Foot patrol works. More of it will reduce violence.

Foot patrols are not a silver bullet, but when implemented in careful, thoughtful ways in violent crime hot spots, they can reduce and prevent violence

his essay is reprinted with permission from the Violence Reduction Project

By Jerry Ratcliffe and Dr. Evan Sorg

In Philadelphia, 2020 was the deadliest year in 30 years. As of December 2020, the Philadelphia Police Department has recorded 466 homicides, a 39% year-to-date increase relative to 2019.

Foot patrol has been a cornerstone of policing since modern police agencies were created.
Foot patrol has been a cornerstone of policing since modern police agencies were created. (Photo/Police1)

In 2007, Jeremy Travis, then President of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, testified to the United States Senate’s Judiciary Committee. He described a 23% two-year increase (from 375 in 2004 to 406 killed in 2006) as “stunning.”

Like many other cities across the country, Philadelphia is facing a raging pandemic and an increase in crime-related killings. The number of lives lost to violence in 2020 will be an increase of over 100 for a city that “only” had 241 in 2014. We will likely double that total in 2020.


2020 is unprecedented. Criminologists will likely spend the coming years trying to explain the causes of the devastating uptick in murders being experienced around much of the country. Although such hypothesizing and theory-testing will no doubt be reported in academic journals in the years to come, cities around the country are grappling with rising violence now. An immediate response is required.

Notwithstanding challenges on multiple fronts that are unique to 2020, recent history in Philadelphia and academic research conducted over the past several decades, provides an evidence-based blueprint for one thing urban police departments can do to tackle violence immediately: foot patrol.

Any plan must deal with the practicalities of the day. It is clear that the outgoing presidential administration will leave in its wake (at least) two interrelated crises that will complicate the ability of local jurisdictions to successfully implement crime reduction activity:

  1. A failure to develop a coherent nation plan and promote best practices to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  2. A failure to provide sustained financial relief to local jurisdictions that have been economically devastated due to the virus.

Therefore, ANY plan to implement crime prevention programs must be offered with an eye to both budgetary constraint and sensitive to the fact that many communities – particularly already disadvantaged communities – are facing significant economic hardship that has swollen due to COVID-19.

These communities have also borne the brunt of the recent homicide increases in their neighborhoods. Immediate crime prevention plans must also be implemented in the context of a raging pandemic. As if 2020 hadn’t doled out enough, the awful death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin and the civil unrest that followed has exacerbated police-community relations. This is why it is particularly instructive to examine Philadelphia’s experience with crime and policing under the leadership of Mayor Michael Nutter and Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey from 2008-2016, and specifically their advocacy for police foot patrols in crime hot spots.


As we enter 2021, many local leaders are grappling with environments where homicides are up, economic circumstances are bleak, and confidence in police is at historic lows. Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter began his first term in 2008 facing similar circumstances (absent a pandemic). The 2008 financial crisis hit the nation during Nutter’s first year in office, forcing him to abandon ambitious plans and drastically cut budgets. Homicides in Philadelphia would come down slightly during the year before Nutter’s tenure, but homicides and other violent crimes were still near record highs for the decade when he assumed office.

Nutter made crime reduction a central theme in his mayoral campaign, and he even ambitiously promised to reduce homicides in Philadelphia by 30-50% during his first 3-5 years in office. Politicians tend to have wildly optimistic rhetoric when campaigning, but he was ultimately successful. Nutter tasked his new Police Commissioner, insightful and smart veteran Charles Ramsey, to lead this charge.

Ramsey was a police leader in Chicago during the rollout of the Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy in the 1990s when he worked alongside academics like Wesley Skogan to evaluate the new community policing philosophy. Ramsey gained an understanding of the importance of evaluating the effectiveness of policing interventions with scientific methods. He also had an affinity for foot patrolling, and so upon taking over leadership of the Philadelphia Police Department he expanded the use of foot patrols in the city.

