Partnership Policing: A Role for the Private Security Industry Security Industry to Assist the SAPS in Preventing Crime?

Anthony Minnaar
Institute for Human Rights and Criminal Justice Studies, Technikon SA

Published in African Security Review Vol 8 No 2, 1999


Over the last few years, the South African Police Service (SAPS) has been approached by a number of individual security firms with requests for the formation of partnerships on an ad hoc basis. Although the National Crime Prevention Strategy (NCPS) provides for partnerships with the private sector under the programme on environmental design and maintenance, and such partnerships are in line with the support initiatives put forward by Business Against Crime (BAC) and other private sector roleplayers, there are currently no fixed policy guidelines on how these partnerships should be formalised.

There are also a number of practical and legislative constraints to the operationalisation of such partnerships on a formal basis. In addition, there is uncertainty among a number of players over the precise kind of support, co-operation or service that would be provided by the security industry to the SAPS. Moreover, the sheer size
2 and wide diversity of services3 provided by the private security industry in South Africa further complicate the matter. Although a number of so-called joint or co-operative partnership initiatives have already been launched between certain companies or individuals and police stations at a local level, these have proceeded without the formal recognition or approval of the SAPS management and without due acknowledgement of the legal implications of these initiatives.

While the White Paper on Safety and Security emphasises the role and involvement of other actors outside the SAPS within a framework of social crime prevention programmes,
4 it does not indicated how this would be implemented in practical terms with regard to the private security industry in South Africa. In terms of partnerships, the White Paper merely states that, with reference to visible policing, the "... capacity to implement visible policing be augmented through partnerships with local government."5 The implication is that this would be done in conjunction with the proposed metropolitan or municipal policing structures. Finally, the White Paper refers only to areas of intervention that would ensure effective community crime prevention where:

"[t]hese interventions involve communities taking responsibility for crime prevention in their own neighbourhoods. Such interventions involve localised programs, which mobilise a range of interest groups to address crime prevention on a town or city basis. Projects could include improving surveillance through schemes such as car guards or community marshals ..."

It would appear that this creates some kind of opportunity for the private security industry to engage in crime prevention exercises at a community level. As in the past, no legal or regulated framework for these initiatives has been established or proposed, and they would therefore occur in a legal and practical vacuum.

There have been a number of proposals by the private security industry of specific conditions that they would like to be implemented for partnership policing to become a viable reality. Some of the main issues or needs are listed below.


The private security industry would like to see the implementation of the following proposals to enable it to enter into meaningful policing partnerships with the SAPS. The primary motivations are the devolution of certain powers or functions to the industry.
  • Permission should be given to security companies to purchase automatic weapons.

  • Peace officer powers should be extended to private security personnel.

  • Security officers should be appointed as members of the police reserve force, but their powers and duties should be limited to matters concerning their employers.

  • Security officers can assist in tracing and checking those breaking bail conditions.

  • Security officers can serve summonses.

  • Transporting to and guarding of prisoners in court can be delegated to security companies.

  • Patrolling of neighbourhoods can be undertaken in conjunction with the SAPS.

  • All alarm owners (i.e. home owners who have an alarm system installed and linked to a local police station) can be served by security companies’ reaction units. The unit will answer and/or react to all alarms without the police having to go out on such calls. The police will only be contacted if the alarm is real.

  • Security companies should be allowed to transport suspects arrested by their personnel to the nearest police station. For example, when a security guard has arrested a suspect in a shopping complex, the suspect could be taken to the nearest police station where a statement is made. This would mean that the police do not personally need to attend to the scene of the crime or arrest.

  • Private security companies should handle all security matters at sports events. For example, there would be no need for an SAPS presence at soccer matches.

  • The guard duties at government buildings should be privatised.

  • Police training, experience and qualifications of former police officers now employed by private security firms, must be recognised by the Security Officers Board (SOB).

  • Police officers should be allowed to work with security personnel and utilise security company vehicles (e.g. holding of joint patrols using security company equipment and vehicles). This has legal implications for the SAPS, however, if police personnel were to be injured while undertaking such duties.

  • The SAPS liability cover should be extended to include security personnel assisting the police in the execution of their duties.

  • Payment should be made for the provision of information by security officers leading to an arrest or conviction.

  • Specific services rendered on contract or according to man-hours should be paid for.

  • A centralised computer network consisting of a security information database should be set up to assist in crime prevention. Access should be available to the security industry and the database should combine the SAPS crime information database, other government information databases, and information from the business community.

  • Security company vehicles should be classified as emergency services vehicles, thus allowing them to utilise a flashing orange light. Alternatively, the use of blue lights on SAPS patrol cars can be extended to security ‘rapid response’ vehicles used when security companies respond to emergency calls. These vehicles should also be allowed to exceed the speed limit in emergencies.
Some of the above proposals can already be accommodated by the powers extended to the public in the Criminal Procedure Act. However, it is questionable whether the extension of some of these rights and privileges to private security officers is both necessary and desirable, or if it would even make policing more effective. Self-interest seems to be the only motivating factor in a number of these proposals.

