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  • Writer's pictureOllie Backhouse

The Role of Private Security Firms in Complementing Public Forces in the UK

Updated: Nov 19, 2023

By Oliver Backhouse MSyI, M.ISRM


Introduction:


Over the past few decades, the realm of security and policing has witnessed a profound metamorphosis. Public police forces, once the primary guardians of community safety, now find themselves navigating a maze of challenges. From tightening budgetary allocations and surging demands due to population growth to the ever-changing nature of threats in both the physical and digital domains, these challenges have necessitated a re-evaluation of traditional security paradigms. Amidst this backdrop, private security firms have emerged not as mere alternatives but as vital collaborators in the broader security ecosystem. This article delves deep into the evolving role of private security firms within the UK's security framework. We will explore their growing significance, how they seamlessly integrate with public forces, and the broader implications of this synergistic relationship in ensuring a safer and more secure community environment.



The Evolution of Private Security in the UK:


Historically, the realm of private security in the UK was steeped in dogma, often synonymous with door supervisors at pubs and nightclubs. During the 80s and 90s, these door supervisors, colloquially known as 'bouncers', were often perceived as intimidating figures, primarily responsible for maintaining order in nightlife venues. Their role was largely unregulated, and the profession was sometimes marred by instances of excessive force and unprofessional conduct, often with links to organised crime.


However, as the turn of the millennium approached, there was a palpable shift in the perception and role of private security. The introduction of the Private Security Act in 2001 and the subsequent establishment of the Security Industry Authority (SIA) marked a significant turning point. These developments aimed to professionalise the sector, introducing licensing requirements and setting standards for training and conduct.


Over the past two decades, the remit of private security has broadened considerably. No longer limited to traditional roles such as security guards and door supervisors, they now undertake tasks that were once the preserve of the public police. This evolution has led to a more collaborative and integrated approach to community safety, with clear demarcations and synergies between public police forces and private security entities.





The UK Context:


The relationship between the UK's private security sector and its public police forces has been continually reshaped by a multitude of factors over time. Central to this evolution is the recognition of the multifaceted challenges that public policing faces in today's rapidly changing environment. These challenges are not just monetary, although fiscal constraints have undeniably been a significant concern. They span a broad spectrum, from traditional crimes like burglary and street violence to the more contemporary threats of cybercrime.


Recent years have seen a concerning rise in crime rates in various parts of the UK. While traditional crimes persist, new threats have emerged, particularly in the realm of cybercrimes, which have seen a marked increase. Additionally, the UK, like many other nations, has had to grapple with the escalating threats of both domestic and international terrorism. These threats have necessitated a more comprehensive and nuanced approach to security and policing.


The Covid pandemic further complicated this landscape. The unprecedented challenges brought about by the pandemic, from enforcing lockdowns to managing quarantine measures, stretched the capacities of public police forces. The pandemic also saw a surge in specific crimes, such as domestic violence, fraud, and cybercrimes, as individuals spent more time online and at home.


Amidst this backdrop, the concept of "securitisation" has gained traction. This approach recognises the need for customised security solutions that can adapt to the unique challenges of different regions and threats. Such bespoke strategies allow for a more agile response, whether addressing the needs of bustling urban centres or tranquil rural areas.


Private security firms have emerged as pivotal players in this new security paradigm. Their agility, specialisation, and capacity for rapid innovation make them invaluable allies in complementing the efforts of public police forces. In the face of rising crime rates, the spectre of terrorism, and the unique challenges posed by the Covid pandemic, the collaboration between public and private security entities has never been more crucial. Together, they form a robust and holistic framework, dedicated to safeguarding the UK's communities in these complex times.





Complementing Public Forces: The Strengths of Private Security Firms


In today's complex security landscape, the role of private security firms has become increasingly pivotal. These firms, with their unique strengths and capabilities, complement public police forces, ensuring a comprehensive approach to safety and security. Here's a deeper dive into the advantages they bring:


1. Specialisation: One of the standout attributes of private security firms is their niche expertise. Many firms have carved out specialisations, catering to specific sectors or challenges. Whether it's cyber security, where they combat sophisticated digital threats, or event management, where they ensure the safety of attendees in large gatherings, these firms have the expertise to address particular threats with precision. This specialisation often stems from rigorous training, industry-specific knowledge, and hands-on experience, enabling them to offer solutions tailored to specific challenges.