Although a post-hoc analysis of the effectiveness of these early foot patrols was conducted by one of us (Ratcliffe) and Travis Taniguchi, the Philadelphia Police Department recognized that there were limits to what such an analysis could tell them. It also became clear to then-Deputy Commissioner Kevin Bethel that a more robust evaluation was necessary to truly understand whether the foot patrols were effective. As he explains in this video, Bethel had not originally thought that foot patrol would work, but after being provided with the results of the initial analysis, Bethel phoned Ratcliffe and invited him to design a more robust experimental evaluation of foot patrols; the Philadelphia Foot Patrol Experiment. It would become the first of two experiments testing the effectiveness of foot patrol at hot spots.

Our research in Philadelphia coupled with research conducted over the preceding decades can be summed up as follows:

  1. Foot patrols are not a silver bullet, but when implemented in careful, thoughtful ways in violent crime hot spots, they can reduce and prevent violence.
  2. The public supports them. Foot patrols leave the public more satisfied with their police departments, and less fearful of crime victimization.

Foot patrols were found to reduce violent crime at foot beats by 23% in 2009 relative to standard police patrols during the Philadelphia Foot Patrol Experiment. They were not, however, successful in reducing crime during the Philadelphia Policing Tactics Experiment. The reasons for the difference are an important lesson in implementation. What follows is a summary of the findings reported in our book and several academic journal articles that we have published on the topic with our colleagues. Readers interested in the methodological aspects of the summary that follows, or interested in further reading, can consult this website where more technical academic journal articles are linked.


A natural starting point for any foot patrol program is to identify where crime is most problematic and use this knowledge to develop foot beat locations. Contrary to common wisdom, crime is not randomly distributed across the urban landscape. Rather, it is highly concentrated at geographic areas smaller than the administrative boundaries like sectors that sometimes dictate where police will patrol.

Hot spots are most often operationalized as individual streets, street corners, a single building, or small clusters of these locations. Traditional beat areas used for car patrols, neighborhoods, or communities, are usually too large for foot patrol. For the smaller areas necessary for this work, well-trained crime analysts can aggregate crime incidents that have occurred over a preceding year or so to these geographic units and figure out this information.

This was performed prior to both the Philadelphia Foot Patrol Experiment and the Philadelphia Policing Tactics Experiment. You do not need a lot of time to amass violence in Philadelphia. Violent crimes that occurred in the three months prior to foot patrols being deployed were aggregated to street corners and were mapped in a way that depicted where high crime corners were surrounded by other high crime corners. Police leaders then used their experience to draw foot beats that not only encompassed these hot spots but also incorporated key features of the area, such as bodegas or bars.


We learned that the size of a foot beat is important. On the one hand, beats that are too large will dilute any deterrent effect of the foot patrols, while beats that are too small can result in boredom and a feeling of monotony among officers. They may begin to stray from their beats, further diluting any deterrent effect. During the Philadelphia Foot Patrol Experiment, officers patrolled beats that contained about 1.3 miles of streets and 15 intersections. As noted, 23% less crime occurred in those beats that were patrolled.

During the subsequent Philadelphia Policing Tactics Experiment, foot patrol areas were much larger, and this was a mistake. They contained three miles of streets and 24 street intersections. Crime was not reduced by any meaningful amount, and we suspect that the size of the beats was a contributing factor. We would recommend erring on the side of smaller beats that more closely align with those delineated during the Philadelphia Foot Patrol Experiment. More focused is better.

A second important consideration when planning for foot patrols is to think about what type of officer is best suited for the job. In the Philadelphia Foot Patrol Experiment, 240 police officers were set to graduate from the academy, and these rookies spent their first three months on the job walking. In the Philadelphia Policing Tactics Experiment the next summer, veteran officers were utilized. This resulted in significant differences in recorded activity.