The practical contribution that the private security industry can make to the crime prevention task of the SAPS, however, encompasses some important issues.


In broad terms, the private security industry can offer a variety of services, as well as assistance to the SAPS in crime prevention.


If security personnel are used to undertake tasks such as guarding government buildings, transporting prisoners to courts, and undertaking security tasks at sports events, more police officers would be available to fulfil policing and crime prevention duties at station level.


If the services of security companies can be added to SAPS activities, this would act as a significant force multiplier in terms of combating and preventing crime.


Currently, the public (inclusive of security companies) has access, if so required, to information on crime statistics and trends as released regularly by the Crime Information Analysis Centre (CIAC) of the SAPS. Although a greater sharing of information would make the assistance of the private security industry more effective, the SAPS feels that it is not possible to allow unrestricted access to crime information — much of it is sensitive where it relates to specific individuals — but that it would be possible to provide information concerning ‘hot spots’ in a specific area, or crime statistics and trends for a particular station. In pursuit of their daily activities, security companies often obtain valuable information regarding crime which can be passed on or shared with the police. It is suggested that this information should not only be shared, but that the co-ordination of information collection should take place on a more formalised and organised basis.


Security company vehicles in a specific area can be tasked with investigating all alarms, thereby freeing up police personnel. However, many companies already provide this service to their clients. This also raises a number of issues, not the least being accountability and responsibility in terms of arrest, detention and seizure, as well as for crime prevention. In practice, this would presume a direct radio link between a police radio control room and the security company vehicle, allowing for the use of a blue light, possible liability for injuries, and other repercussions. If this proposal is instituted, it may only occur within the parameters outlined in Sections 23, 24 and 42 of the Criminal Procedure Act.


Security firms can provide expert advice and technological assistance with regard to closed circuit television, silent alarms, surveillance and detection equipment to the SAPS.


In implementing the kind of assistance outlined above, a number of possible problems have been identified that might arise if partnerships between the SAPS and private security companies are formed. The main problems are discussed below.


The use of private security personnel, given the fact that not all of them are trained to the same standards as the police, could well place the SAPS in a predicament if these personnel were to act unprofessionally. There is a real possibility that the SAPS would be liable for more civil claims because of the misconduct of security personnel.


Currently, security personnel have limited powers in terms of the arrest of suspects, and the search and seizure of property. This will have to be amended legally if their activities are extended. The execution of these powers will also have to be carefully controlled, as they may become fertile ground for fraudulent or unauthorised activities.


Among the most important problems or shortcomings identified in terms of private security companies is the fact that not all personnel receive the same training. There is also the perception among police officers that low standards of professionalism in the private security industry are due to the minimal recruitment requirements and the lack of proper training standards.

Moreover, a number of illegal training centres exist in the country that offer crash courses in security training (at best a two-week course on theory with little or no practical training, after which a ‘certificate’ is issued) under the guise of being accredited to the SOB. These training institutions are able to take advantage of a loophole in the legislation whereby they can only be charged with fraud if they wrongfully informed trainees that they were accredited by the SOB. The SOB estimated that, at the end of 1996, 75 per cent of the 164 276 people registered as security guards with the Board only had a Grade E, the lowest qualification. (Grading begins at E and ends at A with each grading based on a week-long course at a cost of about R300. Few companies can afford or bother to send their personnel on courses beyond Grade E). There is also no minimum educational standard for entry into the private security industry or to become a registered security officer.


The lack of strict enforcement of a national code of conduct, including a dress code, adversely affects the performance of security personnel.


Security personnel often wear uniforms similar to that of the SAPS. There is an obvious need to enforce a clear distinction between uniforms worn by security personnel and the police, utilising easily recognisable differences (especially in colour). Incorrect identification frequently occurs and there is no legislation controlling the wearing of SAPS uniforms or similar clothing by security personnel. There have been instances where uniforms similar to that of the SAPS were worn and people have passed themselves off as members of the police. One indirect result has been the undermining of the authority and image of the SAPS.


Police personnel are not always aware of and knowledgeable about the functions, activities, duties and responsibilities of security companies. There is also little acceptance of the role that security companies can play in providing safety and security to neighbourhoods among the police.


Although the SAPS is a service organisation, there are in fact many functions that are presently performed by police personnel which are not directly related to the prevention, investigation and combating of crime. These support functions severely affect the effective utilisation of trained police officers. For example, some of the functions which could be delegated to security companies include the guarding of government buildings and detention facilities, as well as the guarding of suspects and accused at courts of law. Police are also involved in the transport of suspects and offenders from police stations to the courts. Among other activities which could be contracted out to the private security industry are the serving of summonses, tracing of persons who violate bail conditions, checking on persons on parole, providing guards for other government departments, for instance at pension payout points, and providing security at sports functions. However, all these functions have legal implications and it might be difficult to implement them and provide the necessary legislative controls.


