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Back to Archives | Back to November 2006 Contents 

The Missing Link in Homeland Security

By Leonard G. Cooke, Director, Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services, and Lisa R. Hahn, Chief, Private Security Services Section, Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services, Richmond, Virginia

any people in all levels of government are taking a hard look at how best to protect their communities from terrorism and crime. Public law enforcement agencies have recently undertaken many homeland security responsibilities while continuing their traditional crime prevention and response activities.

At the same time, private security organizations labor under similar pressure to perform their traditional duties of protecting people, property, and information, as well as corporate assets from terrorist threats. Private security organizations are responsible for protecting more than many suspect; by some estimates, 85 percent of the critical U.S. infrastructure is protected by private security.1

Right now, public law enforcement is facing a difficult time with employee recruiting. A crisis exists:2 the activation of military reservists hurts police staffing; jurisdictions lack resources to hire additional officers3; and local communities, cities, counties, and states face tight budgets. With the traditional resources of law enforcement institutions stretched thin, safety officials must consider other available resources to ensure homeland security.

One potential resource—unrecognized and thus underused in homeland security efforts—is the men and women providing private security services. They really are the missing link in homeland security. Most people tend to think of public fire, law enforcement, and emergency response personnel as first responders; but private security practitioners are often the first responders in their business or corporate environments. They played a key role during the initial moments after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and were instrumental in getting many people safely out of the buildings. They were first responders: they were already on the scene at the time of the attacks, and, unfortunately, in some instances, they were also first victims.

The Numbers
As of June 2003, the United States had 12,656 local police departments, 3,061 sheriffs’ offices, and 49 state police or highway patrol agencies. These agencies employed 683,599 persons.4 In addition, as of September 2004, federal agencies employed about 106,000 full-time employees authorized to make arrests and carry firearms.5 Therefore, 789,599 federal, state, and local police officers protect the United States and carry out their normal policing duties.

Private security, for the most part, consists of the following:

• Corporate security departments
• Proprietary security services
• Contractual security companies
• Alarm companies
• Armored car businesses
• Investigative firms

Studies on private security suggest there may be as many as 90,000 private security organizations employing roughly 2 million security officers and other practitioners in the United States.6

As with many professionals, skill levels vary. A security practitioner can be an experienced director of security at a major multinational corporation, a manager of contract security officers at a client site, a skilled computer crime investigator, an armed protector at a nuclear power plant, or an entry-level guard at a retail store. Some practitioners hold professional exam-based certifications, possess advanced degrees, and are required to meet state or local standards.

The Police Concern
Every community has well-qualified and trusted former police officials who are private security directors and employees. Relationships with these private security officials are usually well established and maintained. On the other hand, some private security organizations protecting the critical infrastructure have not established a working relationship with state and local police. Due to this distant relationship, police are concerned about sharing sensitive information and fear the legal consequences of such sharing.

In Nassau County, New York, the police department has undertaken a public-private partnership to build bridges between the police department and key individuals entrusted with protecting the critical infrastructure. A key element of this partnership is the vetting process to ensure that shared information will be handled appropriately. The partnership established sector-segments and sends sector-specific information only to that group.7

The School of Criminal Justice at Michigan State University surveyed security respondents: 49 percent of security respondents had college degrees, 43 percent had military experience, and nearly 66 percent had law enforcement experience.

The Michigan State study also found that police officers and security professionals predicted greater cooperation between the two sectors in the future, with two important differences. First, police officers believe policing will remain a state function, while security professionals believe that private security will emerge as a major policing body. Second, security professionals are more likely to believe that joint police-security efforts will increase in the future and that the boundaries between private and public police will eventually vanish.8

The Virginia Experience
The Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS), through its Private Security Services Section (PSSS), is enhancing the relationship between law enforcement and private security, educating law enforcement and homeland security officials on the value of using private security in the process. In the past three years, DCJS has promoted many collaborative initiatives focusing on education, communication, and cooperation between law enforcement and private security services to strengthen the latter’s role in homeland security.