When the rookie officers worked in 2009, pedestrian stops increased by 64%, vehicle stops increased by 7% (yes, officers were stopping vehicles while they were on foot), arrests increased by 13% and 23% less violence was recorded. During the following summer’s experiment, the foot beats that the veteran officers worked saw pedestrian stops remain stable and vehicle stops and arrests decline. No significant crime reductions resulted. We believe that the differences in activity contributed to these disparate crime reduction findings. It seems that offenders are aware when the local officer is active rather than a scarecrow.


We are not necessarily advocating for beefed-up enforcement efforts through arrests or pedestrian stops. Officers involved in these experiments reported that they saw value in both law enforcement and efforts to engage the community. They oftentimes took steps to strike a balance between the two. Recent history tells us that aggressive enforcement can backfire and be counterproductive, so great care must be taken to choose the right type of officer, and for management to provide direction to the officers as to what is expected of them.

Based on our research, we recommend striking a careful balance between the two. Sometimes, the consistent presence of an officer can be a strong deterrent, so increases in aggressive enforcement are unnecessary. This is especially true if community relations are to be prioritized alongside crime prevention.

But the officer cannot be a statue either. Crime opportunities blossom when offenders think they have anonymity. So, the officer must be active enough to know who the local people are, who should (and should not) be in the area, and be able to engage – positively – with everyone on their beat.

A final consideration is how often and how long officers should spend time on foot beats, and again we can offer guidance based on the disparate findings between the two experiments in Philadelphia. During the Philadelphia Foot Patrol Experiment, two pairs of officers spent their entire eight-hour shifts walking the beat for three months, alternating between 10 am-6 pm and 6 pm-2 am shifts. Veteran officers worked only one eight-hour shift a day for three months and were sometimes not paired up with another officer. What resulted was a dosage of about half that of the Philadelphia Foot Patrol Experiment. This, too, could be a contributor to the null findings resulting from the Philadelphia Policing Tactics Experiment.


Foot patrol has been a cornerstone of policing since modern police agencies were created, but it was not until relatively recently that we learned that how foot patrol is carried out really matters. That it encourages and demands officers get out into the fresh air during an air-born pandemic is a benefit unique to the current times. There are, though, several factors that must be contemplated for an intervention to be successful. Nevertheless, with thoughtful consideration, we believe that foot patrol can play a role in slowing the rises in homicide that are underway across the country. Done properly, foot patrol combines cost-effective positive community engagement with a reduction in the anonymity that is so often related to neighborhood mayhem. Even with the necessary planning prior to deployment that we discussed here, foot patrols are an inexpensive and effective way to deploy resources. 

Click here to read more essays from the Violence Reduction Project

About the authors

Jerry Ratcliffe is a former British police officer, professor of Criminal Justice at Temple University and host of the Reducing Crime podcast. After an ice-climbing accident ended a decade-long career with London’s Metropolitan Police, he earned a first-class honors degree and Ph.D. from the University of Nottingham. Ratcliffe has been a research adviser to the FBI and the Philadelphia Police Commissioner, an instructor for the ATF intelligence academy, and he is a member of the FBI Law Enforcement Education and Training Council.

Dr. Evan Sorg is an assistant professor in the Department of Law and Justice Studies at Rowan University. He received his Ph.D. in Criminal Justice from Temple University in 2015. Prior to doing his graduate work he was a police officer with the New York City Police Department. His research involves police innovations, place-based criminology and the evaluation of policing interventions. 

Businesses hire private patrol team to curb crime in Calif. city

A pilot program of “private beat cops” aims to supplement the presence of sworn officers. Business owners say it’s making a difference

By Steven Mayer
The Bakersfield Californian

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — It happened at a consignment shop in downtown Bakersfield called The She Shed by The Peachy Pig.

The shop keeps some products outside its glass front door and the young employee in the store that day watched as an apparently homeless man laid down on a small padded sofa and decided to take a little nap in the shade.

Had owner Kalae Paxon been there, the former Kern County Sheriff’s Office detentions employee would likely have had the man on his feet — and quickly on his way.