It has been postulated that feelings of marginalisation and the abrogation of responsibilities might occur if security companies took over the role and function of the police in securing and providing safety to neighbourhoods. Such perceptions of the public usurpation of policing duties might well have a negative effect upon the morale of police officers.


Various private security companies have already established their own reaction units or a reaction capability linked to private alarm systems. However, the SAPS still have a responsibility to attend to alarms. An analysis of the time spent by SAPS reaction units in attending to false alarms shows that a great deal of time and money is wasted in the process (in certain areas, a large percentage of alarms have proved to be false, with some areas as high as ninety per cent).
8 Security companies should be compelled to inform the SAPS immediately when a false alarm is raised to avoid the waste of time and resources.

Conversely, control room personnel of alarm companies sometimes do not establish the reasons for an alarm activation, before contacting the police. Only positive alarm activations should be channelled to the police for their response. No alarms should be linked to a police station and telephones should not be programmed to automatically dial the local police station. Furthermore, the panic buttons of only certain specified institutions should be connected to a police station. However, these potential arrangements will remain hampered by the legal condition that personnel employed by an alarm company must have the police present when they deactivate the alarm (in the owner’s absence). Failure to adhere to this means that the owner can complain that his or her premises have been illegally entered or broken into.


A general shortage of resources and equipment to share with security personnel (e.g. patrol cars and handheld radios) exists that inhibits partnership formation.


Legitimate fears have been expressed by certain members of the SAPS that the extension of policing powers to security personnel may lead to their taking the law into their own hands through vigilante actions.


In response to calls for security personnel to be employed as police reservists, the following main concerns are raised: equipment and civil claims would be the responsibility of the state; and the misuse of police reservists by certain security companies for their own commercial ends could occur.


If private security personnel are allowed to participate in crime prevention and crime investigation, the possibility exists that security personnel without the requisite training or experience could disturb, destroy or lose evidence and clues at a crime scene, if they arrive and take control before the police are able to get there.


There is a general perception among police officers that security companies only assist the SAPS when it serves their own purposes or is to their financial advantage. The overriding motive of private security companies is profit (commercial gain), and the needs of paying clients and customers are therefore paramount. In essence, the crime prevention and combat function of security companies is subordinate to their loyalty to protect their clients.


In most local areas, speedy communication between the police and private security companies is severely hampered by the fact that each company has to be contacted individually. In most areas, no centralised contact organisation exists.


The establishment of companies that only last for a short time, sends the wrong message about the level of professionalism within the industry. The enforcement of strict registration procedures followed by the regulation and control of operations through legislation — which would include frequent inspections — are obvious recommendations. This calls for a crack down on companies operating illegally and the issue of suitable warnings to the general public of their existence. Moreover, the use of unregistered personnel by some security companies is also to the detriment of service delivery and the levels of professionalism in the industry. (In the past, some companies that were found guilty of misconduct, simply relocated their activities to the former Bophuthatswana where there was no regulation.) Of the 6 453 companies that have registered with the SOB since 1990, 2 464 had closed, deregistered or disappeared by April 1997. Furthermore, of the more than 300 000 security officers who have registered with the Board since 1990, there are no records for 155 890 of them.


It would appear that some companies have insufficient control over their firearms and inadequate safekeeping or storage facilities, while firearms are sometimes issued to personnel without proper training for their use. As long as security companies obtain licences for their firearms, they may issue the weapons to any registered guard, no matter how low his or her grading.


Concerns have been expressed over the possible misuse and abuse of crime information by security firms for their own purposes (e.g. the selling of alarms; putting the police in a bad light; using it against rival firms or to blackmail clients; and selling information to criminals and gangs).


In some instances, there is a great misunderstanding of the powers of security officers according to the law (e.g. the right of arrest, and search and seizure), thus enabling them to usurp SAPS functions and policing duties.


The difficulty of local area police possibly having to choose only one or two specific security companies for a partnership, could lead to charges of favouritism or corruption being levelled at the SAPS. Identifying a preferred company could also open up opportunities for such a company to influence police officials in advising clients about a suitable company for the provision of security services in a specific neighbourhood.

In terms of the tow truck fraternity, for example, there have long been rumours that certain police personnel have been issued with cellular phones by these companies so that the police could inform such a company for a fee that an accident had occurred.


There have been accusations,
10 particularly in KwaZulu-Natal, that certain private security companies have been involved in crime, as well as in political violence. While the security forces have been subject to closer scrutiny and have been revamped as part of the transformation process since 1994, the same has not happened in the private security industry that still operates with few controls. Over the years, security companies have also come to provide a natural home for disgruntled former police officers and élite operatives from former covert operational units in both the South African Police and the South African Defence Force (the former SAP and SADF).

Furthermore, fingerprint systems, which could check whether prospective employees have criminal records, are inadequate and overloaded. Consequently gangsters and criminals have slipped into the industry who exploit the situation for their own criminal ends.