2. Flexibility: The agility of private security firms is another significant advantage. Unlike public police forces, which can sometimes be hampered by red tape and bureaucratic processes, private firms possess the flexibility to swiftly adapt to evolving security scenarios. This means they can deploy resources, change strategies, or introduce new protocols at short notice, ensuring that they remain one step ahead of potential threats. Their contractual nature also allows them to scale operations based on the client's needs, be it for a one-off event or a long-term security detail.


3. Innovation: Operating in the competitive private sector, these firms are continually driven to differentiate themselves. This competition often acts as a catalyst for innovation. Private security firms are at the forefront of adopting cutting-edge security technologies, from advanced surveillance systems to AI-driven threat analysis tools. Beyond technology, they also pioneer innovative methodologies, training programmes, and operational strategies, ensuring that they deliver the best possible service to their clients. This culture of innovation ensures that they not only meet the current security demands but are also prepared for future challenges.


In essence, private security firms, with their specialised services, adaptability, and innovative spirit, play a crucial role in bolstering the efforts of public police forces. Their collaborative approach ensures that communities, businesses, and individuals benefit from a holistic security framework, where both public and private entities work in tandem to ensure safety and peace of mind.



Training, Regulation, and Professionalisation in the UK's Private Security Sector:


The UK's private security landscape has undergone a profound transformation, particularly in the realms of training and regulation. Historically, the sector was marked by a lack of standardisation and professional oversight. However, the introduction of the Security Industry Authority (SIA) and its Approved Contractor Scheme (ACS) heralded a new era of professionalism and accountability. The ACS, in particular, set benchmarks for quality and best practice, ensuring that security firms met stringent criteria in areas such as training, service delivery, and operational procedures.


To ensure that private security personnel are adeptly equipped to collaborate with public police forces, rigorous and bespoke training has become paramount. Leading security firms in the UK, recognising the evolving demands of the sector, have channelled significant resources into developing training programmes tailored to specific contracts. This focus on training extends beyond traditional security roles, with an increasing emphasis on safeguarding, especially when operatives are positioned in environments with children and vulnerable adults.





The professionalisation of the industry has been significantly enhanced by the emergence and influence of esteemed organisations both in the UK and internationally, including the Security Institute, The ISRM (Institute of Strategic Risk Management), IPSA (International Professional Security Association), and other prominent security bodies. These institutions have exerted a substantial impact on raising industry standards, providing valuable accreditations, nurturing research initiatives, and advocating for best practices. Their collective contributions have played a pivotal role in reshaping the perception of security. This transformation has shifted security from its conventional reactive service model towards a proactive and comprehensive discipline, where the emphasis lies on rigorous risk management, strategic planning, and the continuous professional development of security personnel.


In essence, the synergy between regulatory frameworks, dedicated training initiatives, and the advocacy of professional bodies has reshaped the UK's private security sector. The industry today stands as a testament to what can be achieved when commitment to excellence converges with robust regulatory oversight and a passion for continuous learning and improvement.



Case Study: The Lincolnshire Police-G4S Partnership


In the ever-evolving landscape of security services in the UK, the partnership between Lincolnshire Police and G4S stands out as a noteworthy example of successful collaboration between public and private entities. This alliance has garnered attention for its innovative approach to optimising resources and enhancing operational efficiency. By delving deeper into this case study, we can gain valuable insights into the dynamics of such partnerships and their broader implications.


Background:


The Lincolnshire Police force, like many other law enforcement agencies across the UK, faced the perennial challenge of delivering effective policing services within the constraints of limited budgets and growing demands. In the face of resource constraints, Lincolnshire Police recognised the need for a transformative approach to maintain and, ideally, improve the quality of services provided to their community.


The Partnership Unveiled:


Enter G4S, a global security company renowned for its expertise in various security-related domains. In an innovative move, Lincolnshire Police decided to forge a partnership with G4S, wherein G4S would take over several back-office functions that were essential but often resource-intensive and time-consuming. This strategic decision aimed to free up valuable police resources, both in terms of personnel and finances, enabling the force to refocus its efforts on frontline policing and community engagement.




Key Elements of the Partnership:


1. Back-Office Functions: G4S assumed responsibility for a range of administrative and support functions within the police force. This included tasks such as HR, finance, procurement, and IT support. By entrusting these functions to G4S, Lincolnshire Police aimed to streamline operations and reduce overhead costs associated with these non-core activities.


2. Resource Optimisation: The partnership sought to optimise the allocation of resources, allowing trained police officers to spend more time on proactive policing activities rather than being bogged down by administrative burdens.


