Chair: Martin Gill

Panellists:
Professor Tim Prenzler – Professor in Criminology (Australia)
Dr Peter Stiernstedt, CPP, CISM – Lecturer in Criminology at University of West London (UK)
Jonathan Bresson – Junior Lecturer, Physical Sciences Activities Department, Maine University, Le Mans (France)

Key points

Tim Prenzler notes that looking across jurisdictions each category of security activity is licensed with regimes of training and oversight and rules that for example disqualify officers for certain activities. At least at the lower levels, a major gap is regulation of those higher up the ladder symptomatic of governments generally taking a laissez-faire approach to regulating private security (not least towards owners of private security companies). While academics have developed a model system, which academics can do, practice does not match up to it. The big problem he argues is transparency; there is a lack of information about what regulators are doing. He points to the UK regulator, the SIA, as being one of the better ones but there are gaps. For example, there is little information about the impacts of regulation, how effective it is, complaints received, number of license revocations and the reasons for them, data and studies in effectiveness. Regulation is important, there is much public benefit that comes from private security so ensuring minimum standards of competence matters. He mentions the scandal in Victoria where security work on the frontline tackling Covid-19 was found to be inadequate and this has shown security in a bad light, albeit generally the response during the pandemic has been good. The sector can do more, but there needs to be more transparency.

Peter Stiernstedt notes that regulation in UK and Europe is getting better although the speed in the growth of the industry has put a strain on regulators. He makes an interesting point that in his view well-crafted regulation is not as important as good regulators although they often lack teeth, knowledge and capacity. He notes that the perception of security, as a form of commodity, is at odds with the public ethos of State services and this has limited its wider take up albeit that Europe, for example, is divided on whether security is best undertaken by the State or privately. He calls for a more radical approach to regulation but many, including Europe, has proved reluctant to intervene. So although he sees benefits in a super regulator via say an EU Directive, the political mood is not warm towards it. Even in well-regulated countries where private security is proactive in a range of public domain activities, and he cites Sweden as an example, the fight to be impactful is an ongoing one. Regulation takes different forms or can have different foci, on the individual, the activity or the organisation but what is not in doubt is that the private security sector plays an important role in policing and so setting minimum standards is crucial, but some don’t even do that and it feeds negative perceptions of the security sector.

You will see Jonathan Bresson outline the specific challenges for the private sector on the one hand, and the regulators on the other in providing for effective private security in France. The challenges include different points of authority, regional regimes and coming to terms with new laws. In France the security sector is characterised by few big companies but many smaller ones and not all are uptodate with regulatory requirements. It is not that the regulator does not have teeth, owners can be fined, it is more a challenge for regulators to make it easier for the sector to follow the requirements of regulation. Interestingly in some cases security companies have used drones in their work and this marks a development that merits ongoing observation. More broadly he sets out the challenge for the security sector is for it to be seen as a credible job, it is of course, but being recognised for it remains a need, and that is true way beyond France of course.

This engaging webinar has highlighted the challenges regulators face. The landscape is uneven; in some locales it is good (but always with room for improvement) and in others it is non-existent. What emerges is a sense that the important work undertaken by the private sector, and the many benefits that accrue to the broader public, are not fully recognised by many States in terms of providing regimes of support via a coordinated central strategy and backed up by a commitment to improving practice not least via regulation that is funded, broad, and has key elements of transparency and proof of effectiveness. There are pockets of good and encouraging practice, but the aim for a united approach to improve the overall perception of security remains a challenge.

Martin Gill
1st October 2020