The Beginning
In 2003 a small group of private security managers representing all segments, including small, midsize, and international companies, along with representatives from the Virginia DCJS and executives from the Virginia Office of Commonwealth Preparedness (OCP), met to discuss the role of the private security industry as it relates to preparing for and responding to a terrorist event. They focused on ways to bring the private security industry into the planning that would continue to take place on both the state and national levels.

The attendees were surprised to learn just how many private security practitioners are registered, certified, and licensed to conduct business in Virginia. Virginia has approximately 40,000 individuals providing contract private security for more than 1,500 licensed business entities. Although Virginia does not regulate proprietary security personnel, such as the security guards in a local store or the local amusement park, and exact numbers are unavailable, DCJS estimates that an equal number of individuals (40,000) are performing proprietary security services for these businesses. Some meeting participants were also unaware that Virginia has mandatory training for personnel in all categories of contract private security. In addition, a fingerprint-based state and FBI criminal history report must be completed for every private security applicant in Virginia to verify his or her eligibility for credentials.

During this meeting, the participants discussed the private security industry’s role and responsibilities and how the industry might enhance Virginia’s preparedness in homeland security. Virginia government officials were not only impressed with the industry’s size but could also quickly see the benefit of adding additional eyes and ears to Virginia’s domestic preparedness plan. Since private security protects 85 percent of the critical infrastructure in the nation, Virginia’s comprehensive Homeland Security Plan could no longer deem private security the missing link.

Addressing Virginia Police Concern
DCJS recognized the need to improve private security’s image and strengthen the relationship between law enforcement and private security. Many law enforcement officers have not worked with private security professionals and thus need to learn the specific laws, regulations, requirements, and training that govern the industry. If law enforcement officers understand that private security providers are true professionals, they will be more likely to collaborate with private security.

These two public safety groups share many of the same challenges. DCJS recognizes the need to educate law enforcement on how they may take advantage of the industry’s security capabilities. For example, many private security businesses have the expertise and the technology to help solve complex computer crimes. They can also help law enforcement install and monitor CCTV and other types of electronic security, as well as work to reduce false alarms. Further, considering private security’s numerical strength, law enforcement may gain significant tactical, intelligence, and strategic support through partnering with security professionals.

The First Initiatives: Training
The first initiative DCJS recommended, which OCP approved, was adding a two-hour block of private security orientation training to the basic law enforcement training curriculum. This training will benefit both law enforcement and private security by enabling law enforcement officers to conduct their assignments more efficiently when dealing with private security issues and will encourage law enforcement to consider private security personnel as additional sources of information.

DCJS received grant funding to develop a professional video designed to give entrylevel law enforcement officers an overview of the industry’s role and responsibilities and the assets it can provide to enhance Virginia’s preparedness in homeland security. Introduced this year, the video, “The Private Side of Public Safety,” can be viewed from DCJS’s Web site at by following the “Watch Our Video” hyperlink.

Fusion Center
Another initiative that the OCP and the governor approved was to include private security in Virginia’s new Critical Information Shared System (CISS) and in its fusion center. Licensed private security businesses now have access to unclassified homeland security threat level information, public safety information, related criminal alerts, and other timely information that might affect their activities. This, in effect, expands law enforcement resources by using the private security industry. Virginia has approximately 17,000 sworn law enforcement officers; the contract private security industry has approximately 40,000 officers. Virginia law enforcement thus multiplies its effectiveness by disseminating information to private security and tapping the industry as an additional resource. It also encourages and enhances interaction between law enforcement and private security.

PCPP Certification Program
To increase public awareness, DCJS created a new Private Crime Prevention Practitioner (PCPP) certification program, modeled after law enforcement’s Crime Prevention Specialist program, to train and certify private security professionals in crime prevention and homeland security.