3. Cost Savings: A primary driver of this collaboration was the potential for cost savings. By leveraging G4S's specialised capabilities and economies of scale, the partnership aimed to achieve financial efficiencies while maintaining or improving service quality.


Outcomes and Impacts:


The Lincolnshire Police-G4S partnership yielded several tangible outcomes and impacts:


1. Financial Efficiency: The partnership delivered on its promise of cost savings. By outsourcing back-office functions to G4S, Lincolnshire Police reduced the financial burden associated with administrative overheads.


2. Enhanced Efficiency: With G4S managing administrative tasks, the police force experienced improved operational efficiency. Processes that were previously time-consuming became more streamlined, enabling faster decision-making and resource allocation.


3. Focus on Frontline Policing: The most significant advantage was the liberation of police officers from administrative responsibilities. This allowed them to concentrate on core policing activities, such as patrolling, investigations, and community engagement.


4. Quality of Service: Contrary to concerns that outsourcing could compromise service quality, the partnership maintained or even improved the quality of services delivered to the community. Police officers had more time to engage with the public and respond to emerging issues promptly.


Analysis and Significance:


The Lincolnshire Police-G4S partnership underscores the potential benefits of public-private collaboration in the security sector. It exemplifies how leveraging the specialised capabilities of private security firms can enhance the overall effectiveness of public law enforcement agencies.


By shifting non-core functions to a trusted private partner, Lincolnshire Police achieved financial savings, operational efficiencies, and an increased focus on community safety. This case study challenges conventional notions about the rigid boundaries between public and private security, demonstrating that a well-structured partnership can yield positive outcomes for all stakeholders.

However, it's essential to recognise that such collaborations require careful planning, robust contractual agreements, and ongoing oversight to ensure accountability and transparency. Additionally, the success of these partnerships may vary depending on the specific context and the nature of the services outsourced.


In conclusion, the Lincolnshire Police-G4S partnership serves as a testament to the potential of innovative collaborations in the security sector. As security challenges continue to evolve, these partnerships offer a flexible and efficient approach to meeting the diverse needs of modern communities while optimising available resources.



Conclusion:


The evolving landscape of security in the UK demands a fresh perspective, one that acknowledges the increasingly intertwined roles of private security firms and public police forces. As our exploration has revealed, this collaboration represents more than just a supplemental approach; it is a pivotal strategy for addressing the multifaceted challenges of our times. The rise in both domestic and international terrorism, along with the unprecedented societal upheavals caused by the Covid pandemic, has underscored the urgent need for a security framework that is integrated, nimble, and responsive.


While the incorporation of private security introduces expertise, innovation, and adaptability into the security ecosystem, it is crucial to acknowledge the inherent complexities. The intersection of private profit motives with public safety objectives raises pertinent questions regarding accountability, transparency, and ethical considerations. However, within the UK, robust regulatory mechanisms, including the Security Industry Authority (SIA) and its Approved Contractor Scheme (ACS), combined with the influential role played by professional bodies such as the Security Institute, the Institute of Strategic Risk Management, and the International Professional Security Association (IPSA), collectively strive to ensure that private security operations align with the broader public interest.


Furthermore, the ever-evolving nature and magnitude of criminal threats emphasise the necessity for a dynamic security approach. The increasing complexity of threats, from cyberattacks to organised crime and terrorism, necessitates a level of specialisation and technological proficiency that private firms are uniquely positioned to provide.


In synthesising these insights, it is evident that the future of community safety in the UK hinges on a careful equilibrium. It involves harnessing the strengths of both private and public entities while establishing rigorous checks and balances. As the security landscape continues its evolution, the emphasis must persist on cultivating a culture of collaboration, continuous learning, and an unwavering dedication to the safety and well-being of the community.


Reference List:

1. "G4S and Lincolnshire Police Partnership." G4S, https://www.g4s.com/uk/en-gb/what-we-do/services/police.

2. HM Government. "Private Security Industry Act 2001." Legislation.gov.uk, https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2001/12/contents.

3. The Institute of Strategic Risk Management. "About Us." https://theisrm.org/en/about-us.

4. Security Industry Authority. "About Us." https://www.sia.homeoffice.gov.uk/Pages/About-us.aspx..

5. Security Institute. "About Us." https://www.security-institute.org/about_us/.

6. International Professional Security Association. "About Us." https://www.ipsa.org.uk/about/.

7. Office for National Statistics. (2022). Crime in England and Wales: Year ending September 2021. Retrieved from [https://www.ons.gov.uk/]


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