A number of issues and conditions, at the very least, would have to be resolved and realised before substantive and meaningful partnership policing could be undertaken by the SAPS in co-operation with the private security industry.


The SAPS feels very strongly that the training of all security personnel should be uniform, standardised and of a high professional level with only one (national) controlling or regulating organisation in place. This organisation must have the ‘teeth’ or power to enforce standards and regulations rigorously.

The training of private security company personnel should ideally include such topics as general policing functions, arrest procedures, directives concerning the right of civilians regarding the search and seizure of property, the Criminal Procedure Act No 51 of 1977 (in particular Section 49 dealing with arrests), crime scene handling procedures, and human rights principles, among others.

Substantial reservations have been expressed by several police officers over the level and detail of training currently offered to private security personnel, as well as the fact that many of them are unaware of, or do not understand the functions and obligations with regard to arrests, seizures and searches.


Security personnel should act strictly within the framework of the law.


A code of conduct should be formulated for all security companies and sectors in the security industry and should be applicable nationally and enforced by the national controlling organisation.


All security personnel should carry proper identification cards, indicating company affiliation, grading and registration number.


All security personnel should be registered and must receive professional training. If the SAPS is to enter into a partnership, co-operative agreement or contract with any security company, such a company must be operational and registered for at least a twelve-month period before entering into such an agreement.


No individual with a criminal record may be registered as a security officer and employed by a registered security company.


To ensure professional partnerships between the SAPS and security companies at local level, co-operative agreements or contracts may only be signed between the two parties if these companies are registered with a national controlling body, and comply with certain training criteria and service standards.


If partnerships or co-operative agreements are to be instituted between the police at local level and individual companies, the particular activities, responsibilities and accountabilities should be clearly specified, demarcated and agreed upon before any agreement is finalised. However, all future joint activities between the SAPS and the security industry must always remain under the control of the SAPS. This would specifically serve to avoid the impression that security personnel were substitutes for the SAPS.


All security personnel co-operating with the SAPS must first be cleared and registered by the SOB. Such companies should also serve on the local community policing forum (CPF) in their respective areas of operations.


Representatives of security companies with partnership agreements with the local police, at the very least, should attend CPF meetings or establish their own CPF subforums for the co-ordination of their activities.


If a complainant or victim does not report a crime or lay a charge, security personnel should be required to report such a crime to their local police station that forwards the information to the SAPS Crime Information Analysis Centre. Crime trends (excluding false alarms) with regard to criteria such as manner of entry, type of weapons used, modus operandi, possible suspects, and goods stolen, so that this information can be analysed properly.


All security firms providing a service in a particular area have to make contact with the local police station commander. Frequent meetings must be held between the police and security companies in the area. Moreover, security companies that have established their own 24-hour control rooms must have these rooms inspected by the police on a regular basis. Information regarding crime that is gathered at the control room must be channelled to the local police station, with regular feedback given by the station commander to these companies.


In a number of areas, successful partnerships between security companies and the SAPS have already been launched. However, it is clear in these partnerships that the SAPS took the lead in initiating actions or was in command of any special operations that might have been launched (e.g. Telkom with regard to the theft of copper wire), with support and co-operation provided by the sector involved. However, it was found that security companies play a significant role in the provision of crime intelligence and information.

In certain areas, the SAPS and specific security companies have launched CPF subforums (e.g. Together Against Crime) to co-ordinate and co-operate in anti-crime initiatives, and crime combating and prevention exercises. Some of these subforums have adopted formal constitutions outlining their missions, goals, functions, duties, activities, membership and procedures.

In a few areas, Section 21 companies (not for profit) have been established and funded by the local CPF members or local businesses (e.g. Obswatch in Observatory, Cape Town). These companies have paid for the services of private security companies, e.g. vehicle patrols, visible patrols in central business districts, the erection of closed circuit television cameras, the manning of a crisis centre at a police station, and the provision of support services to victims of crimes. Overall, it would appear that these services are few and far between and are mainly localised initiatives that are undertaken outside a formal or regulated framework. One initiative along similar lines has been the ‘Rent-a-cop’ scheme in Cape Town where police reservists are paid by the local authority to carry out patrols and visible policing in the central business district of Cape Town. In this case, the provincial authorities have agreed to cover the costs of any civil liability cases.



In many cases, private security and public policing are closely linked: the industry puts mechanisms in place — guards, alarms and detection devices — to gather information which can and does get fed through to the police. However, far from decreasing the demands on the police, it may overburden them in some areas. Most private alarm systems, for example, are not only linked to the radio-control centre of the security company providing the system or the rapid armed response service, but also to the local police station (or telephones are programmed to automatically dial the local police station if the alarm is activated). Hence, if an alarm is set off, the police are also obliged to respond. The police have found that a large percentage of these alarms are false. Even if the armed response guard arrives before the police and an arrest is made (citizen’s arrest), the suspect would have to be handed over to the police immediately. The idea that private security companies will lessen the workload of the police in residential neighbourhoods is therefore misleading.

