A recent article by Time Magazine explored how Pennsylvania parents, business owners, and college students rely on private security companies to supplement their local police force. For example, Time writer Alana Semuels recounts how a local gas station owner hired an armed guard after the police took 6 hours to respond to an ATM robbery.
With police staffing issues affecting large portions of the U.S., people are turning to private security companies to fill the gap. They want to feel safe in their homes and communities, and armed security guards seem like the answer. In the article, Semuels raises several concerns about this approach, ranging from economic inequality to lack of regulation in the security industry, so we wanted to weigh in on whether security guards can fill the gap left by traditional policing.
Problems in Police Departments
86% of police agencies reported a staffing shortage in 2019, according to a publication by the Department of Justice, and in 2021, hiring rates fell while the number of officers leaving the force increased by 18%.
We can see the effects of this staffing crisis in our own Colorado Springs community. Near the beginning of 2022, the CSPD reported that they were short 84 patrol officers, and police staffing continues to be a central issue in the 2023 mayoral election.
Staffing isn’t the only issue faced by our local police force, however. During a review by Transparency Matters, CSPD officers also expressed concerns about their training program. According to an article by the Gazette, 80% of CSPD officers stated in a survey that they needed more training on non-lethal force, crisis intervention, and de-escalation tactics.
Private Security Vs. Police Officers
From these numbers, it’s immediately clear that our local police force needs more support. Not only are they nearly 100 officers short, but many feel ill-equipped to fulfill their responsibilities. But are private security guards the answer?
Though the police and private security guards should both be working toward a safer community, they have different roles and responsibilities.
The first difference is that private security guards represent the property owner’s interests, whereas police officers are accountable to the city, state, or county they work for. Though an ethical security officer will work to ensure the safety of as many people as possible, they will likely have a specific area they have been hired to protect. In contrast, police officers are responsible for enforcing the law uniformly.
In many situations, security guards cannot respond directly to a crime but must notify law enforcement and wait for them to arrive.
In Colorado, there are three categories of security professionals:
- Security guards who cannot use force to secure a property,
- Protection guards who may use non-lethal force,
- And armed guards who carry a firearm and may use force when necessary.
Armed and protection guards can respond immediately to crime, but unarmed guards act primarily as a deterrent.
Though our police training programs have room for improvement, the average police officer still completes over 550 hours of training in a police academy before entering the field.
Colorado law only requires 80 hours of training to earn an armed or protection guard license and eight additional hours to renew. A reputable security company will provide ongoing training to prepare its guards for crises. Still, armed guards with only the minimum training may be more of a liability than an asset.
Do Security Guards Make Communities Safer?
Security guards play an essential role in maintaining safety and order in communities. With their presence and vigilance, they deter criminal activity and provide a sense of security to residents.
However, the effectiveness of security guards in making communities safer depends on their training, experience, and available resources. Some security guards may only be equipped to handle minor incidents, while others may have specialized training to handle more serious situations.
Though security guards can contribute to community safety, they should not be relied on as the sole solution to crime prevention. Instead, a holistic approach that includes community involvement, effective law enforcement, and crime prevention initiatives is necessary to create a safe and secure community.
Partnership, Not Replacement
At Pikes Peak Security, we aim to work alongside local law enforcement by de-escalating minor incidents, deterring crime, and providing an immediate response when they cannot. We are not an alternative to a strong police force, but we equip our security officers with high-quality training, technology, and resources to make our community safer.
In the future, we hope to see more qualified professionals entering both the police force and the security industry so we can build strong partnerships that benefit our Colorado community.