But the clerk on duty was understandably reluctant to confront the man.

Instead, they called O & A Security Services, a private security company whose officers are “walking the beat” in a limited area of downtown seven days a week as a means of supplementing the waning presence of Bakersfield Police Department officers.

“A young lady (in uniform) showed up, and told him he had to leave,” Paxon said.

The man left with no further incident.

The contract — negotiated by the Downtown Business Association, 25 downtown business owners and O & A — has been in place for less than three weeks, but some downtown business owners say they are already seeing a positive difference.

“People were leaving their garbage, using us as their bathroom,” said Trisha Reed-Fike, who operates Guthrie’s Alley Cat.

“I know they are making a difference,” she said of the private beat cops. “The neighborhood looks more peaceful.

[RELATED: Foot patrol works. More of it will reduce violence.]

“Yes, I know it’s a work in progress,” she added, “and that it’s not going to be fixed overnight.”

Tina Brown, the owner of Tina Marie’s restaurant at 19th and Eye streets, said getting 25 business owners to come together as a group to spend money on additional security is worth celebrating.

“Downtown needs this,” she said. “If we want the heart of our city to be successful, we need to work together.”

The effort is a pilot project. It’s designed to keep what works and chuck what doesn’t, to work the bugs out and zero in on effective strategies.

“This is just a beginning,” Brown said. “But you might be seeing the start of something here.”

On a recent weekday, Sasha Owens, supervising officer and partner in O & A Security, walks east on 20th Street, then turns south on Chester Avenue. She says hello to people she passes on the sidewalk. And when she sees someone digging through trash, sleeping on a bench or a sidewalk, she starts a conversation.

She is armed with a Taser, but doesn’t carry a firearm. Her husband and business partner, JW Owens, does carry when he works the streets after dark on Friday and Saturday nights.

As she reaches the corner where Wall Street Alley meets Eye Street, she spots a man going through the huge dumpster across the street. Her pace quickens.

“You can’t be in the trash can,” she says in an assertive, no-nonsense tone. “We’ve had this conversation before.”

She pauses to see where it goes. She’s spoken with this man on another occasion.

“You already know where I’m at,” she says, establishing a kind of command presence. “Put the box back in the trash can. I can’t allow you to be in the dumpster.”

The man doesn’t say a word. He just gathers up his bags, climbs on his bicycle and rides away down the alley.

Then a voice comes from across the alley.

“Thank you!”

The voice belongs to Blackboard Barbershop owner Shaun Perdue, who is taking a smoke break. He had watched the whole thing.

“We run them off, too,” he said of the vagrants. “But I think it’s more effective when they do it.”

Maybe it’s the uniform and badge. Maybe it’s the training.

Perdue said he’s happy with what he’s seeing so far, but he has yet to be completely convinced of the value of the pilot program, and remains one of several business owners in the area who has not signed onto the contract to help spread the cost.

Mario Alvarez, who has been doing business downtown since the early 1970s, owns and operates Pacific Jewelry Co. on Chester Avenue. He also has not signed on.

“The best time we ever had with security downtown was when we had a beat cop,” he said of the days of old when the BPD had walking patrols downtown.

“There’s a difference between a beat cop and a security guard,” he said. “It’s not just psychological. It’s real.”

Alvarez said he works on a lean and mean overhead, and needs to be careful about spending.

“They could be doing a good job,” he allows of the security guards. “But a police officer would be better.”

Asked if he might be benefiting from the pilot project paid for by his fellow business owners, Alvarez doesn’t hesitate.

“I’d be lying to you if I said no.

“Bottom line, it costs money,” he said. “We already have the police department.”

(c)2022 The Bakersfield Californian (Bakersfield, Calif.)McClatchy-Tribune News Service

How to secure your home: 10 tips to prevent break-ins and theft

Moving into a house can be exciting, but putting safety measures in place to keep it protected and getting started with home security systems or devices can feel a little overwhelming. The good news is, burglary is becoming less common every year. But even with dropping rates, FBI data shows that burglaries occur in the US roughly once every 30 seconds.

