Public Policing Versus Private Security

Public Policing Versus Private Security

Comparison Paper


Chris Grollnek

March 2011


The roles and responsibilities of public policing have been evolving for hundreds of years. Public policing practices originated from private citizens volunteering in their communities as watchmen during the evening hours. The need for private policing today continues to expand because of an increase in venues designed to hold a greater number of people. Both private and public policing will continue to be in demand as the fields expand. The need for accreditations and leadership will grow with the demand to ensure effectiveness within the criminal justice system. Mutually beneficial policies and procedures will assist in the growth as well as defining plans for implementation. Private police officers will continue to play a protection role in their duties whereas public officers will be held to a standard of enforcement.

Public Policing and Private Security Roles and Responsibilities       

Private security is an industry that continues to grow and evolve. The needs of society have created unlimited opportunities in this career field. The private side of policing dates back hundreds of years and not a new concept for its functions. The history of public policing currently practiced in America and several other countries originated from citizens providing security as neighborhood watchmen during the evening hours (Larrabee, 2007).

Private security professionals share similar responsibilities to public police officers such as general duties. Command presence, powers of observation, and uniformed visibility are deterrents practiced by both public and private police. Other similarities include functions of their daily duties such as patrols, report writing, and investigative duties. Although there are differences in duties, they mirror each other in scope (Larrabee, 2007).

Public police perform additional duties not typically carried out by private police. The difference in the two occupations is a matter of law. While both can be sworn to have ‘special police powers’, these are typically limited to public police officers. For reasons of certification, liability and oversight, private police are tasked with protection and public police are charged with enforcement.

Private police duties mirror that of public police in the aspect of crime prevention, loss prevention, investigations, and several types of detection. Private companies specializing in security employ private security officers for hire. In some instances, organizations create their own security force with specialized service unique to their need as opposed to public police. The need for additional resources of private security officers is the limited availably of government-employed police.

The main differences in private security and public police are their powers granted them through law known as ‘special police powers.’ These powers are available to licensed security personnel trained in their application where authorized by law. Typically these persons will have the same authority as public police officers with their jurisdiction limited to their operating location. The same special powers for private security are typically more limiting by the employer because of civil liability, but the power exist (Bates, 1989).

Sworn public police have powers vested in them capable of exercising them at all times throughout their jurisdiction. Public police jurisdiction is found in cities or counties where the officers are employed and the authority is extended throughout the state that holds their commissions. Actions of public police are scrutinized more than their counterparts in the private sector. Private police officers perform duties outlined within their policies and procedures and act if the situation dictates or at their choice. Public police have a sworn duty to act and are held to the standard to do so both criminally and civilly (Bates, 1989).

Today’s society has been responsible for the renewed focus on the needs of additional private security officers for protection. Architecture and development of large structures have created central locations for large amounts of people to gather creating a need for on site over-watch. The types of properties that create the need for private officers include mall style shopping centers, special event centers, sports complexes, private company campuses, and private residential developments. Public police do not have the resources to provide protection at structures this size while enforcing the laws within the community (Larrabee, 2007).

Leadership Differences Between Public and Private Police

Leadership in the public sector of policing has been studied and evaluated in every imaginable way. Recent studies show that police leadership is evolving and where wisdom, experience, bravery and integrity were hallmarks of a superior police leader, the model is changing. The new face of police leadership would show a dynamic and educated leader who studies teamwork and dispersed leadership practices. This approach to leadership translates into a managerial style that shares the responsibility of leadership practices with subordinates. This not only gives the opportunity to train the leaders of tomorrow, it divides the leadership in a division-by-division way working toward a common goal. These styles of leadership are not commonly practiced at this time but a steady shift to this model is evolving.

The more common style of police leadership is focused on the traditional hierarchical styles where leadership is one dimensional from the top down. The style is popular as it has been effective for so long despite the adoption of community-oriented policing that use different models for effectiveness. Community-based policing creates a requirement that officers become involved with the authority to solve common community issues at their discretion (Wuestewald & Steinheider, 2006).

Two common styles of leadership found in the private security profession are transformational and transactional. Transformational leadership styles tend to set and communicate goals, encourage, and motivate followers, and facilitate change. Transactional leadership is more of a form style leadership model that coordinates subordinates as set forth by policies, procedures, and standards (Leadership Styles, 2010).

Transformational leadership in the private police sectors would be found in a corporate environment where public relations are a substantial portion of the position. The need to effect change and motivate followers is ever-present when working in these environments. The more traditional and popular style of leadership in security would be transactional as the amount of agencies employing general-purpose security guards. Positions specializing in surveillance and facility security have limited public contact and the role is not as customer-oriented (Leadership Styles, 2010).

The Relationship Between Public and Private Policing in the Criminal Justice System

The criminal justice system holds private police and public police to different standards.   Public police upholding the law are held to the burden of probable cause or voluntary consent when initiating a contact. Private police are merely held to the direction of their scope of employment, which by nature circumvents the boundaries established for public police. This makes the private police industry a “broader enterprise than public policing, with a wider range of functions” (Larrabee, 2007, p. 3).