The requirements involve both training and experience. Certification is awarded based on successful completion of 48 hours of crime prevention and instructor training; a national fingerprint-based criminal history records check; and at least one year of experience in the private security field. Additional PCPP material can be found on the DCJS Private Security Services home page: .

Counterterrorism Training for Certified Instructors
In October 2004 DCJS received a one-time grant from the Department of Homeland Security’s State Homeland Security Program (SHSP), which allowed DCJS to develop and conduct anti-terrorism training throughout Virginia for all certified private security instructors. Topics included terrorism extremist awareness and threats, site assessment and risk, terrorist weapons, critical incident response and officer safety, and incident management. Even though this training was not mandated, more than half of the eligible instructors took advantage of it.

Security Summit
In the fall of 2005, DCJS hosted a security and law enforcement summit in Richmond, Virginia. Its purpose was to foster strong working relationships among private and contract security; federal, state, and local government; and law enforcement officials.

DCJS intentionally limited this event to a small group: 75 leaders from across Virginia, including police chiefs and sheriffs, state and local government officials, and private and proprietary security leaders. Summit planners comprised a committee of law enforcement representatives, corporate and contract security representatives, the Virginia Private Security Services Advisory Board, members of DCJS’ Criminal Justice Services Board, and the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police.

The summit included an overview of the private security’s capabilities, an example of a successful public-private partnership, a presentation regarding the successful cooperative effort of the alarm industry and law enforcement in reducing false alarms, a presentation by an IACP member concerning private security and law enforcement partnerships, and a practical exercise in which attendees were encouraged to develop strategies for improving relationships between security and law enforcement.

Judging from the comments received at the summit’s end and the results of the online survey after the event, the summit was a huge success and will, DCJS believes, contribute greatly to efforts to advance and further the collaboration of future productive partnerships.

Leaders who attended the summit have developed regional groups—one of which has already committed to future meetings—to begin developing specific ways in which law enforcement and private security can work together. One effort currently underway is assessing private security assets. Using an online survey instrument through our website, we hope to determine what assets, manpower, and time private security businesses can commit in case of a statewide emergency. Another effort is developing a statewide contract for particular services with private security companies for immediate deployment in emergencies.

DCJS is planning another summit in 2007 with even broader representation. It will focus on success stories.

Expanding its audience, DCJS is working with the Virginia Community Policing Institute using a grant from the federal Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Office to develop a video for national distribution on cooperative relationships between law enforcement and private security as they relate to homeland security.

The Future
Homeland security is a collective mission, and law enforcement and private security can together build the bridges and rise to any challenge. Virginia’s DCJS feels it made many strides and had numerous successes to improve private security and public policing partnerships.

With that, we know we can have a greater impact and we are committed to continuing our work. If you have similar efforts in your state and are willing to contribute, please contact us. We encourage other states to join in the effort.

1 International Association of Chiefs of Police, Building Private Security/Public Policing Partnerships to Prevent and Respond to Terrorism and Public Disorder (Alexandria, Virginia: 2004), 1, , September 15, 2006
2 William J. Woska, “Police Officer Recruitment: A Public-Sector Crisis,” The Police Chief 73 (October 2006): 52–59.
3 Matthew J. Hickman, “Impact of the Military Reserve Activation on Police Staffing,” The Police Chief 73 (October 2006): 62–72.
4 Hickman, “Impact of the Military Reserve Activation on Police Staffing,” 63.
5 U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Federal Law Enforcement Statistics 2004 (Washington, D.C.: September 2004), , September 15, 2006.
6 International Association of Chiefs of Police, Building Private Security/Public Policing Partnerships, 2
7 Matthew J. Simeone Jr., “The Power of Public-Private Partnership (P3) Networks in Policing,” The Police Chief 73 (May 2006): 75–79.
8 Michigan State University, School of Criminal Justice, “Relations between Police and Security in Michigan,” by Mahesh Nalla and Donald Hummer (East Lansing, Michigan: n.d.), , September 15, 2006.



From The Police Chief, vol. 73, no. 11, November 2006. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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