Australia’s private security industry – and its crucial relationship with public police agencies – has been examined for the first time in a ground-breaking university study.
The private security industry is growing at a faster rate than the growth in police numbers and the Australian population. Already double the size of police services around the country in terms of personnel, the security industry now comprises more than 5500 businesses, which generate combined revenues well in excess of $4 billion per year.
Professor Rick Sarre, Centre for Regulation and Market Analysis (University of South Australia) and Professor Tim Prenzler, Centre of Excellence in Policing and Security (Griffith University) have just released the findings of a three-year benchmark study conducted with funds provided by the Australian Research Council and the Australian Security Industry Association Limited (ASIAL).
‘Private Security and Public Interest: Exploring Private Security Trends and Directions in the New Era of Plural Policing’ is the first comprehensive study of the security industry in Australia.
The report not only identifies the dimensions of the industry, but also addresses and provides recommendations for regulation, preferred legal empowerments and immunities, occupational health and safety concerns and, perhaps most importantly, the prerequisites for effective partnerships between public and private personnel.
PRIVATE SECTOR GROWTH
The private security industry provides an ever-growing range of crime prevention services to business, government and the community. So much so that citizens in their everyday life are far more likely to encounter private security personnel than they are police officers.
While the industry has experienced a period of profound growth, it has been plagued by a poor public perception. The actions of a few individuals and alleged links between security companies and organised crime have all made headlines and cast a shadow over the industry.
In order to build and maintain confidence in the sector, it is vital that the industry and governments remain committed to setting the highest standard of competency, integrity and regulation. The research addressed all of these issues.
The research findings included:
- Growing reliance on public/private policing partnerships – security and police personnel work together to provide for citizen safety in a large range of settings. Governments and police managers know the enormous potential benefits of such partnerships, particularly when they help public police perform their role as peacekeepers.
- Need to review the legal powers and responsibilities of private security personnel – as policing shifts further into private hands, the traditional legal powers that apply to ‘policing’ are becoming outdated. Private security personnel currently operate with vague powers and immunities that are dependent on fine legal distinctions and differ markedly from those of the public police (even though security personnel are often carrying out many of the same tasks in the same precincts). This is particularly so for precincts that require ‘dual’ security and policing services such as shopping precincts, entertainment venues and sports stadiums. These inconsistencies extend across jurisdictions, making it near impossible for security staff to operate effectively without multiple licences and diverse training.
- Need for a national approach – the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) has concurrently sought to install a model of national regulation of guarding services that facilitates not only better management of those entering the industry, but also more flexibility for security personnel wishing to operate in more than one jurisdiction. Their foreshadowed changes are crucial to ensuring that there is confidence in the ability of security professionals to carry out their tasks safely and competently. At this stage, however, the COAG reforms are behind schedule, though many of the policy directives, such as national criminal history checks, have been implemented by all jurisdictions.
- A challenging work environment – the harms facing security officers in the working environment are, generally speaking, on par with those that police officers face. A survey of security staff revealed that, across their careers, 58 percent of officers will experience a major assault, 70 percent a minor assault, 92 percent verbal abuse, 87 percent verbal threats, and 88 percent threatening or intimidating behaviour. Security officers rank highest for fatal incidents of work-related violence. Security officers are two and half times more likely than police to report head injuries in an occupational violence claim.
Diversified public/private security partnerships are set to continue into the future, with the private sector providing an essential service in protecting people from crime and violence. This trend is strong and continuing.
ASIAL’s chief executive, Bryan de Caires has welcomed the report’s release as “marking an important milestone for the industry by recognising the tremendous and ever-growing crime prevention role performed by the sector”.
Adds De Caires, “It is hoped that the report’s release will act as a catalyst for greater discussion of the public policy implications of the industry’s evolving role, and the imperative for an effective national regulatory regime.”