A sense of security? : the ideology and accountability of private security officers
Policing in the UK is undergoing fundamental transformation. In an emerging 'mixed
economy' of social control, policing has become a complex assortment of public and private
inputs. As non-emergency policing has gradually shifted away from the Home Office police
service monopoly, the private security industry is acquiiing a much wider role.
This small-scale qualitative study provides an original insight into the ideology and
accountability of 50 security officers working for three of the market leaders in the
manned-guarding industry. Particular attention is paid to their attitudes towards: their
role in crime control, their relationship with the police service, and their own powers and
accountability. Information is also provided about the professionalism of security
officers, by presenting data about guards' social backgrounds, training and general
orientation to work.
The research suggests that guards are primarily concerned about providing a service to the
private employers who pay them, and have flmdamentally different attitudes towards their
work compared to public police officers. The conclusions underline the implications of the
pnvatisation of policing for social and criminal justice, indicating the emergence of forms of
'private justice' as policing is increasingly undertaken by guards without even any nominal
concerns to serve the public interest. Although this might be acceptable to the neo-liberal
approach that has come to dominate public policy debate in the last quarter of the twentieth
century, it would be regarded as worrying by more traditional social or political perspectives
whether conservative, liberal or socialist. The low levels of professionalism suggested by this
data gathered from the market leaders in the security industry also raise important questions
about the potential effectiveness of the guards.