To help you with your home security checklist, we put together a straightforward guide of the 10 best — and affordable — steps you can take to protect your home and deter would-be intruders from breaking in.

Secure your doors and windows

Locking your doors and windows is the first and easiest defense against home intruders, but how many of us are doing it consistently? Burglars are often looking for easy targets, and an unlocked door or window is just that. Even when you’re home, it’s good practice to keep them locked. And when you’re leaving the house, double-check doors and first-floor windows to make sure they’re all secured.

Some devices can also help you keep track of your entryways. Door and window sensors can track whether a door or window has been left ajar, and smart locks can be scheduled to lock automatically at certain times. Which brings us to our next tip.

Upgrade your door locks

Locking your doors and windows may not be enough if you don’t have high-quality locks. First, make sure all exterior doors have a deadbolt, making it more difficult for intruders to break in. While you’re at it, make sure your door frames and hinges are strong enough to endure an attempted break-in — older doors or exposed hinges can pose an unnecessary risk. Finally, as mentioned above, you can upgrade to smart locks, which you can engage remotely.

Buy a home security system

Installing a home security system is one of the most effective ways to prevent intruders from entering and to alert you if there’s been a break-in. Data shows that a home without a security system is roughly three times more likely to be broken into. If an intruder spots a security camera or a sign indicating you have a security system, they’ll likely keep moving.

Home security systems are one of the best all-around defenses against would-be burglars.David Priest/CNET

Home security cameras are a great option to add another layer of home protection. Security cameras can alert you if there’s movement in your yard or on your front porch, and door and window sensors will let you know if someone has entered or is attempting to enter your home. Depending on your security company, they may also alert law enforcement on your behalf.

Security systems also don’t have to break the bank. There are plenty of affordable security cameras and great DIY security systems, in addition to stand-alone devices, out there that you can install yourself on a budget.

Read more: Turn your old smartphone into a new security camera in 3 easy steps

Keep your valuables hidden

Some burglars may scope out potential targets ahead of time, ensuring they hit houses where they can get their hands on valuables. As a result, it’s best to avoid keeping your expensive items where intruders can easily see them as they pass by. For example, avoid leaving expensive tools or bikes out in the open, close your garage door, and don’t leave expensive electronics, purses, jewelry, cash and other big-ticket items in front of open windows. You can also consider installing window treatments like curtains or blinds to keep out spying eyes. 

Install outdoor lighting

Burglars don’t want to feel like they’re on display when breaking into a home, and outdoor lights can help to do just that. Since these crimes are often ones of opportunity, outdoor lights may encourage the intruder to keep moving. Rather than keeping your outdoor light on all the time, consider investing in motion-sensor lights that illuminate the yard when they detect movement. The light will catch an intruder off-guard and potentially scare them off. 

And if you would like to take the extra step, there are plenty of outdoor security cameras on the market. From high-end devices to budget-friendly options, boosting your video-surveillance system can keep your loved ones and your property as safe as possible. 

Lock your garage

People put a lot of effort into securing their homes but often forget entirely about their garages. Unfortunately, that can be an easy way to gain entrance into your home. First, be sure any regular doors and windows to your garage are locked. Next, consider keeping your garage door opener in the house rather than in your car where someone could steal it. Finally, you should also keep the interior door from your garage to your home locked. That way, if someone does gain entry into your garage, they still can’t get into your home. 

As with door locks, buying a retrofit smart garage door opener is an option. These devices allow you to check the status of your garage while you’re away, control it remotely and schedule it to shut at certain times.

