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Back to Archives | Back to May 2006 Contents 

The Power of Public-Private Partnerships P3 Networks in Policing

By Matthew J. Simeone Jr., Deputy Inspector, Nassau County Police Department, Mineola, New York

uring the last few years, police executives around the globe have reevaluated their agencies' operations in order to meet today's most pressing challenge: maintaining public safety in a post-September 11 environment. Protecting critical infrastructure and maintaining homeland security is now the responsibility of all who are sworn to serve and protect.

Protecting critical infrastructure, however, can be a daunting task given that, by some estimates, 85 percent of it is protected by private security1 and relatively few law enforcement agencies have an established police-private security partnership for this undertaking. Communities and private corporations have a vital role in achieving homeland security. The purpose of this article is to show how establishing Internet-based public-private partnership (P3) networks allow law enforcement agencies to leverage the vast resources of the private security industry, as well as community-based civic organizations, to significantly enhance public safety and homeland security. AP3 network, if integrated into the operations of a police department, can assist not only in preventing crime and apprehending criminals but also in bridging the gap between all that needs to be done and that which can be accomplished with limited policing resources.

The International Association of Chiefs of Police has been a strong proponent of partnerships between the police and private security.2 At a national policy summit public-private partnerships convened by the IACP and the COPS Office January 2004, in Arlington, Virginia, more than 140 executive-level participants from law enforcement and the private sector were brought together to examine the issue of public-private partnerships.

An important outcome of the summit was the realization that the protection of critical U.S. infrastructure depends partly on the competence of private security practitioners and that building partnerships is essential to homeland security. Furthermore, with the public sector tending to have information regarding threats, but the private sector tending to have control over vulnerable sites, fertile ground exists for developing partnerships that serve both of their needs.

Crime Prevention Is Terrorism Prevention
In dealing with homeland security and the threat of terrorism, building comprehensive crime prevention-focused partnership that has everyday use can be extremely effective. At its most fundamental level, crime prevention is terrorism prevention. Today's crime prevention responsibilities necessarily include the domestic security, undoubtedly the most serious crime prevention task ever imposed on policing agencies.3

In the past, establishing such a network would itself further strain an agency's limited resources. But today's technology makes it easier than ever. Because it allows agencies to use e-mail to disseminate important and timely information, including crime prevention materials, a P3 network can help keep the private sector informed and connected to the local police department. Being connected implies not only the ability to receive information but also the ability to communicate back to the police. This type of information-sharing partnership enhances public safety not only by developing a more aware community but also by increasing the level of community involvement through the process itself. The result is a form of 21st-century community policing, wherein technology is used to aid in both community partnering and problem solving.

Why E-mail?
With the presence of computers and Internet access in virtually all large businesses and in most homes today, most of the tools needed for an e-mail-based system are already in place. E-mail allows for near-instant access to potentially thousands of end users, and, equally important, it allows for a direct means of communication back to the agency.

Although there are some advantages in using a Web site-based system, such as the ability to post large amounts of static information, the resources necessary to implement and maintain such a system could beyond the reach of most agencies. Even administrators of a Web site-based system may consider implementing an e-mail component to notify users of the fresh posting of important information.

Considering the relatively low cost and minimal allocation of personnel resources necessary for implementation, an e-mail-based network provides for considerable connectivity and utility in a system that is relatively simple and easy to use.

Building the Network
By definition, a P3 network has a public component and a private component. On the public side of the network is law enforcement and non-law enforcement government agencies, while on the private side are security directors, chambers of commerce, Neighborhood Watch groups, and civic associations.

Connect the Departments: It is important to first build the public side of the network. Connecting the department with every other law enforcement agency operating in or around the jurisdiction should be the goal. It will be advantageous if other police agencies report major incidents and road closings occurring in their jurisdictions, since some of that information may be appropriate for other members on the network. Therefore, e-mail addresses should include those individuals at the operations desks of these agencies. This helps to ensure that information shared from other police departments is both timely and accurate.

Developing this segment of the P3 also creates an immediate communications link to every other law enforcement agency in the area, which can also be used to share sensitive "law enforcement only" information.

Connect the Government Agencies:
In addition to law enforcement, other "non-law enforcement" governmental agencies should be included on the network. This includes officials from various departments such as fire services, health, highway, emergency management, public transportation, and executive government, all of which are part of critical infrastructure.

After constructing the public side of the network, it is time to address the private sector. It is important to note that developing a system of communication in a policing agency should be considered before implementing an information-sharing partnership with the private sector. An internal notification system that used text messaging or a comparable type of computer application could help agencies avoid potentially embarrassing situations when members of the private sector receive notification of a major incident before the executive staff of a police department.

