Better policing with private security? Yes and No say top cops

Only accountable to those who can afford to pay and ineffective as public servants said some police chiefs; and a very important and credible resource that we have yet to make the most of said others. A new research report published today suggests the police service may have a resource in private security that could contribute to savings of up to £1 billion through collaboration and new ways of working as challenged by the Audit Commission and HMIC.

Interviews with police chiefs suggest that while many feel there is untapped potential in using private security as a resource in this testing climate; others feel that the private security sector lacks credibility and closer collaboration could damage the reputation of the police.  Key findings include:

  • Some police chiefs do not see private security as credible partners, and indeed see dangers in creating a two tier service based on an ability to pay.
  • Others are prepared to accept that where private security is effective in patrolling they could deploy resources to more needy areas.
  • Some police chiefs are especially resistant to using private security staff in public spaces and where police powers are necessary. But not all are, some are prepared to consider giving private security some powers so they can help more effectively.
  • Some police chiefs have experimented with private security and not been impressed with the results.
  • Some police interviewees, and particularly those with direct experience of working with the security sector, referenced cases where the private security sector had been highly effective and saw enormous untapped potential here.
  • A key issue is that many said that private security had not presented the case effectively that it could offer value for money. Many said they failed to see the benefits of privatisation over civilianisation.
  • At least three key benefits of sub-contracting emerged: it enabled the police to focus on their core tasks; it provided for the transference of risk to the contractor, although some argued that a significant risk to the police image or brand remained; and the skills, expertise and specialism of the sub-contractor can result in a better service than that provided by the police. 
  • Some police interviewees lamented the lack of leadership on working with private security, within the service but also within the security sector and within Government
  • Some police leaders felt the police service as a whole lacked the business and managerial skills to manage sub contractors effectively, and this was a major impediment.

Moreover, a survey of Superintendents found that three quarters felt that the lack of accountability of the security sector was an impediment to closer working. Yet more than 8 in 10 saw benefits in closer partnership working.

Professor Martin Gill who leads Perpetuity Research and Consultancy International, a spin-out company from the University of Leicester that conducted the study said: “It is clear that the police service has not properly considered its position on private security. There are more private security officers than there are police officers and some senior officers clearly recognised the potential for enhancement and savings. Yet often, by their own admission, this has not been properly thought through. It seems that the police, the Government and ultimately the public are missing a trick. Properly managed, private security offer an option for supplementing police work, badly managed and they can undermine the perception of the police. Both positions are fairly founded but suggest a need for closer collaboration. The time is right for leaders in the police, private security and the Government to work together on the best models for engagement.” 

ACPO lead on private sector security, Assistant Chief Constable Peter Davies said; “ACPO welcomes this report. In tough financial times we need to consider every option available to keep people safe and help them to feel safe.  The private security industry presents many opportunities but also risks.  There are great examples of partnership in action but also uncertainty and doubt about how and whether to develop our relationship.  This research will no doubt help inform future debate.”

The full report can be obtained from Katrina Lister on 0116 222 5555; email:

 ACPO provided access to its members and the findings are based on 43 interviews with members of police forces and organisations (including 32 ACPO representatives); and 25 representatives from the private and corporate security sectors. The Superintendents’ Association provided access to its members and an online survey elicited responses from 71 Superintendents (including Chief Superintendents) in 17 forces. The research was undertaken as part of the Security Research Initiative, for more information go to

Perpetuity Group Website