The Rise and Sprawl of the Security Industry

Saturday, 5th September 2009 at 8:00 UTC 3 comments

I recently saw a presentation that contained a list of the five most common jobs people are being recruited to in York at the moment. Admin and Hospitality & Catering were no surprise, Retail seems to have picked up and I think IT support was on the list, all of which are pretty morally neutral. Half way through the list was “Security”, a worrying if not totally surprising revelation.

One might argue (as a friend did) that being in a recession makes this an inevitability; crime goes up a bit, fear of crime goes up a lot, those with companies that can still afford such people hire security to protect their assets. But it still worries me.

After all, the growth now might be based on some actual foundations to the fear, but we know that industries are self-promoting, and will do so through creating an atmosphere of fear, be that fear of rejection or fear of crime. Essentially, a security firm markets itself through creation of paranoia, through reminding everyone that no one is to be trusted.

Also, they provide a right-wing reactionary non-solution to crime that allows one to absolve oneself of responsibility; you can hire as many security guards as you want during a recession, but that won’t solve the problem of people needing to commit crime to feed and clothe themselves and their family, surely the main reason crime increases in a recession.

And so an introspection, a “look out for number one” attitude, develops. If we are faced by a collapse in societal trust, it is perhaps as much because of security companies trying to generate a market for themselves as it is people turning to crime or even family breakdown. We use security as a means of insulating ourselves from one another and each other’s needs, as if somehow we have a right to say “not my problem” to everything else going on in the world.

Whether “Property is Theft” or not is a moot point; Property as an obsession is harmful to the owners well being, let alone the rest of society’s. My biggest concern is that this is a trend which is unlikely to reverse upon an economic recovery. Its hard to see business owners suddenly deciding to step down their security arrangements once they have become normalised during these hard times, instead viewing outsiders as potential threats, sinking ever more into mindset of “trust no one”.

Added to this, we have the police aims to devolve certain powers to registered security personnel whom they deem to be of use in fighting or preventing crime. But who monitors the use of such powers? Is it OK to set up a private police service, charge the shops in a town to be covered by it, and then get special powers off the police? Or does this massively breach the limits of private power? At the end of the day, isn’t a private security company basically a glorified, sanitised and essentially normalised, mercenary brigade?

In South Africa we see exactly where this paranoia has led, with walled communities that allow domestic servants in and out to work, but perform body searches on them to prevent theft, and then shut everyone except the elite few out. This enforced separation, physical in its set up, becomes a kind of structural violence, an aid to disowning one’s neighbour.

If the security industry is on the rise, then we have few options. One is to challenge new measures designed to hand over law-enforcement powers to private companies. Another is to work to change attitudes, to remind people of the goodness of each other, and our responsibility to look after each other, to show solidarity to those who aren’t as fortunate as ourselves. Either way we cannot allow ourselves as a society to be so completely hemmed in by our concern for our possessions as to live in fear of one another, for that really would be a break down in society.

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Entry filed under: Community, Freedom, Materialism, Participation, Peace, Politics, Poverty.

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Alex  |  Saturday, 5th September 2009 at 23:44 UTC

    You’re typical of the “We are the World” left-wing crowd. A pragmatist will at least admit that private security services are a necessary evil in this day & age – They are a valuable and needed service where police resources are inadequate or stretched to the limits. Police protection, at least here in the United States, is NOT a right and is not guaranteed under the Constitution or any state laws (The US Attorney Office published a legal opinion to that effect many years ago – Read the Constitution if you don’t wanna take my word for it). Put down your “evil, dastardly Blackwater” NYT articles and be a critical thinker…While private security is not a solution, it IS one tool that can be utilized by the government and the citizenry to be proactive in deterring crime. Not everyone abides by the “social contract”, my friend – Anyone that has been the victim of a crime realizes this really fast, and may have wished there had been a security guard, security camera or other private mechanism in force.

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  • 2. Lois  |  Monday, 7th September 2009 at 10:06 UTC

    Obviously security doesn’t solve the base problem, the problem of people who don’t have money to spend trying to get some, or the problem of a consumer culture where we all think we’re entitled to more than we have. But we don’t live in an ideal world. Unfortunatly crime tends to hit those lower down the social scale harder- if you’re a house full of students or low income earners who have your computers/ cameras/ jewellery nicked you’re affected more than if you’re a high earning household where the same items are stolen, as you probably can’t afford to replace them so easily (aside from personal value in each case). Or if your place of work is the target of crime, this could lead them into financial difficulties and put jobs- usually of lower paid people- in danger.
    So perhaps having something done to increase security isn’t such a bad thing. Since you seem to object to both state run and private security, what do you suggest to protect ordinary people who haven’t got much and are therefore most vulnerable? (And yes, I’m not a fan of massive private security either, but if the state can’t/ won’t/ shouldn’t provide this, what do you suggest?)

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  • 3. Steve thack  |  Monday, 7th September 2009 at 22:23 UTC

    Does seem like in the uk we are seeing number of powers that used to belong to police going to various other organisations and ok were prob abused by the police but at least we had some checks and balances.
    This isn’t just about private companies we also have the rise in ‘community support officers’ ( basicaly police with less training less pay and less powers) and a wide variety of prats employed directly or indirect by local government to enforce whatever or issue on the spot fines.

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