Private Security Directors: As homeland security is of vital concern, forming a distribution group consisting of security directors responsible for protecting key assets and critical infrastructure is a good place to start building the private side of the network. The individuals in this group should be vetted, because it is important to be able to share information with some assuredness that sensitive need-to-know information will be handled appropriately. A list of sectors that compose critical infrastructure can be found on any of the U.S. Homeland Security Information Network (HSIN) Web sites.4 Note that many of these sectors are under the control of private security and can be considered prime targets for terrorists:

  • Agriculture and food
  • Banking and finance
  • Chemical and hazmat
  • Defense industrial base
  • Education
  • Emergency services
  • Energy
  • Government operations
  • Information security
  • Large venues, buildings, and monuments
  • Postal and shipping
  • Public health
  • Telecommunications
  • Transportation
  • Water and wastewater

In addition to critical infrastructure, other corporate security directors and directors of security forces may also be included in the vetted side of the network.

Organizations such as the American Society for Industrial Security International, the International Security Management Association, the National Association of Security Companies, the Security Industry Association, and local business associations can be a great resource in building this part of the network. Also, various sectors may have umbrella organizations pertaining to their particular type of business. For instance, in the United States there are Rx Patrol for pharmacies, the Jewelers' Security Alliance for jewelers, and the Synthetic Organic Chemical Manufacturers Association for chemical companies. Organizations like these can help obtain the contact information needed to build a particular sector.

Organize the Categories
In building a P3 network, the key to attaining maximum flexibility, thus functionality, is in the manner in which e-mail groups are organized. A distinct e-mail group should be created for every sector for which individual access would be advantageous. If an agency uses personal computers operating on a Windows platform, Microsoft Outlook or a comparable application can give you all the software tools you need to accomplish this.

Users can create a category in Outlook for each sector group, and an individual may be placed into as many categories as is appropriate. For instance, a bank security director may be in the security directors, critical infrastructure, and financial sector categories. Note that an individual can be added to, or removed from, a category simply by checking or unchecking a box in the program. In this way, the category becomes the distribution group, and sending out a message to an entire sector is as easy as sending one message to the entire category. Figure 2 illustrates an overview of a P3, including sector categories that an agency may consider establishing when setting up their own network.

The last segment in the private sector that may be included is the nonvetted community-based organizations such as chambers of commerce, Neighborhood Watch groups, and civic associations.

It is vitally important that each individual group on the network be sorted out so that it may be accessed separately. This is the single most important factor in determining the potential use of the network.

Information Technology Security
Information technology (IT) security and protection of the database must be a major concern in setting up any type of P3 network using e-mail. Protocols must be put into place that ensure that incoming e-mail is properly screened or scrubbed so as not to infect the network. With the prevalence of spam and phishing e-mails on the Internet today, IT security is of paramount importance.

The P3 and Department Structure
Although a P3 network can function as its own unit in a police department, ideally it should operate as part of an intelligence center, where intelligence gathering and analysis as well as crime data analysis occur. Being embedded in the centralized intelligence function has great advantages relating to the expeditious flow of information. Incoming information can be quickly analyzed and distributed to the appropriate recipients. Information and intelligence can be sanitized, if necessary, and shared with the appropriate individuals or groups with a few clicks of a mouse.

The importance of being closely linked to the crime data analysis function becomes evident as statistics regarding the latest crime trends and patterns is shared with members of the network. This information can be particularly useful to chambers of commerce agencies that have implemented the Comp-Stat model, the very timely and accurate crime data that results from that process becomes even more valuable to private sector partners.

Furthermore, the opportunity exists here to tailor crime prevention information to meet the specific need. Distributing these materials over the network will help communities protect themselves. This type of proactive approach to crime prevention not only enhances the effectiveness of the partnership but also yields positive results in reducing overall crime.

Information Sharing
One of the most important findings of the 9/11 Commission Report was the realization that information sharing between law enforcement agencies was seriously deficient. The report emphasized that the need-to-know culture of information protection needs to be replaced by a "need-to-share" culture of integration.5

This problem is not unique to federal law enforcement. Because it speaks to the way police view information, it affects all aspects of information sharing, especially with the private sector.

Various types of information may be shared over a P3 network, and who receives what is ultimately going to be decided by the police agency running the network. Those directly responsible for administering the network need the authority to make decisions relating to the release and dissemination of information. Initially, guidelines may be set to aid in that kind of decision-making, but it is chief law enforcement executive who decides to embark on such a partnership, to create a climate in an agency that leads it toward having an information-sharing culture.

Consistent with that type of a cultural shift, today there is a move toward more information being made available from higher levels of government to local law enforcement for release to the private sector. In coming years, this trend is likely to continue as P3 networks begin to flourish.

