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The future of public/private partnerships.

Doctors and nurses, attorneys and paralegals, parents and day care providers, presidents and aides--all people need support and assistance to accomplish their goals. Why should public law enforcement agencies be different?

Today's police departments are under monumental pressure to perform, keep crime rates low, and do it all with fewer resources. Agencies can accomplish this seemingly impossible mandate by forming supportive partnerships with private security providers. (1)

A Historical Perspective

Privatization of law enforcement activities is not a new concept. Perhaps, the monopolization of policing by government is an aberration. (2) Only in the last 100 to 200 years has government effectively monopolized policing, which is not uniform across all countries. In Europe, for example, France led the way in the systematic nationalization of policing in the 17th century. Nationalization followed fitfully throughout the rest of continental Europe, concentrated largely in towns and often deferring to the private authority of the landowning aristocracy. In England, policing remained largely in private hands until well into the 19th century. In the United States, where cities gradually governmentalized policing in the middle of the 19th century, private policing never really died. The constituent states did not begin to develop organized police forces until the early 20th century, and the national government did not do so until approximately a decade later. While the 1960s characterized a period of indifference toward private security and the 1970s one of changing perceptions and some mistrust of the industry, the 1980s and 1990s most likely will be regarded as the era of collaboration and joint ventures between public law enforcement and private security. (3) Individual and corporate citizens policed by public law enforcement also increasingly are becoming the clients of private security, as illustrated by increases in the use of corporate security and the number of gated communities.


Lower Crime Rates, Higher Costs

In the late 1990s, serious crime continued to fall in the United States, (4) reaching a 25-year low. The potential that criminals will receive punishment and that they will serve a longer amount of time both are higher today than in the last 30 years.

The economic boom of the late 1990s, which increased wages and rates of employment, impacted the reduction of crime. But, on the other hand, criminal punishment also increased. Compared to 1996, the probability of going to prison in 1997 for murder rose 13 percent, while it increased 1 percent for rape, 7 percent for robbery, and 11 percent for aggravated assault. (5) Once convicted, prisoners now stay incarcerated longer. Compared to the 1980s, the median sentence served by prisoners has risen for every category of serious crime except aggravated assault. (6)

Potential criminals respond to incentives. (7) Crime decreases when expected punishment increases, and the reverse proves true as well. To achieve an even lower crime rate, law enforcement must continue to make crime less profitable by further increasing expected punishment. But, higher arrest rates require more money for police staffing, equipment, and procedures. (8) Higher conviction and sentencing rates require more resources for prosecution and criminal courts. The need for more prison space also increases, and, although the cost of building and maintaining more prisons is high, the cost of not doing so appears to be higher.

The Time for Privatization

The hope of the public, as well as the goal for police departments, is to continue lowering crime rates. However, achieving this requires more policing and more cost precisely when law enforcement agencies face serious recruitment problems, additional equipment costs, a decrease in tax revenues, and legislative restrictions denying access to any surpluses. "Many municipalities and counties lack the necessary funds due to legislated limits on taxation and spending, inadequate bonding, capacities and voters' reluctance to approve special bonding obligations or other spending measures." (9)

Fortunately, privatization of certain police department functions has proven a powerful solution to the problem. The steady decline of governments' capital resources and their increasingly urgent search for ways to continue providing the services that citizens demand without raising taxes are driving the privatization trend. (10) Some federal agencies have saved as much as 50 percent by hiring contractors to provide services. (11)

Police in today's environment typically spend less than 20 percent of their time on crime-related matters. In California, a police officer may cost $100,000 a year, taking into account salary, benefits, and such overhead expenses as squad cars. (12) Faced with rising calls for service, this proves expensive for tasks, such as transporting prisoners, providing court security, conducting traffic control, and serving summonses. The real trend in the future will be contracting out the functions of public police that do not involve crimes or emergencies.

For example, the Fresno, California, Sheriff's Department reaped savings by outsourcing its transport of prisoners. The total cost for the department to transport a prisoner from San Diego to Fresno was $284 using a private firm. The same trip using sheriff's department personnel and equipment would cost three times as much. (13)

Police departments in 18 states currently use, or plan to use, private security guards to fill support roles. (14) One firm provides security for six major public transit systems around the country, transports prisoners, maintains booking and security for a juvenile assessment center, and supplies security for court houses in 40 states. Other public-private partnerships exist coast to coast.

Just as corporations outsource many services to enable them to concentrate on core competencies, the use of private firms by law enforcement agencies frees them to concentrate their efforts on duties that only trained police officers can, and should, do. Over the past several decades, privatization in law enforcement has grown to such an extent that virtually every function, including security, jails, prisons, and court-related services, is being contracted out somewhere in the United States. (15)

Using private security on site at businesses, sporting venues, and malls is no new trend. But, agencies can outsource other duties that do not require the authority to make arrests or use deadly force. Such tasks include directing traffic, guarding prisoners, assisting at crime scenes, transporting prisoners, processing reports, and investigating accidents.

The Approach to Public-Private Partnerships

Public-private partnerships can provide many benefits, especially in terms of pairing law enforcement with a private security provider to save public monies. Agencies should consider several recommendations when determining whether to use this type of partnership.

* Services with the potential to be priced should be considered as candidates for private provision or user charges.

* To save money and help police officers become more available to perform the tasks that only they can conduct, agencies should privatize tasks that do not require the full range of skills of police officers.

* Private companies should provide such services as response to burglary alarms, and people with alarm systems should pay for the services that they demand.

* Private security can prove effective in a distinct geographic area; therefore, owners of apartment complexes should consider private policing. Further, agencies should encourage competition between apartment complexes to provide safer environments. Requiring publication of apartments' safety experience helps renters make informed decisions.

