Hybrid Policing: The Role of Private Security by Richard Pendry

Hybrid policing refers to the activity undertaken by a mixture of public and private agents to maintain law and order. It was first introduced as a concept in the 1992, long before the austerity measures that consecutive UK governments introduced, slashing budgets to the public sector and more specifically the police.

With the decrease in services the police can provide with a reduced budget, and an accelerating crime rate – figures for England and Wales showing a year-on-year increase of 14% – there is no wonder that alternatives are now being sought on how better to apply a hybrid-policing methodology.

Figures show that private security guards in the UK significantly outnumber police officers. The Security Industry Authority (SIA) has 367,724 licenced individuals on its books. On the other hand, the number of police officers (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) shows an approximate total of 151,000 police officers.

Demand for private security is growing, not just in the UK but throughout the world. Estimates for 2020 suggest a global figure of £192bn. But with literally and army to call on (SIA licence holders outnumber the combined total of the UK Armed Forces and the police) you would think that the police would utilise this burgeoning asset. But here’s the thing, the police are not.

A security guard in general has the same powers as a member of the public. However, under the Community Safety and Accreditation Scheme (CSAC), police chiefs are allowed to delegate further powers to ‘accredited persons’ – the powers revolve around Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs) for various offences, directing traffic and even taking someone’s details etc. But in most circumstances the police chiefs are reluctant to do so.

I can understand this to a certain extent, as one would not want the law applied by just anyone. But the opportunity to allow members of the private security to take pressure off already overburdened police shoulders is going amiss, and its going amiss because of a crucial reason: there is a substantial mistrust that exists between the private security industry (PSI) and the police – more specifically from the police.

In 2017, Professor Martin Gill conducted a survey amongst police offices serving in three different types of police forces: urban, urban/rural and rural. Over 1,300 officers responded, the answers making some interesting reading. When asked what groups were important in helping the police do their work, private security guards came last, behind neighbourhood watch and council street wardens.

Figure 1. Professor Martin Gill at the SIA Skills Summit, March 2020

Other sentiments expressed were that private security guards were unreliable and poorly trained. Reservations were also raised about the motives of private security, particularly due to the fact that they are accountable to business rather than the public. 

But the PSI needs to be aware that the negative image that many associate with the sector is much of their own doing. The G4s fiasco with the London Olympics did nothing to enhance confidence, nor does the on-going perception – whether right or wrong – that security guards are recruited from the long term unemployed who drifted into the trade and have no idea what they are doing.

Figure 2 Groups considered quite or very important in helping police in their work. Courtesy of Perpetuity Research & Consultancy

There is hope however. As a provider of bespoke security training I was invited to the SIA Skill Summit that was held in London just prior to the lockdown. The event was held in order to discuss and identify the future skills that the security industry needs to take it forward. Many of the industry stalwarts were in attendance allowing the delegates the wealth of their expertise.

Personal development, career passports and apprentices were all identified as important elements to ensure that the PSI attracts the right individuals and keeps them in the industry by ensuring long-term career incentives.

Proactive companies – those that ensure their people are trained and are looked after – will no doubt increase their market share at the expense of security companies who scrape through doing the bear minimum. A good example of this are organisations who have invested getting CSAC accreditation. The Met Police has recognised this incentive stating that ‘bringing them into the wider policing family there will be greater liaison between the Police and accredited organisations. Improved sharing of information will help them to operate more effectively and enhance co-ordination of local problem solving initiatives.’ Something as we have mentioned, that is sorely lacking at present.

Richard C Pendry

Richard has been delivering intuitive solutions to the security and risk management industry for the last 15 years, in most of the worlds challenging environments.

He works as a consultant and trainer delivering Risk, Crisis and Business Continuity management and Counter Terrorism courses on an international basis. He holds degrees in Security and Risk Management (Leicester) and a master’s degree in Terrorism and Political Violence (St Andrews). He is also a member of the Institute of Strategic Risk Management (ISRM), has written articles for industry magazines and has appeared on UK TV and radio as a subject matter expert. His debut novel, Damascus Redemption was published in 2016.