Revisiting Private Security and Its Role in Today’s Society

The reason for being of private security remains unchanged. It is to protect people, property, and business continuity. Private security is composed of both human and technical systems. These two systems complement each other. In other contexts, however, a deployed security system may be primarily technical as in Singapore where the deployment of human guards is minimal.

In populated countries where labor is intensely competitive, the use of human guards is more prevalent as it may be more cost effective. It may also be a more suitable fit to the local culture where the protected business operates. In the Philippines for example, most employees still appear to better appreciate the assistance provided by guards than by electronic systems. The analogy is similar to a tight traffic situation where both motorists and pedestrians prefer to obey a deployed traffic enforcer than street lights! It is somewhat similar with the private sector where the presence of guards is viewed as reassuring.

Let’s face it. To a significant extent, the visible guard (uniformed and armed) acts as a deterrent to the roughly 95% of criminals whose determination to succeed only goes as far as the security systems in place. Deployed guards may not intimidate the 5% who are determined to intrude despite the systems in place, but discouraging the 95% who would have is still a very significant number and positive justification working in favor of the security guard.

In the context of the Philippines, there are a number of factors that pose a challenge toward the security guard’s ability and capacity to optimally deliver his role. These are the guard’s credentials, training, resources, and environment. The security industry does not exist in a vacuum; therefore, the individuals who ultimately become guards come from the local society with all its peculiar characteristics politically, economically, and socially. Like their counterparts in the public sector, security managers may be highly educated but the security rank and file is not. This is not to mention the quality of any quantity of education received by the soon-to-be guards. The cut-throat realities of capitalism eventually canalize the ‘dirty’ work to those who cannot land the sought-out jobs by virtue of their initial credentials. The ground-level security industry falls right into this category.

Training is designed to equip the guard with the knowledge and skills he needs to perform his job. It is aimed to further what is already there and to also fill-in the gaps. It is specific. At times, it is too specific that the guard knows nothing else. The reality on the ground is more disturbing. Not enough training is invested in the guard. Wrongly, training is mistaken for a cost item rather than an investment. Too many security service providers are moving into the industry without satisfying the basic requirements of training as a core item and must-win battle. The prerequisite of training is due diligence. Is the guard qualified? Is he fit for the role? Does he possess the intellect, aptitude, and attitude to learn? Granting that he does, is the training provided adequate in terms of quality and quantity? For instance, in the critical area of weapons training, to what extent is the guard trained to handle a deadly weapon without becoming a danger to himself and to others? Often have I seen guards who carry deadly weapons but have only received very minimal training.

Similarly, the equipment and other items that enable the guard to accomplish his task must be seen by guard employers as a necessary investment more than just cost items. Properly supported with the materials he needs, a guard is bound to deliver much better service than one who is without. Again, the guard must be trained to handle all of his equipment. Are guards with first aid pouches adequately trained in first aid? Have they actually done first aid? Too often, first aid is not delivered by the guard who is usually first on the scene.

Too much reliance is given to emergency response from clinics and hospitals whose arrival or intervention may be too late. Is an armed guard proficient with the weapon he is carrying? Too often have I seen guards who have not even fired the weapons they carry, nor have they trained with those weapons! Does the guard with the handcuffs know how to use those cuffs? Is a guard familiar with his legal responsibilities and limitations? I have actually encountered guards who think they can arrest people! The best a guard can do is a citizen’s arrest and even that is not absolute but conditional. Again, the guard only has jurisdiction over the private property of his employer or client. Beyond that, it is all public domain which belongs to the authorities. Thus, a good working relationship must exist between private guards and law enforcement as well as with other emergency services (i.e. medical, fire, traffic, etc).

Although not totally within the industry’s control, the operating environment cannot be ignored as it defines what the guard can and cannot do from day to day. The values of the guard, his employer, and the client may be congruent and clear but those of the external environment may not be and could even be antagonistic! In analogy, the military was once believed to have loftier values than its civilian counterpart; thus, analysts argued that the principle of civilian supremacy over the military did not hold water as the military is ultimately bound to overthrow its corrupt political master. This is no longer true; as the military, at least in this country, has proven that if its values cannot exceed those of its civilian masters then it would adapt its values to those of its masters.

Similarly, would guards continue to enforce protection systems even if such are undermined by environmental influences such as double standards in favor of the rich and powerful, debt of gratitude (‘utang na loob’), fear of retribution like losing one’s job, going with the flow (‘pakikisama’), corruption, and the like? Do security service providers comply with not just the letter of the law but the spirit of the law when it comes to legal operating requirements?

Apparently, the security industry still has lots of challenges to hurdle moving forward. It desperately needs to become more professional even as it struggles to correct internal deficiencies earlier cited. Best practices in terms of training and resources must be adhered to despite the challenges if the industry is to be competitive as a world-class entity. The industry plays a key role towards enabling businesses to flourish so that the economy can improve and along with it the opportunity to better the lives of all in society through the provision of employment incomes that further provide for education, food on the table, and meeting the unending requirements of daily living.

Therefore, private security industry does not only provide much-needed livelihood to practitioners. Moreover, it is an advocacy that is committed to safeguarding basic human rights to private enterprise, private ownership, and the freedom to do so.