Spare keys are a lifesaver if you get locked out of the house. But they can also make a burglar’s job much easier.Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Be smart about your hide-a-key

If you have a house key under your doormat or flowerpot on the porch, rethink its placement. Intruders know these popular hiding places for spare keys, and those are the first places they’ll look. Instead, consider giving the extra key to a trusted neighbor or friend. If you must have a spare key outside your home, look for safer alternatives such as a concealed combination lockbox — or at least a discreet and unexpected location far from your doorway. A little extra caution and mindfulness can go a long way in keeping your home safe. 

Make it look like someone is home

Most burglars don’t want to enter your home when you’re there. They’d rather find an empty home and be in and out as quickly as possible. Therefore, one of the best ways to prevent intruders is to make it look like someone is home at all times.

During the workday, this might include leaving an interior light or the TV on. When you’re gone for a longer period of time such as a vacation, make sure to have a neighbor or family member collect your mail, since mail piling up can be a giveaway that the homeowner is gone for a while.

Smart lights can create an even more convincing effect: many can be programmed to turn on and off periodically to simulate a person being home.

Hire a professional patrol service

Most intruders have to observe their target at least for few times before they commit their malicious act. That is why having a mobile patrol service consistently check on your home when you are on vacation is important. Adaptive Threat Solutions is proud to provide such a dedicated service which is trusted by more than 100 customers in Greater Seattle Area to protect their safety and assets.

Source: CNET

Security – The industry of inequality: why the world is obsessed with private security

Guards from the private security company Prosegur after the Paraguay-based firm was targeted in a multimillion-dollar raid in April.

New Guardian research shows private security workers outnumber public police officers for the majority of the world – in a business that now dwarfs what is spent trying to end global poverty

At least half the world’s population lives in countries where there are more private security workers than public police officers, according to a new Guardian analysis.

More than 40 countries – including the US, China, Canada, Australia and the UK – have more workers hired to protect specific people, places and things than police officers with a mandate to protect the public at large, according to the data. In Britain, 232,000 private guards were employed in 2015, compared with 151,000 police.

The global market for private security services, which include private guarding, surveillance and armed transport, is now worth an estimated $180bn (£140bn), and is projected to grow to $240bn by 2020. This far outweighs the total international aid budget to end global poverty ($140bn a year) – and the GDPs of more than 100 countries, including Hungary and Morocco.

Around the world, private security guards patrol shopping malls, elite gated communities and some public streets. They often wear uniforms that resemble police clothing and in some countries, including Spain and Italy, private guards carry handguns as well.

From El Salvador to Vietnam, private guards restrict access to walled elite residential enclaves that are cut off from the cities around them. In Myanmar’s commercial capital, Yangon, guards and metal detectors block entrances to luxury hotels that tower over the extreme poverty surrounding them.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg runs through Berlin with his personal bodyguards.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg runs through Berlin with his personal bodyguards. Photograph: Paul Zinken/EPA

Guard dogs bark from behind the high walls and razor wire that have become ubiquitous in wealthy suburbs in South Africa – where in 2015, almost 500,000 security guards numbered about twice the country’s combined total of police and army personnel.

In all, estimates suggest there are more than 20 million private security workers worldwide – more than the total number of people living in Chile or the Netherlands. Such “everyday” private security has become “so widespread that you almost don’t see it; you take it for granted”, said Rita Abrahamsen, a professor at Ottawa University. “You stop noticing it – there are guards everywhere.”

She described the expansion of private guards, security fences and gates as “very physical displays of inequality” – but added that this industry also provides jobs for huge numbers of people. In some countries, it is one of the only sectors of the economy that is growing

At Denver University, Prof Deborah Avant said the private security industry had surged with contracts during the US-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, when “an army of private workers flooded in to do all sorts of things”.

Afterwards, she said, companies “began to look elsewhere … at private security domestically but also for people living abroad, and for the private sector; for companies”.

Growing economic inequality was also part of the story, she said. “You have a ton more [money] than everyone around you, so you want to protect it. Getting [security] from the private sector is an obvious way to do it.”

