Swapping sworn police for security guards: Is it a fair trade?
In the past week I've seen two news articles about public organizations getting rid of sworn police officers in favor of contract security guards.
In Virginia, the Virginia Port Authority wants to cut 45 of its 71 police officers and replace them with contract security guards to save as much as $2 million per year. And in Minnesota, the town of Foley is cancelling its contract with the county sheriff's department for police services in favor of hiring General Security Services Corp. to supply security guards to patrol the town, a move that will save the town $90,000 a year. David Hyde, a security consultant in Toronto, told me the same trend is being seen in Canada, where municipal police budgets are being cut and officers laid off and replaced with contract security.
It's not a surprise. With tight budgets being the status quo, organizations are constantly looking for ways to save money. Manpower is often one of the biggest costs, so becomes a target for potential savings.
But what are the consequences when it comes to swapping police officers for security officers? Is security being compromised to save money?
In Virginia, the port authority claims the replacement of sworn officers with security guards will not compromise the port's security. But the fact remains there are things a sworn officer can do that a security guard can't. Whether that gap in abilities sacrifices security is up for debate. But there is at least one compelling argument the port's recent decision will make the port less secure: the hypocrisy inherent in claiming that a sworn police force that has been sustained over the years by saying it's necessary to keep the port and the supply chain safe is now no longer necessary and can be replaced with a cheaper alternative. That, for me, is the toughest aspect of the port's claim to swallow.
In the Foley, Minn., example, the question of how this type of decision affects security seemed to be answered in the following paragraph:
"The security officers do not enforce state laws or intervene in criminal matters, he said. The security officers will not be making arrests and all crimes will be referred to the sheriff’s office, he said."
The "he" the article refers to is Bill Leoni, director of northern regions for General Security Services. So, basically the town is cancelling its contract with the sheriff's department to provide sworn police officers on the street, but under this new system the sheriff's deputies will still be responsible for coming to the town whenever there's a criminal activity going on, they'll just have to come from farther away. All while the security guards do what—watch the criminal activity? Sure, these security guards will be armed and have the ability to make citizens arrests, but those guards will not be authorized to use those weapons unless for self-defense, so it seems safe to assume they won't be getting involved if anything serious is occurring. This sounds to me like a decision that compromises the security and safety of this town and its residents.
But budgets are real, and money doesn't grow on trees, so the pressure to cut costs will continue to grow, leaving security directors and—the ones who hold the purse strings—the top brass to contemplate how they can save money without compromising security. It's a shame, really. As Jay Grant, director of the International Association of Airport and Seaport Police, told me: "It's always too bad if we have to start looking at security just based on our budget dollars."
Care to add your voice to the conversation? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know what you think.
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