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What Are the Differences Between Private & Public Sector Security?

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When you see a security guard at the mall, at a bank or in a crowded area, you may not think about who hired that guard, essentially, if the guard is public or private sector security. The difference may have more of an impact than you think.

Public Security

Police officers, sheriffs and detectives are public sector security employees. Their jobs are to make sure society is as close to crime-free as possible. They may do everything from writing a speeding ticket to working with a crime scene. They are allowed to make arrests and are given discretion to use force when necessary. The training and education it takes to become a public sector security employee are highly regulated. For a police officer, several rigorous exams, completion of a police academy program and an extensive background check is required, and a degree in criminal justice is encouraged. The police force is funded with government money, so police officers are ultimately accountable to society.

Private Security

Private sector security refers to guards who are hired by businesses, organizations or citizens to guard businesses, gated communities, malls, workplaces and apartment buildings, and sometimes to break strikes. Private sector security guards are hired to protect assets, including people, property and information. A citizen is probably more likely to encounter private sector security on a day-to-day basis than public security. Private security guards are limited by law to observing, reporting and deterring crime. They are not authorized to use force or make arrests. Since private sector security officers are not funded by government money, they are not accountable to society but to whomever pays them.


There are many benefits to both public and private sector security, but the fact that both exist in our society, giving us "dual law enforcement," is a benefit in itself. Private sector security was created because public sector security can't be everywhere at once. Private security guards help public security officers make society a safer place by providing a wider-reaching crime watch.


Both public and private sector security officers are at risk for using unnecessary force. However, because private sector security guards often work closely with their employers, some worry about where their interests lie. Private sector security is not regulated. There is no required minimum training or education. However, most private security officers do carry firearms, which worries citizens because there is the chance that the private security guard has been poorly trained, inadequately screened or is underpaid. Many private security guards are hired by the rich and famous for personal protection. Therefore, the guard's only duty is to protect that person. This is why things like drug use at parties go unreported, even though security officers are present. Many people say this is unethical.


There are conflicts between the public and private security sectors. Currently, private sector security officers far outnumber public sector security. This is because federal funding is decreasing, so municipalities are hiring private sector security officers to do jobs that public security officers would normally do, such as parking enforcement and prisoner transportation. Advocates for public sector security think that fear-mongering and right-wing privatization enthusiasts contribute to the boom in private sector security.

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