Targeting the 1%

In the UK, the British Security Industry Association suggests the private security industry was worth more than £6bn in 2015. Customers include local communities: residents in one Essex town have reportedly hired private security to patrol public streets at night after a local police station closed.

Other companies target more elite clientele: the My Local Bobby subscription-based service caters to the wealthy in London’s most upmarket areas. According to one of the founders, a former police officer: “It’s like people buy private health insurance … the concept of people paying for something above what the state provides – this is no different.”

A private security guard outside the 964-acre gated community of St George’s Hill in Surrey.

This month, Jeremy Corbyn pledged that if Labour won the forthcoming election, it would add 10,000 more police officers to local forces. The shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, said this was necessary as “very few of us live in gated communities with their own private security”, and that it is “ordinary people who suffer most from crime”.

Some private security companies explicitly target the richest 1% with services such as crisis response for the ultra-wealthy, “executive personal protection” packages, and security for mega-yachts.

“In properly staffed households throughout the world, the bodyguard is the new nanny,” said the US magazine Town & Country in 2016, suggesting that “fear of terrorism, a volatile political climate and a pervasive sense that the wealth creation of a few has come at the expense of the many have made paranoia the norm”.

In London, the Westminster Security company offers “complete security and lifestyle management for high net-worth individuals, families and businesses,” advertising that their employees have police and military backgrounds.

The US company Pinkerton says it has 170 years’ experience of “highly-skilled agents” protecting “Fortune 100 CEOs and their workforces, famous entertainers, athletes, high-net worth individuals, royal families and diplomats”.

Intensifying inequality

The universal declaration of human rights states that “everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person”, and that “no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property”. Governments are required to work progressively towards realising these rights.

But when private security enables the rich and even the middle class to bypass the state, this can intensify a country’s inequalities. Regarding the expansion of private security in Latin America, the UN Development Programme has warned: “This phenomenon further increases inequality, as social groups have different capacities to deal with crime.”

In 2014, the economists Samuel Bowles and Arjun Jayadev published research that found the US was employing “as many private security guards as high school teachers”.

Students pass through metal detectors on their way into school in Albany, New York.
Pupils pass through metal detectors on their way into school in Albany, New York. Photograph: Mike Groll/AP

According to Department of Labor statistics, there are more than 1.1 million private security guards in the US – compared with about 660,000 police and sheriff’s officers.

In the UK, the Confederation of European Security Services (CoESS) said there were 232,000 private security guards in 2015. This also rivals the number of secondary school teachers (roughly 250,000), and far exceeds Britain’s levels of police: in March 2016, there were a total of 151,000 police officers operating within the UK (excluding police community support officers, special constables and support staff etc).

The growth of the private security industry reflects the breakdown of community bonds that comes with rising inequality

Bowles and Jayadev also found that more unequal cities and states in the US had higher levels of “guard labour” – a broad term that includes private security as well as police, bailiffs, prison officers, transport security and other related occupations. The pattern also held globally, with more unequal countries having more of their workers paid to protect people and things.

The growth of the private security industry can reflect the “breakdown of trust and community bonds” that comes with rising inequality, said Jayadev – adding that he was particularly struck by how, despite the importance of investing in education for society as a whole, guarding appeared to be more of a growth industry in the US.

Speaking to the Guardian from Bangalore, where he teaches at Azim Premji University, Jayadev observed that India has witnessed a broad “secession of the rich from the rest of the economy”.

Many people there, he said, already “rely on private services in every facet of their lives” to provide “all of the things the state might [otherwise] … including security”.

Estimates suggest the private security industry employs as many as seven million people in India, far more than the police, with about 1.7 million officers in 2013.

Symbolising wealth

The world’s largest private security company, G4S, boasts more than half a million employees around the world. Its most recent annual report, published in March, reported revenues of £6.8bn in 2016, and profits of £454m. Between 2015-16, its revenues in North America grew by 12% – and in both Latin America and Africa by about 7%.

