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Police: Private Police and Industrial Security

Scope Of Security Work, Nature Of Security Work, Legal Authority, Public Vis-à-vis Private Police

In this entry the terms private security and private police are used interchangeably. However, private security more often refers to in-house security (personnel who conduct policing activities within an organization), and private policing refers to contract security (security guards/officers hired by organizations to secure and protect assets and personnel). These terms are used synonymously because the history and functioning of in-house and contract personnel is fairly similar. Contract personnel (typically uniformed) do policing more often than in-house personnel, but there are circumstances and contexts in which in-house personnel, although not uniformed, conduct policing activities very similar to those of public police and contract personnel.

The growth of the private security industry is generally perceived as a twentieth-century phenomenon. However, policing by private organizations can be traced back far into history. This is particularly the case with market economies in which competing interest groups influence the growth of private policing in contrast to single party societies, or single order religious or political societies, where competing policing organizations are generally not tolerated. The history of private and public policing is intertwined. In England, it is likely that private policing (rather narrowly defined historically) both preceded and necessitated the introduction of public police.

The emergence of state-controlled law enforcement, particularly in England, grew out of private organizations that were established to maintain public order, as well as to enhance private interests. Earlier work on private policing in London during the 1800s suggests that Jonathan Wild was one of the first private police agents to contribute to maintaining social order. During this period, property crime was rampant in London; Wild, who was labeled "thief taker," retrieved stolen goods and helped police to solve many cases for a fee. Even the first forerunners of public police, the Bow Street Runners, were funded by prosperous merchants and business interests. Many competing organizations arose during this time. Wealthy merchants hired armed guards to secure private property.

In the United States, private policing in the form of contract services essentially grew out of a public policing, paramilitary model. New York was the first city to establish a police force in 1844; in 1855 Allan Pinkerton, Chicago's first public detective and Cook County Deputy Sheriff, established the first private police organization, called the NorthWest Police Agency, in Chicago. By the end of the century there were fifteen private policing agencies in Chicago and twenty in New York. Private police organizations probably grew not because of the inadequacy of the public forces, but rather because the demand for policing exceeded the supply, and because the private agencies could be manipulated more effectively than the public.

The Pinkerton, Burns, and Wackenhut agencies are some of the more well known private policing agencies, and they still exist today under the same names. Both Pinkerton and Burns, as former U.S. Secret Service Agents, adopted that agency's organizational style. The highly centralized operations of the Secret Service were characterized by the collection of information, dossiers on suspects, extensive case files, methods of surveillance, and undercover operations. They went to great lengths to separate themselves from private investigators whose reputations were unfavorable in the popular culture of the time.

These agencies supplied contract security guards in large numbers to major industrial establishments. The activities of private police agencies as strikebreakers during the early part of the twentieth century helped earn private police a tarnished image. Of particular interest were personnel involved in security functions within companies. Referred to as in-house security, their origins are of considerable interest, but are little studied. The industrial giant Ford Motor Company employed as many as 3,500 persons in the early 1930s in a private police force, which was known as the "The Ford Service."

In the 1950s and 1960s there was a steady increase in the number of people employed in the private security industry, particularly in the contract-security services. Today, private security industry employees far outnumber those employed in public policing. Private security companies in the United States number over ten thousand, with estimated annual revenues exceeding $15 billion. Conservative employment estimates for the United States suggest that there are about 67,000 registered private investigators, over 27,600 in-house store detectives, 371,300 security officers, and 95,800 managers and staff representing in total well over 500,000 personnel. The 1999 Contract Security Industry data reveal that there are over 719,000 contract guards. Employment of guards is expected to grow faster than the average growth for other industries.


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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal Law