* Agencies should consider any relatively lowskill or specialized high-skill services as a candidate for transfer to private security.

* Departments should ensure that the cost of monitoring contractor compliance and performance should not exceed the savings from privatization.

* Agencies should request that their state legislatures consider whether the current legal status and regulations pertaining to private security are appropriate in view of the expanded role expected from them, such as emergency vehicle status and expanded powers of arrest.


* Problem-oriented policing offers the prospect of improved police-private partnerships in dealing with specific crime problems.

* The community policing approach offers hope for improving police performance and the community's sense of participation. (16) Like privatization, community policing helps society better determine the use of its scarce police resources. Further, it brings the police "back" to constituents. Successful community policing satisfies the desires of the community.

One Community's Experience

Lakewood, Colorado, offers an example of the benefits of outsourcing law enforcement tasks to private firms. Lakewood boasts a population of 145,000 within the metropolitan Denver area. Its progressive approach to public-private partnerships in law enforcement is demonstrated by its track record--the city has contracted with outside firms for police department assistance for nearly 10 years. As a result, the Lakewood Police Department considers the public-private partnership beneficial. It helps in terms of deployment, as well as economically. "Paying a private security officer an hourly rate to guard a prisoner or a crime scene frees up police officers. Police don't have to call in an officer on overtime or pull someone off patrol duty." (17)

Lakewood's current privatization efforts include the use of trained citizen volunteers for police administrative work, such as fingerprinting citizens and issuing parking tickets to violators of handicapped parking. Graduates of its citizen police academy volunteer with the Lakewood Police Department and serve as a surveillance unit regarding specific crimes, such as graffiti. Civilian investigative technicians conduct follow-up, question victims and suspects, and prepare affidavits.

Further, the Lakewood Police Department contracts with a private security firm to guard prisoners hospitalized in facilities in the Denver metropolitan area and to provide assistance in protecting crime scenes. These private security officers are specially selected for crime-scene detail based on their background and experience, and they often attend Lakewood Police Department roll calls for training (similarly, members of the Lakewood Police Department attend the security roll calls). These private security firm officers know the rules of evidence, and, in fact, many are certified police officers in the state of Colorado. They provide 24-hour assistance and typically respond with officers within 4 hours of the department's request. In addition, for security purposes, background investigations have been completed on each of these officers.

In Lakewood, the cost of an off-duty police agent is $37 per hour, including vehicle. Many crime scenes take an average of 2 days to process. Because 24-hour protection is required, using private security at $29 per hour for this assignment, a savings of nearly 22 percent, makes economic sense. Furthermore, the partnership has strengthened the lines of communication and trust between police and private security personnel. "In this partnership, everyone's a winner. The police department is a winner in that we are providing essential services at a reduced cost. Through the private portion of it; it's good for business; it employs people; it's good for our economy." (18)

Such moves to privatization are substantiated by the numbers. Private security guards outnumber public law enforcement officers by 3 to 1 nationally, and 4 to 1 in California. (19) The trend is not confined to the United States; Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia have approximately twice as many private guards as public police.


Today, law enforcement agencies have fewer resources to accomplish their goals. Departments can form partnerships with private security firms to save money, as well as to free trained police officers to conduct duties that only they should address.

Public law enforcement entities can gain more efficient use of funds and personnel in public-private partnerships, in addition to extending their reach and effectiveness. Properly defined and managed, a partnership with a private enterprise can make the job of police officers more effective and rewarding and the results reported to voters more positive in the long run.


(1) For graphic representations of the trends on expenditures for law enforcement officers and number of police officers compared to private security agents, visit and

(2) David H. Bayley and Clifford D. Shearing, U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice, The New Structure of Policing: Description, Conceptualization, and Research Agenda NCJ 187083 (Washington, DC, July 2001); retrieved on March 24, 2003, from

(3) Terence J. Mangan and Michael G. Shanahan, "Public Law Enforcement/Private Security: A New Partnership?" FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, January 1990, 18-22.

(4) The National Center for Policy Analysis, Crime and Punishment in America: 1999, Policy Report No. 229 (Dallas, TX, October 1999).

(5) Ibid.

(6) Ibid.

(7) Ibid.

(8) Ibid.

(9) Wantland J. Smith, "Private Sector Development: A Winning Strategy for New Police Stations, Sheriff's Stations, and Jails," The Police Chief, August 1991, 29-33.

(10) Elizabeth Moore, "Doling out Services: The Push for Privatization is Strong, But Will Unions, Taxpayers, Stand for It?" Newsday, April 15, 1996, sec. C, p.1.

(11) Ibid.

(12) Supra note 4.

(13) Marty L. West, "Get a Piece of the Privatization Pie: Private Security Agencies," The American Society for Industrial Security, Security Management 37, no. 3 (March 1993): 54.


(15) Bruce L. Benson, "Privatization in Criminal Justice," Independent Policy Report, Independent Institute (Oakland, CA, 1996), see

(16) Erwin A. Blackstone and Simon Hakim, "Police Services: The Private Challenge," Independent Policy Report, Independent Institute (Oakland, CA, 1996), 10-33.

(17) Russell Ruffin, reporter, "Lakewood Police Utilize Private Security," Law Enforcement Television News (Denver, CO: Cherokee Productions).

(18) Ibid.


Chief Youngs heads the community resources division of the Lakewood, Colorado, Police Department and serves as the acting assistant dean of the criminal justice program at the University of Phoenix in Lakewood.
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Title Annotation:Police Practice
Author:Youngs, Al
Publication:The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin
Date:Jan 1, 2004
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