Although panic buttons, in some areas, are no longer connected to the local police station, as the police have complained that they are inundated with calls, there remain an estimated 400 000 panic alarms in Johannesburg alone. In suburbs such as Llandudno in Cape Town, the security function for the area has been outsourced: the security company which won the contract promptly installed panic alarms in all residences and provides a 24-hour patrol service.

In such cases, however, it is imperative that guidelines are laid down for the operation and powers of private security companies to avoid encroachment on policing by the state. To prevent crime, some municipal authorities have contracted the patrolling of their central business districts (e.g. Kempton Park and Central Johannesburg) to private companies. In these instances, it is important that the actions of municipal authorities, the police and private companies are closely co-ordinated. The perception that private security is usurping or replacing normal policing functions should be avoided at all costs. The attitude of the private security industry is that it is a sizeable and powerful ally of the government and law enforcement agencies and that it can assist the police in fighting crime.
12 The extent and form of this assistance (as opposed to replacement, usurpation, or takeover) still have to be determined.


The emphasis in new police policy (e.g. the NCPS of May 1996) is on community policing and the shifting of resources from previously better resourced policing in traditionally white suburbs to the underpoliced, neglected and disadvantaged, predominantly black townships. Once more, there will be an opportunity for private security companies to fill the perceived vacuum in more affluent neighbourhoods, where residents can afford to pay for additional private security services.

At the time of the transformation of the police after the April 1994 elections, it was estimated that eighty per cent of policing resources were concentrated almost entirely in suburbs and central business districts. Consequently, former black, coloured and Indian areas had to function with the remaining twenty per cent (with black areas, in fact, only receiving eight per cent of the total).
13 This did not imply that South Africa was underpoliced, but that it was policed unequally. As the focus of policing began to shift, it became clear that the SAPS was not only ill-prepared for policing in the townships — given the past emphasis on using the police as an instrument of political control (such as informant networks) - but that the police did not have the required resources and equipment to fulfil their crime prevention function in the townships. (This is changing, however, particularly in line with the emphases contained in the Policing Objectives and Priorities for 1997/98, and the redistribution implied in the Resource Utilisation Plan as finalised in May 1997).

Furthermore, it would appear that more and more SAPS resources will be channelled into priority areas, such as drug trafficking, car hijacking, violent crimes using illegal firearms and the activities of criminal organisations, which, in turn, would lessen the resources available for visible policing in residential areas. Accordingly, it would be useful to everyone (the private security industry, municipal authorities, businesses, the public and the police) to utilise the resources offered by the private security industry in some form or another in the fight against crime. However, a framework within which this could be realised, should still be set up. This would also imply that proper regulations (i.e. regulated by way of legislation) must be put in place to ensure that these are implemented in an organised way and not in an ad hoc unco-ordinated manner. (One initiative to formalise a public-private partnership was the launching of a Crime Combating Council before the 1994 elections to co-ordinate the activities of all agencies fighting crime. This has only met with partial success).

There is a great difference between private policing and guarding operations. The majority of the security industry are involved in purely guarding functions, whereas the term ‘policing’ implies guarding, reaction and investigative roles. Private security companies generally do not have all these functions under one umbrella, but these do exist in separate forms. Furthermore, the private security industry maintains that it is hampered by various legislative controls and regulations, while having no statutory protection.

The industry also complains that, with very few exceptions on key points and in the mining industry, it cannot assume any powers other than those conferred upon a private person as prescribed by the Criminal Procedure Act. Nor can private security companies legally monitor telephone conversations or obtain, as the police are allowed to do, judicial authority to do so. However, the question which is continually avoided by the industry is why these powers should be extended to security officers. No convincing argument outside of business reasons and self-interest has been made, nor has there been any cognizance on the part of the security industry of the real constitutional and human rights concerns regarding individual rights to privacy. The request for the extension of policing powers to private security officers often conveniently ignores the question of accountability.

One argument for the privatisation of policing is that private security could well fill the ‘gap’ that is supposedly left by the inability of the police to combat crime. The perceived gap should not be used as an argument for the replacement of state policing by private policing. Instead, what should be examined, would be how the private security industry can assist and support the police to overcome the so-called gap or vacuum in policing efforts. It is extremely dangerous for any society to even contemplate the possibility of replacing public policing with private policing. This brings into question the very basis of a democratic, civil society that professes to support the underlying fundamentals of upholding law and order, and the rule of law.

The danger of privatising policing in neighbourhoods that can afford it is obviously that independent forms of security may arise which have nothing or very little to do with state policing, and with little accountability to central government. Wealthy neighbourhoods are already becoming exclusive zones with controlled forms of access, with adequate security only being provided to those who can afford it. What has arisen, in effect, is a situation of dual policing where security can be bought and sold on the market. This is ideal for those who can afford it, but will have severe effects on those who cannot.

