The security sector and the harms caused by Covid-19: What have we learned so far?
Chair: Martin Gill
Matt Hopkins – Associate Professor at University of Leicester (UK)
Anne Wanielista – Project Management Consultant, Action Woman (Belgium)
Thomas Uduo – Corporate Security Trainer – ICEST (Nigeria)
Matt Hopkins notes that there have been huge changes in the security sector pointing to a changing function of security; essentially moving from a role focussed on asset protection to one involved in policing public health. He notes that security has become more central during the crisis generating an era of better relationships with policing. The downside is that in the ensuing recession he sees security shrinking in size, so on the one hand more pivotal but on the other reducing. There are direct harms on the frontline: the death rates are high for frontline security staff; there is a greater risk of violence on frontline, as Covid-19 has produced more triggers. He calls for more research on why it is difficult to get people to comply with for example, wearing masks; more training of security staff in the new world they find themselves in; and to focus on listening to staff about their concerns as a basis for responding in a more informed way.
Anne Wanielista frames her thinking using aspects of the PESTLE framework that apply to security. She makes a range of points, for example: security staff are often the first point of contact for citizens when they are concerned or irritated; the tasks they undertake sometimes involve the restriction of people’s freedoms (such as imposing queues at shops, taking temperatures, refusing entry, insisting people wear masks properly); and they are sometimes undermined in their work by it being noted they are not police officers thereby undermining their legitimacy. And they often lack guidance and/or operate with contradictory information. The context of their work is economic hardship and security personnel themselves are subject to the consequences too. Things are difficult for security and that makes attracting new recruits especially challenging. She recommends talking to each generation differently, not something typically done, and highly the benefits of thinking strategically into the future to anticipate rather than predict, but certainly to guide in a more informed way.
Thomas Achutu outlines the different ways in which security officers have been vulnerable since the onset of Covid 19. He notes officers on the front line have more responsibilities, but ones that increase the possibilities they will be subject to new lines of attack in having to enforce more rules such as insisting on taking temperatures. He notes that officers in being on the frontline are in close proximity with people who may have the virus (which anyway is difficult to recognise). In Nigeria today the issue of obtaining the proper PPE is a challenge; training in coping with the crisis is weak, at least for security, and Government guidelines are not developed. That said, Thomas makes the point that the pandemic has provided the opportunity for security to shine, and moreover the new skills it has acquired, under pressure, means it has improved. We should recognise and highlight that.
Covid-19 has had a dramatic impact in so many ways, and those working in the security sector have had a front row seat on the anxieties that have been unfolding. The panel were optimistic that despite ensuing economic hardships, when typically security suffers, that the skills personnel have acquired, the key role the sector has been playing in policing public health, and the complexity and importance of duties that are likely to be needed going forward will hold frontline personnel in good stead.
27th August 2020