforcement officers and security professionals toward each other. Findings from earlier research in general suggest that security professionals believe that law enforcement officers do not respect them. The findings also suggest that law enforcement officers are primarily concerned with arrests and less concerned with crime prevention. In addition, it has been found that law enforcement agencies solicit information from security agencies but do not reciprocate in kind. Another common finding is that police officers believe that private security forces are not professional, that they are client-oriented, and that they are reluctant to prosecute. Other studies have found that security professionals rated their relationship with the police as good to excellent, while the police rated their relationship with security professionals as good to poor. Cross-national research on law enforcement and security relationships in Singapore, Brazil, China, India, Russia, and South Africa also suggest similar findings.

Recent work in the United States on the relationship between law enforcement officers and security professionals' suggests that security professionals believe law enforcement officers have a negative view of security professionals, while law enforcement officers believe that security professionals view police positively. Law enforcement officers typically have a neutral view of security, while security personnel hold the police in relatively high regard. On the issue of working relationships, interestingly, police officers believe that the existing working relationship between the two sectors is good. Conversely, security personnel view the state of the working relationship as poor. Not surprisingly, the results also suggest that police officers perceive security personnel as unequal partners in crime prevention, though security professionals were more likely to believe that they are coproducers of crime prevention efforts with policing agencies. Despite these differences, both groups acknowledged that there are at least some cooperative efforts between the two sectors, and that they could do more to foster and encourage a better working relationship with the other.

Due to the changing nature of security work, the distinction between public and private policing is becoming blurred. For example, public law enforcement officers often moonlight as security officers. While in some instances these officers wear official police uniforms and drive police cruisers while working at off-duty jobs, police officers working as security officers often act in a manner similar to private security officers. Private security forces in some areas are vested with full police powers. Examples from South Carolina (Sea Pines and Hilton Head Plantation), Virginia (Aquia Harbor), Oregon (Sun River), Tennessee (Fairfield Glade), and Pennsylvania (Poconos) suggest that their security forces remain privately controlled, paid, and attired, but are court sworn with the full capacity to arrest, search, and seize. In the Poconos, private communities have their security patrols deputized under Pennsylvania's dormant 1895 Night Watchman Act, originally adopted to enable coal companies to create their own union-busting police. In Michigan, similar legislation recently vested private security at certain malls and hospitals with total police power. Frenchman's Creek, a wealthy gated enclave in Florida's Palm Beach Gardens, boasts its own five-man Special Tactical Operation Patrol (STOP), which does not have full police powers but is equipped with camouflage clothing, night-vision scopes, infrared heat detectors, high-speed vehicles, and specially trained dogs.

In some types of police/security relationships, the distinction between public and private police is even further blurred. If one examines the nature of public and private police relationships, one can use the metaphor of cold-fusion to describe the complex and legally blurred relationships between law enforcement and security. An example of this type of interaction involves a joint police/security interaction where the recording industry contributed $100,000 to assist the Federal Bureau of Investigation (F.B.I.) in investigating pirated tapes and records. In another example, the F.B.I. and IBM Corporation jointly participated in a sting operation involving the sale of computer secrets in Silicon Valley. In yet another example, the Law Enforcement Intelligent Unit (LEIU) was founded as a private organization for local and state police to share intelligence files. Its membership is restricted to public police. The nature of the organizational culture permits the exchange of information that would not otherwise be possible by agents acting strictly in a public capacity. Thus these relationships provide opportunities for blending, but they blur boundaries between law enforcement and security organizations.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal LawPolice: Private Police and Industrial Security - Scope Of Security Work, Nature Of Security Work, Legal Authority, Public Vis-à-vis Private Police