Private & Public Security: Do You Know the Difference?

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private vs public security guards

Are you considering using security for an event, for your business, or for some other reason? Do you know the difference between public security officers and private security guards?

Understanding the difference between private vs public security guards can have a dramatic effect on the outcome of your event. This article will teach you the difference to help you make the best decision for you and your business.

The Definition of Private vs Public Security

Public Security Officers:

police car

Public sector security is essentially the police force. They are officers, sheriffs, and detectives trained and employed by the government to enforce the law. Public security officers work for local, county, state and federal offices. They have governmental authority and operate inside governmental standards and restrictions.

Private Security Guards:

Private security officers are citizens employed by a security service or working for themselves. They work for private clients to guard, protect and defend private life, property or assets (including intellectual property and cyber data). Private security is not under legal jurisdiction. It operates outside of government regulations while still under state and federal civil law.

Statistical Overview

  • In the United States, security guards outnumber police by 1.1 million compared to 666,000, and the number of private security guards keeps growing. As noted in research made available by the National Criminal Justice Reference Service, in the U.S. private security outpaced police in the 1980s, surpassed it by 50% in the 90s, and is expected to reach 1.2 million by 2020.
  • In daily life, you’re probably more likely to encounter private security guards than police

Should I Hire Police Officers or Private Security? 

Pros & Cons: Public Security Officers/Police 

The Pros

Regulation: Becoming a law enforcement agent requires passing advanced and highly regulated standardized training. Police officers are trained and skilled in the use of firearms and handling criminal activity within the parameters of the law.

Authority: As law enforcement agents, police officers are authorized to make arrests and use force as appropriate at their discretion. Police also hold a perception of legal authority in the public eye, which can make their presence good for deterring crime.

Accountability: Police report to the state and federal government. Improper or illegal conduct on the part of a public officer is not the responsibility of the citizen or business they were serving.

The Cons

Outdated: Operating within a governmental capacity means a reliance on limited public funding. Law enforcement departments deal with tight budgets, for the most part. That can limit police ability to implement cutting-edge technology and up-to-date equipment. Outdated or limited equipment could translate to weaker protection.

Priorities: Law enforcement is trained in handling criminal activity, not matters of private security. This means their extensive training may not actually be appropriate to handling your security needs. Additionally, public security is often the part-time work of off-duty police officers in addition to full-time policing. This makes it difficult for them to devote full attention or energy to public security tasks.

Restricted: The same laws that regulate the police can also prevent them from being effective at securing private property. Constitutionally, police may not question or detail a subject without reasonable, well-explained suspicion of criminal activity. This can make it challenging for them to deliver the type of security or protection you’re looking for.

Pros & Cons: Private Sector Security Guards

The Pros

Agency: Private security is a commercial business. That means private armed security guards aren’t governed by the same standards as public security. Private guards report only to their agency or client, so there is no possible conflict of interest and no outside accountability. 

The police are very limited by the Constitution when it comes to protecting private property. Private guards, however, may interact with anyone at any time as the representative of a private party rather than of the law. Private guards also still have the power to arrest without warrant on reasonable suspicion of a crime.

Dedication: Private guards are committed to the request of the client. Law-enforcement agencies may be stretched too thin to provide adequate or committed public security. Private security officers will be able to dedicate themselves fully to your security task. 

Training: While there are no government standards for private security guard training, the market is very competitive. With such a large number of private officers in the U.S., the top agencies work hard to stay competitive. This means extensive training, often hiring from military or law enforcement backgrounds and requiring additional education and credentials for employment. 

The Cons

Non-regulated: There is no governmentally mandated standard of training or protocol for private security guards. It’s possible that you could hire private security agents with inadequate or questionable formal training, education, or personal background.

Legal limitations: Private security officers lack the legal privileges that federal law enforcement agency employees have, such as authorization to use force. If a private security agent shot a person on the job, they would be charged as a criminal. (Unless their actions were determined to be self-defense.) There may also be legal consequences for their agency and/or contractor. 

In Conclusion:

The drawbacks of private security guards are very few. For most purposes, private security guards will probably be more effective and more cost-efficient than law enforcement officers.  

Do your research and choose a well-known and respected professional security service like SMART Security Pros to protect your goods and services. We hire only prior police or military agents with 5+ years of experience so you can trust you’re getting the best in the business.

If you have any questions about our qualifications, our security guard training programs, or our areas of expertise, give us a call at 301-232-3808.

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