A wider ramification is that wealthier neighbourhoods would tend to ‘buy’ or ‘pay’ for their security, consequently marginalising policing in these areas and leading finally to this function of the state becoming redundant. If the crime prevention and combat functions are being paid for, private companies might well be able to afford paying even better salaries and become a greater lure for experienced police personnel to quit the service and take up employment in the private security sector.

However, the ‘privatisation of crime control’ has become far more evident in the last two years. In many of the more affluent neighbourhoods, the public complain about the disappearance of ‘visible’ policing from their neighbours, with private security companies’ personnel parked on street corners and the SAPS totally absent from residential areas. In some areas, private security companies are busy replacing or have replaced the police. These companies often ‘sell’ or market themselves as both a replacement for and a supplementary service to the SAPS.

An additional dimension to the privatisation of policing has been the provision of security in public places (shopping malls and parking lots). Private policing has thus also entered the public domain, i.e. it is available to the general public and a type of general public service is performed.

The blanket argument that private security is a useful adjunct to state police should be treated with caution as these are based on completely different goals. Private security companies seek to protect the interests of their clients — they have a profit motive and the service is provided for financial gain — whereas the police are there to defend the rights of citizens and to protect the individual from the depredations of criminals — crime prevention, combat and control functions. It can be said that private security is more concerned with the prevention of loss than with the detection of offenders. These companies are influenced by the perception of what the interests of their immediate employers are, rather than by what constitutes the public interest.

There are other areas of concern in the provision of private security. It has become common practice, for those who can afford it, to hire private investigators to complete investigations for the public police by using state resources such as criminal records and fingerprint files, supplied by contacts in the police, and then to hand over completed investigations. In some cases, the suspect is found and ‘private justice’ is administered. Such situations are clearly open to abuse. Private investigators are also called in by companies to resolve internal fraud cases, but without the attendant publicity and possible embarrassment of exposure, making businesses vulnerable to being set up by unscrupulous investigators who initiate fraud, approach the company with ‘information’, and then ‘solve’ the case.

Private companies are more concerned with the prevention of loss than the detection of offenders. If offenders are apprehended, they will only be handed over to the justice system if this is in the perceived interest of the clients themselves. It is this dichotomy which makes the assuming of certain policing functions by private security companies such a complex issue. Obviously, what is needed, is a clear role and function clarification of the kind of services that can be provided in support of the policing function of the SAPS. From the SAPS’s side, it is a moot point whether such close partnerships are desirable or necessary.


Theoretically, if a security company protects assets and is paid for this service and those assets are stolen or destroyed, liability for the owners’ restitution may well lie with the private organisation, even in cases where no specific negligence can be proven. Hence, it is a primary objective of such a security firm to prevent the loss of property, and catching the criminal becomes secondary to this aim.

Moreover, private policing has no legislative protection for acts committed in good faith. For instance, if a security officer arrests a burglary suspect before the police arrive on the scene, and the suspect is injured in the process, she or he could well sue the arresting officer for injuries. This in itself calls into question the exact kind of support that private security companies can offer to the police. Existing legislation does not provide any protection to private security officers, while professional or public liability insurance is very expensive.

However, most private security companies enter into contracts with their clients which stipulate that the client cannot hold the security company or any of its employees liable for any actions or failure to act on the client’s property, even if they were grossly negligent. Such contractual clauses have become necessary in enabling private security companies to obtain public liability insurance. These policies will only pay out if an action is brought by a client, and do not cover actions of personnel that fall outside of the provisions of the policy. Such insurance provides a degree of protection for security companies while acting on clients’ property. However, criminals or suspects are often pursued away from a client’s property and in public areas.

The police, just like any other member of the public, can be sued for acts which lead to the injury of individuals or damage to property. The current SAPS budget does not allow for the extension of civil liability to personnel of security companies that might be asked to assist or act under the instruction of the SAPS. Current legislation sets out the conditions and parameters for members of the public to assist the police (they are in fact obliged to comply if asked for assistance or instructed to help).

In the case of the call for an extension of powers to security personnel, the extent of this ‘assistance’ is at best problematic. For example, the SAPS broadcasts a lookout for a ‘stolen’ vehicle that is spotted four hours later by a security officer who gives chase. The driver of the vehicle refuses to pull over and shots are fired which kill the driver. However, the vehicle had already been recovered, but this was not yet reported. The driver was the lawful owner and his dependants sue the security company. Obviously, limits regarding the extent of ‘assistance’ that a private security officer will provide to the police will have to be set (possibly in this case limited to merely observing and reporting the position of the stolen vehicle to the police for their further action). Such assistance should be directed at all times by the limitations to what a member of the public can or cannot do already established by legislation.

The provision of assistance by the private sector to the police, beyond the provision of information or being the eyes and ears for the local police, would therefore simply be guided by the existing powers extended to members of the public.