Specific categories of information that can be shared over a P3 network include the following:

  • Robbery and kidnapping notifications
  • Missing person alerts
  • Crime Stoppers and wanted posters
  • Major fire or explosion reports
  • Major road closings
  • Suspicious packages or circumstances
  • Disruptions in public transportation
  • Planned evacuation drills
  • Weather advisories
  • Identified crime patterns
  • Crime prevention and training materials
  • Weekend events and parades

Practically any event or situation involving public safety or affecting the continuity of business is information to be disseminated through the P3 network. Once the network is in place, it is a short step from there to disseminating information regarding terrorist threats.

It is important to note that not all segments of the network must receive every transmitted message. There will likely be many types of messages that an agency decides not to share with individual segments of the network. Furthermore, sector-specific information may be sent to just one particular sector because it pertains only to that group. This type of sector access can be extremely useful as an investigative tool. Sending a message to the hotel and motel group when looking for a transient subject, or sharing bank robbery pattern information with the banking group, are examples of this type of targeted access. An investigator can potentially reach an entire segment of private security professionals in just minutes.

Examples of Use
Every time a robbery notification is transmitted, members of the network become extra eyes and ears. In addition, public transportation employees, such as bus drivers, as well as security forces with mobile patrols, can be valuable members of the network. When sending out a notification involving a potentially dangerous subject, agencies should warn the public not to attempt apprehension but to immediately notify police.

Crime prevention information can be a great benefit to many on the network. Sending out training materials on topics such as preoperational surveillance and how to be a good witness can help private security directors train security guards. In addition, information regarding gang signs and symbols can be of great benefit to corporate human resource directors and hospital security directors who can train emergency room personnel to help recognize injured gang members.

Information regarding major road closings and disruptions in public transportation can greatly aid in the continuity of business. Helping business do business contributes to the economic vitality of an area. Notifications of auto crashes, major fires or explosions, and hazardous materials incidents that shut down an area, as well as weekend events and parades, are more examples of information that can be useful in helping the private sector to avoid those areas.

As a public-private partnership evolves, so will the ways in which creative police officers, sheriff deputies, and investigators find uses for the network.

As far as law enforcement's partnership with private security is concerned, information sharing is just one of many activities that can be undertaken. Improving joint response to critical incidents, coordinating the protection of infrastructure, improving communications and data interoperability, preventing and investigating high-technology crimes, and devising responses to workplace violence, are all issues that can be dealt with through the partnership.6 The P3 network provides the platform and effectively lays the groundwork from which these issues can be addressed.

Conducting meetings periodically with members of the network can significantly enhance its overall effectiveness by strengthening the personal relationships between P3 members and the individual officers administering the network.

If an agency does decide to hold such meetings, it should hold a separate meeting for directors of private security. There are two good reasons for this. First, presenting a security-related topic that is appropriate for this audience has its obvious benefits and allows for discussion that may not be appropriate for lay persons. Second, it is vital that security directors be made to feel that they are valued partners in the endeavor.

Building bridges between a police department and these key individuals entrusted with protecting the critical infrastructure can potentially have a significant impact on public safety. Ultimately, the more information that is sent out to the private sector and the better the relationships with members, the more likely it becomes that information will start to flow back. It is in this stage of the process that an agency will begin to realize the full benefits of the system.

The Next Level: A Forum
There may be a point at which the network becomes large enough to justify the development of an Internet forum to enhance the e-mail network. Essentially, a forum is an electronic bulletin board where vetted members with secure log-in privileges can post questions or messages or respond to others on the network. Facilitating this type of cross-talk as a matter of everyday communication can have a significant effect in preventing crime. As an example, security personnel from the various retail stores in the jurisdiction can post information regarding shoplifters, or school security personnel can discuss the latest signs of gang activity. A forum, though, demands constant oversight by department personnel to assess possible intelligence and to ensure appropriate content, as well as information technology resources to handle technological issues.

A public-private partnership network can enable an agency to coordinate and leverage private sector assets on a scale that, before now, has not been possible. Each jurisdiction's unique problems will require its own approach, but this article seeks to provide a framework for a P3 network.

In areas that have overlapping jurisdictions or where there are many jurisdictions in close proximity, regional partnerships may be considered. The bottom line is that a system can be as small or as large as resources allow, and the sooner an agency implements its own P3 the sooner it will begin to reap the benefits of enhanced public safety and more effective policing. ■


1 IACP, "Private Security/Public Policing: Vital Issues and Policy Recommendations, 2004": 1.
2 See Joseph Samuels Jr., "Building Partnerships between Private-Sector Security and Public-Sector Police," The Police Chief 70 (September 2003): 6.
3 National Public Safety Strategy Group, "Public Police & Private Security: A Partnership for Safety": 5.
4 See (
5 The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States of America (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 2004): 435; (
6 IACP, "Private Security/Public Policing: Vital Issues and Policy Recommendations, 2004": 26-27.



From The Police Chief, vol. 73, no. 5, May 2006. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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