Guards often have positions in front of buildings where they may see unusual activity – they can collect information too

The global market for private security – including guards but also alarm monitoring, armored transport and other services for commercial, government and residential buyers – is expected to grow to $240bn by 2020, according to data from the market-research firm the Freedonia Group, which companies such as G4S rely on for their own reports.

But true numbers could be higher still; there are few up-to-date and comparable statistics at the international level, and little open and independent monitoring and record-keeping. Industry data also leave out informal and under-the-table security work.

According to Freedonia figures, it’s a worldwide business that’s growing at nearly 6% a year – faster than the global economy as a whole – and it appears to be expanding fastest in developing countries and in Asia, with China and India major markets.

In January 2017, Freedonia noted that there is a “widespread perception that crime is rising”, which is helping to drive interest in security services “even as reported crime rates fall in a large number of countries”.

A nano drone at last month’s Border Security Expo in San Antonio, Texas.
A nano-drone at last month’s Border Security Expo in San Antonio, Texas. Photograph: John Moore/Getty

It added: “In a number of developing countries, bodyguards and other residential security services are seen as symbols of wealth, providing both protection and social status … Demand for guards is especially strong in developing countries, where hiring guards is more affordable than investing in technology-related services due to low labour costs.”

In most African countries, “there has been very little attempt to regulate the private security sector,” said Abrahamsen. “I think because it provided employment, the state and governments were quite happy to let it be.”

A few governments, including those in Uganda and Sierra Leone, have also facilitated the export of private security labour overseas, she said – actively supporting the recruitment of their citizens for guard jobs abroad.

But it’s also not only the elite that buy security. For example, in Kenya, Abrahamsen said: “You see it growing in low and middle-class areas as well. People will say that as soon as they can, they will invest in private security.”

Outpacing regulation

Government outsourcing is not the only thing driving private security. These days, in fact, states are not even the primary customers. According to Catherine Piana, director general of CoESS, roughly 70% of the industry’s clients in Europe are other private businesses – not public authorities.

“There is now a very wide range of services, depending of course on who you are,” said Piana, adding that, in the context of threats from terrorism, guards also “often have positions in front of buildings where they can see unusual activities and report them, so there’s a possibility for them to collect information too.”

International data on the industry is patchy – but in 2011, the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey documented an estimated 19.5 million security guards across 70 countries.

Its report said: “Like other commercial services, only those who are able and willing to pay will benefit from it. This dynamic runs the risk of exacerbating disparities between the wealthy – protected by increasingly sophisticated systems – and the poorest, who may need to resort to informal and sometimes illegal means to secure their safety.”

The Guardian has updated this 2011 dataset to 81 countries, drawing in more recent estimates, where possible, including figures published by the CoESS, the Organisation of American States, the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces, and other groups, as well as updated UN population estimates.

For the 81 states for which estimates were available, private security workers appear to outnumber police forces in 44 countries – with a combined population of roughly 4 billion people – or more than half of the world’s total of 7.5 billion.

Inequality index

In 2011, the Small Arms Survey warned that the private security industry’s rapid growth around the world “has outpaced regulation and oversight mechanisms”.

Currently there is an international code of conduct for private security providers – but it is voluntary, and critics say this industry needs more than self-regulation.

At Denver University, Avant co-directs the Private Security Monitor, which has been collecting data on incidents since the 1990s where private guards in Africa, Latin America and south-east Asia have been involved in protests, riots, strikes or conflicts, or connected to deaths or injuries in the course of “everyday” work.

And in Brussels last week, MEPs on foreign affairs and defence committees called for new EU-wide rules for private security companies and a ban on these firms carrying out military combat tasks. The European parliament is expected to vote on the proposals at the June plenary session in Strasbourg.

This article was supported by a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Read more of the Guardian’s new Inequality Project here. To get in touch, email [email protected].

(Source: The Guardian)