Even if private security companies were to co-operate in providing information, being the ‘eyes’ and ‘ears’ in the community for the police and linking to radio networks/control rooms, the bottom line for the industry still remains that, if more specific security services are required by the state, these would have to be paid for either on a contractual basis for specific tasks, or on a fixed standard hourly rate in terms of manpower and expertise.

Theoretically, there are certain activities that the industry could undertake at little cost and with minor changes to the legislation or regulations. For example, armed response vehicles could be permitted to display flashing lights, use sirens and have parking privileges in order to make their reaction more effective, thus directly assisting the police in a response situation.
17 But again, such privileges are open to abuse by certain operators within the industry. The question therefore arises whether the extension of these privileges is desirable from a policing point of view.


Obviously, there is a need for legislated regulation (since the drive for profit and competition for business have led to considerable divisions). A Second Security Officers Draft Amendment Bill (gazetted in April 1996 and tabled in Parliament before the Portfolio Committee on Safety and Security in May 1997) seeks to set up a Security Officers’ Interim Board. One of the objectives of this board is to advise the Minister of Safety and Security on adaptations and amendments to the Act. The new Bill also sought to free the SOB from the control and influence of the SAPS. In the current legislation, the composition of the Board is strongly regulated and dominated by the police. Accordingly, the draft legislation also proposed that the roles of the police and the national police commissioner in the constitution of the Board should be scrapped. It proposes that the Board should be restructured to include representatives from employer and employee organisations, as well as consumers, and enlarged from ten to twenty people. However, members of the Board would still be approved by the Minister of Safety and Security.

The draft Bill also envisaged the adoption of a code of conduct to regulate companies and their employees and strict new penalties for officers who transgressed the code. Proposals were also tabled by the legal representatives of the SAPS in May 1997 that sought to include the regulation of in-house security services at companies such as Anglo American, in the draft Bill.

One of the more obvious shortcomings of the draft Bill is the fact that it does not make provision for the establishment of an independent complaints mechanism as a means of public access to oversight of the industry, i.e. over and above the normal recourse individuals may have to the law. The protection of the consumer is an aspect that has been neglected in the draft Bill (security officers, in fact, have adequate protection in the existing labour and employment regulations). Furthermore, greater regulation, beyond that already offered by the Board, would only be valid if it can be enforced, which is arguably not the case in South Africa at present.

One of the debates arising from the draft Bill dealt with the possible extension of statutory powers to certain categories of guards. In effect, what is requested is that ‘peace officer’ powers should be afforded to security guards (certain categories), and that more extended powers of arrest, seizure and search should be given to certain guards. Although limited power to arrest is already extended to security officers, it has a number of other implications (both legal and practical — civil claims and accountability) for the police service.

Recent security initiatives such as Rent-a-cop (used by Metrorail at transport exchanges), or where security officers merely join the police reserve so that they can have police powers and are then used (paid for) by private companies as security guards but in their capacity as reservists (i.e. they are issued with a uniform and firearm by the SAPS and booked on duty at a local police station, but then perform private guard duties at warehouses and businesses), are fraught with complications and practical problems. There is an obvious need for such anomalies to be clarified. Given the high visibility and expanding role of the industry, debates continue over more comprehensive attempts at regulation. If the sector wishes to expand its functions to encompass crime control, it should also be prepared to bear greater responsibility for its actions. Therefore, more publicly accessible and accountable forms of control over the industry are needed.

However, whether the security industry will be allowed to assume a more permanent position and take over more functions performed by the police remain a moot point. If some kind of partnership between the private security industry and the police is instituted that is mutually compatible and accepted, there can be no argument that the public regulation of the industry is a prerequisite for its efficient and effective functioning. Such a partnership does have advantages: private security proposals could release some police personnel to serve communities where it is urgently required. Furthermore, the development of extensive systems of private security may shift policing responsibilities and therefore their main focus as well. In other words, it could well determine how the police fulfil their future role.

Finally, according to Shaw:

"Private security firms are hardly likely to disappear, and have secured a substantial role; they will need to be accommodated. Indeed, most security practitioners expect the role of private companies to grow; more thoughtful members of the industry argue that it needs to prepare for these changes by providing better service to all communities."

To support this, William Sessions, a former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, said in May 1997 that:

"... the private sector ... can supplement very well and easily some of the responsibilities law enforcement cannot react to ... It is not inconsistent with any law enforcement agency to accept well-organised support from the community."

In conclusion, one security company made the following submission concerning policing partnerships:

"In principle, the police are responsible for the proactive prevention of crime in the public domain and that private individuals and companies are responsible for the protection of their own assets. The police must be responsible for the reactive investigation and prosecution following all crime. Should this be the accepted principle of policing, the use of private security in support of the police should be simple."

The underlying principle in establishing policing partnerships between private security companies and the SAPS should not be whether the former replace policing functions, but rather where they can supplement and support overall policing actions. In addition, the provision of security outside the formal structures of the state remains unthinkable. Furthermore, it is certainly not a question of privatising crime control, but one of co-operating in the fight against crime and co-ordinating joint efforts in this regard. The bottom line is that the police cannot afford or be seen to abdicate from their policing responsibilities and line functions. Moreover, it must also be borne in mind that, even though the security industry has vast expertise and manpower, it will only make this available if it can benefit from this, and if such co-operative actions are covered or protected by the law.