In Texas, the Private Security Bureau regulates all private security officers and has the responsibility to issue and monitor licensing practices. The funding for this bureau is much less than the commission for law enforcement although personnel licensed in security is far greater a number than that of police. With budget restraints, licensing is considered a revenue stream where regulation is a cost (Private Security Bureau, 2006).

Essential Polices for Public and Private Police Professionals

Policies and guidelines are important as they set a clear goal to accomplish a specific task while outlining objectives and standards. Public police are held to policy standards outlined and derived from both federal and state laws and statutes. These policies set boundaries for law enforcement officers to operate within. Adhering to policies ensures public trust by means of a measureable standard capable of being evaluated.

Essential policies for public officers are found in a general orders manual under a section generally titled ‘Professional Standards and Ethics.’ Sections of professional standards manuals do not typically include a standard operating policy; instead it is a guide to acceptable behavior. With the roles and responsibilities of public police forces developing into problem-solving, goal-oriented professionals; it is essential to have these in place.

Important qualities sought when hiring public police is integrity and one who is willing to lead a personal life unsullied by corruption and poor morale standards. The ability to outline that would not be reasonable if not set forth in a policy of professional standards. Departments that side step this vital procedure expose themselves to liability and either civilian or Department of Justice oversight (Reese, 2003).

Private police policies are different than that of public police. Licensing standards aside, the policies and procedures of daily activities need to be direct and obtainable. The mission and outlined goals of the private officers position are provided at the discretion of their employer. The private police profession is not established to determine the needs of the public interest or society at large. Private police work to further the desires and needs of the persons or companies that hire them following the direction of common law and policies provided. This leaves a very open-ended mission that is loosely executed with no discernable boundaries. Concerns have been raised that private police are overly intrusive and less than educated in the civil rights of the persons regularly encountered exposing their employers to civil claims (Larrabee, 2007).

The key to the problem is that the creation and implementation of essential policies and procedures focused on professional standards. Training and certification will further the objective set forth in the policies and create a standardized security force. The increased need for private police has created a focus on the hiring and selection of professionals. Companies that provide these services will be more desirable if they are accredited with certifications as security practitioners. Accreditation programs focuses on specific policies and procedures that address conduct and professionalism similar to those found in the public sector of policing (Board Certifications in Security, 2010).

The Importance of a Comprehensive Security Plan and its Key Components

A comprehensive security plan is important to assist persons interested in retaining private officers. Persons hiring security tend to have little understanding of what the private industry is capable of and at times a limited understanding of what goal they are attempting to achieve. A security plan provides assistance in the translation of objectives sought as well as the security being established. The completion of a comprehensive security plan will assist in the implementation and management of the security goal. Security plans assist in the financial planning and budgeting process needed to achieve the desired effect of the security.

Key components of a security plan include environmental design, risk management plan, vulnerability assessment, policies and procedures, inspection, and management. A security plan being outlined for construction that has not begun will assist in the addressing issues during the design and building phase. Plans outlined for an established structure are modified to fit the capabilities of that structure. Modifications to the layout would be addressed in the security plan along with a cost study to bring the plan into specification preventing a complete redesign (Designing a Comprehensive Security Program, 2010).

Risk management is essential element of a security plan as the key functions are to identify, assess, and prioritize risks.  Identifying risks should be assessed and considered for both sides of the model. The considerations of risk protecting a specific asset or location are essential in identifying costs of protection. The hazards of providing protection will also appear in the security assessment that will be addressed in the feasibility study. The other side of the risk management process would be considering no protection for the asset or location. Once an asset value is identified, it will be weighed against the possibility of liability and dangers to human life (Maurer, 2009).

A vulnerability assessment is an essential portion of a comprehensive security plan. The assessment identifies gaps and weaknesses capable of being exploited by persons the security itself is attempting to deter. Identifications of vulnerabilities would assist in planning and executing measures to mitigate or eliminate shortcomings of the security analysis (Vulnerability Assessment, 2006).


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Public Policing Versus Private Security

Comparison Paper

By: Chris Grollnek

Written: March 2011

Filled Under MS/AJS 2011500/4/4.0

By Chris Grollnek

Active Shooter Prevention Trainer and Public Speaker PROFESSIONAL SUMMARY: Chris Grollnek is a dynamic Public Speaker and forward-thinking Director of the Active Shooter Prevention Project, LLC. ( An Interview and Investigation specialist with a record of success at the Executive and National level for Leadership and Management efficiencies regarding Policy and the Curriculum Development for Terrorism related Prevention. Chris recently wrote and appeared in the Department of Justice Active Shooter prevention Training Video (2022-2023). Complete understanding of government and corporate contracting and investigative programs to enhance corporate standards of policy implementation. An architect of efficiencies with a results-oriented pattern of success in investigative techniques, security, safety, sales leadership, and interviewing while leading teams and establishing best practices. A well-versed public speaker, freelance television contributor, and radio news commentator. Experience in testifying before serval governmental bodies, including The United States Congressional bodies of the House and Senate committees, regarding Terrorism Prevention, Response, and Training Initiatives. #activeshooterexpert #NEVERHERE