We're all in this together

Dangerous times, constricted budgets and personnel shortages lend new respect to public-private partnerships


     "The discipline that is not happening (in their home lives) is happening in the school system," Moore says. And much of that discipline is coming from well-trained private security — not the already-stretched-too-thin police department.

What police say

     Chief Dan McDevitt, past chairman of the Public/Private Liaison Committee for the Illinois Chiefs of Police, and chief of the Lansing (Illinois) Police Department says the value of law enforcement agencies working with private security firms can neither be overlooked nor underestimated.

     In Israel, terrorism threats are routinely thwarted by private security firms. "These are, in fact, first responders at the facility where the threat happens," McDevitt says.

     He also believes police should adjust their general attitudes toward private security use and take advantage of the relatively inexpensive way law enforcement can use private security to ease the burden of staff shortages and increased responsibility impacting most agencies — large cities in particular.

     He points to gated communities with their own privately contracted security as a way for police to shrug off a bit of their responsibilities without neglecting the public welfare, allowing them to focus on issues that require a higher level of skill. "[Security] mans the gates, checks who goes in and out, and patrol officers drive around in marked cars," he says. "That's the future."

     Private security, he says, will be doing things always considered in the purview of sworn officers — particularly mundane tasks that require lesser skills. He predicts security officers will be taking reports, handling some court duties, transporting prisoners and performing other tasks on a routine basis.

     For example, says McDevitt, if a prisoner currently in his department's custody claims an illness, an officer must be detached from other duty to transport the individual to the hospital, provide security while the prisoner is treated and, if the prisoner should be hospitalized, must be assigned to remain with the prisoner the entire time. McDevitt says a private security officer could pull the same duty as efficiently as a sworn officer without busting a hole in the department's budget.

     John Sexton, who has served as a sworn officer in both the United States and his native Ireland, sees both sides of the issue. Sexton now heads his own company, Sexton Executive Security. He says police need to rethink their attitude toward the private sector.

     "What many of us do, including myself, is hang up our shields and jump right into the private sector," he says. "I don't hear any bad mouthing coming from ex-cops who have made the jump. Ex-cops don't become chiropractors or dentists. They go into security."

     He's right. Many of the top administrators of private companies, both local and global, have credentials that reflect wide and varied backgrounds in law enforcement. Local police chiefs and deputies, state troopers, retired FBI and Secret Service, Interpol — you name it, someone out there has covered that beat.

     Sexton says some countries, such as India, use increasing numbers of private security officers in both the country's day-to-day security and as stopping points for terrorist activity. "What a wonderful resource we can be for government. All these extra guys on the street, while police run all over answering calls for service," Sexton says. "They could be standing next to or guarding an important building, watching for terrorist activity. They know what to look for."

     McDevitt agrees with Sexton that government must look to the private sector for future needs. Cost effectiveness combined with well-trained, bonded officers can help bridge the gap between budget shortfalls and delivering the level of service the taxpayers expect.

     "Why not?" asks McDevitt. And he has a good point. There really are no good reasons to fail to explore all options. The days of the Barney Fife-like stereotypical "rent-a-cop" — while not completely fiction — are fast fading. In his place are well-trained personnel who take their jobs seriously, as well as supervisors who most often bring serious skills to the table.

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