Edited version of a paper presented at the International Conference for Crime Prevention Partnerships to Build Community Safety: Urban Safety — Safety for All, Johannesburg, 28-30 October 1998.
  1. This article is largely based on an analysis of submissions by the private security industry companies to the SAPS and inputs from SAPS National and Provincial Divisions during 1996 and 1997 in order to assist with the formulation of a possible policy whereby partnership policing between the SAPS and private security companies might be able to be undertaken.

  2. The biggest growth, particularly over the last few years, has occurred in the guarding sector, which has also seen the largest increase in the number of vehicles. Estimates for 1997 put almost 35 000 vehicles in use. The alarm and response sector is the second biggest with just under 25 000 vehicles. With reference to the number of people involved in each sector, the largest number are in the in-house sector (an estimated 175 000) followed by 165 000 in guard services, 50 000 in alarm systems, 40 000 in general security services, 30 000 in electronic services and, finally, response services with an estimated 20 000 for a total of approximately 480 000 people in the security industry. See A Hadfield, The lucrative South African security industry, paper presented at the ISSUP/SASA conference, Security ‘97, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, 8 May 1997, for detail.

  3. In broad terms, the private security industry in South Africa can be divided into a number of sectors by way of services provided, inter alia: guarding; alarm; response; electronic; investigations; other sectors (perimeter and building protection, turnkey security and in-house).

    The estimated percentage size of each sector (1997 estimates) is as follows:


    Alarms:?17%?Other:?10%?Response:? 7%?Electronics:? 7%

    The estimated percentage income (1996/7) (based on a total of R5,890 million):
    Access control:?12%
    Perimeter security:?7%?
    Building protection:?6%
    Alarms:? 6%?
    Turnkey systems:?5%
    Internal security:?3%

    See ibid.

  4. Department of Safety and Security, Draft White Paper of the Department for Safety & Security, In Service of Safety: 1998-2003, May 1998, p. 5

  5. Ibid., p. 13.

  6. Ibid., p. 17.

  7. T Lund, Private security training inadequate, The Star, 21 April 1997; and Lund, T. 1997b. Naught for comfort in high risk security sector, The Star, 21 April 1997.

  8. In KwaZulu-Natal, between January and April 1996, the SAPS travelled 170 000 km in response to electronic alarm activations, accounting for forty per cent of all complaints in the province, with only one percent being valid See M Shaw, After Tembisa... what direction private security, Security Today, September 1996, p. 10. A similar situation was experienced by the Flying Squad in Bloemfontein: Between 1 February 1995 and 29 February 1996, 17 159 alarm activations were received of which 16 947 were negative and only 212 were positive, a total of 70 593 km was travelled in response to these alarm callouts. See V J Swanepoel, Letter, Head, Flying Squad, Bloemfontein, 4 March 1996.

    Various countries have different policies in dealing with the problem of false alarms. Currently, in the US, no formal limit or restriction has been placed on the number of callouts undertaken by the police, false or otherwise. However, the policy of reaction varies from private company to company. Certain companies insist on employing their own localised reaction units and call the police only for panic or emergency calls. In the United Kingdom, the present arrangement is that each alarm user is allowed approximately four false calls per year. Should this number be exceeded, it is understood that a letter of warning of possible discontinuance of callouts is issued. In Australia, the police will only respond to panic/emergency calls. Should the call be false, one charge of $(A)150 (approximately R300) will be levied by the police. In South Africa, investigation is being done on a system whereby a computer is installed to assist with the monitoring of calls which allows a certain maximum of calls before communication is made between the SAPS and the client in regard to the continuation of answering calls. See SAIDSA, Intruder Detection and Related Services, South African Intruder Detection Services Association, Security Publications, Westville, 1996, pp. 22-23.

  9. Hadfield, op. cit.

  10. See S Blecher, The private security industry in South Africa, Network of Independent Monitors (NIM), Durban, 1996, for more detail on this issue.

  11. See M Shaw, Privatising crime control? South Africa’s private security industry, unpublished research paper, Institute for Defence Policy, Halfway House, 1995, p. 7.

  12. This view was expressed by R MacFarlane, Editorial, Security Focus, 12(10), October 1994.

  13. Shaw, op. cit., p. 7.

  14. Ibid., pp. 8-9.

  15. SASFED, Security industry in South Africa: its development and interaction with the policing services. Submission to Deputy Minister, Department of Safety and Security, South African Security Federation, 1996, p. 10.

  16. Ibid.

  17. Ibid.

  18. Shaw, op. cit., p. 8.

  19. N Myburgh, Business can lend a handcuff, The Star, 14 May 1997.

  20. D J Plane, Letter, CEO Gray Security Services, 22 October 1996.