Private security industry rockets in SA, study shows

The number of active private security officers increased 167% between 1997 and 2007, the South African Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR) said on Wednesday.

The number of police officials increased by only 18% over the same period, it said in a statement.

The number of private security officers went up from 115 331 in 1997 to 307 343 in 2007, the number of police from 110 177 to 129 864.

It appeared that the private security sector was not just a supplement to the police service, but had become an essential part of the security framework, said SAIRR researcher Kerwin Lebone.

“This is problematic, as the police force is a service intended to protect the entire population, whereas private security will protect only those who can afford to pay for it,” he said.

Lebone said private security companies could be an important source of support for the police.

“Police resources are limited and private security companies can provide area-specific patrols or services such as ensuring clients get into their houses safely at night.”

However, these services were provided only to those who could afford them. Lebone noted that the increase in the number of private security officials was visible in affluent suburbs and at businesses and shopping malls.

Government departments—including the police—had also spent millions hiring private security guards to secure their buildings. Lebone said the police had indicated a willingness to cooperate with security firms by, among others, training guards in securing crime scenes.

This cooperation was especially necessary when criminals were detained, as private security officials could not make arrests, he said.—Sapa

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