The private surveillance of public space: Evolving private security mentalities in
Working Draft, June 2008
Over two and a half decades ago, in an article by Shearing and Stenning (1982) important
issues were raised on the principles and practices of private security largely from a
Northern America perspective. Although it is impracticable to draw direct comparisons
on the state of private security in that context at that time with current developments in
the “global south” it is useful to draw on some of their interpretations to come to grips
with how private security in South Africa has evolved in terms of mentalities and powers
(“symbolic” and actual power) and how these findings can contribute to private security
debates in the “global north” (Loader, 1997; Berg and Shearing, 2008, Braveboy-
Wagner, 2003).1 What Shearing and Stenning (1982:97) claimed in their article was that:
…the feature that unites the diverse activities that private security undertake
under the heading of prevention, is surveillance.
What the growth of private security has meant is that the scope of surveillance
undertaken by security forces has increased enormously.
By this the authors refer largely to the surveillance of private spaces and further to this
Private security‟s emphasis on prevention directs its surveillance not so much to
breaches of the law…as to opportunities [underlined in the original] for such
breaches. As a consequence, the objects of private security surveillance tend to
be not just potential troublemakers but also those who are in a position to create
such opportunities for breaches. Thus, the target population is greatly enlarged.
Shearing and Stenning (1982:98).
This point holds to the contemporary South African context in so far as much of private
security is still aimed at opportunities for law breaking over and above the focus on
actual law breaking. However, what is currently taking place in South Africa is a rising
and increasingly specialized focus on law enforcement per se, not only within private
spaces or “hybrid spaces” which straddle the private-public divide but within what is
essentially considered to be public space (Jones and Newburn, 1998:162). Wakefield
(2003:24) refers to two types of public spaces – open and restricted – for the purposes of
this paper the types of public spaces on which private security operate are essentially
“open public spaces” – publicly owned and freely accessible and including main streets,
open spaces and parks (Jones and Newburn, 1998). Hermer et al (2005) refer to these
traditional notions of public space as “communal space” and argue that this best reflects
This article will not focus on the rise of the private security industry in South Africa per se nor on its size,
scope, structure and accountability systems, this has been well-documented by Grant (1989), Irish (1999),
Shaw (2002), Minnaar (2004) and Berg (2008) amongst others.
the complexity of spatial developments that have taken place and continue to take place
in urban settings. By “communal spaces” they refer to “space where there is a certain
collective expectation of common access and use and that people in this space do not
depend on exercising a right to private property” (Hermer et al, 2005:43). These spaces
include traditional notions of public space such as streets, sidewalks and parks but also
include mass private property such as shopping malls.2 These types of spaces have
always been understood to be the domain of the public police, at least in the sense that
more power is afforded to the public police in these spaces than that which is afforded to
private security in these spaces, relatively speaking (whereas this degree of power is
reversed for each institution when it comes to the policing of private spaces). It may be
the case that, in certain respects, the power of private security in public spaces is
beginning to equal the power it holds in private spaces. From a legal perspective this
power is limited but the symbolic power private security holds is much greater. Law is
limited in terms of its use as a regulatory instrument of control as private security can and
do assert informal authority on public spaces despite the lack of formal (legal)
authorization to do so (Scott, 2004).
It is not new that private security routinely use public spaces to engage with its private
customers and in a sense many of its activities will „spill-over‟ into the public. What
makes developments in South Africa noteworthy is the fact that public space law
enforcement, surveillance and order maintenance have become the object and focus of its
activities and not merely a by-product or overlap with some other duty. Thus the „target
population‟ has been even further enlarged by virtue of new forms of public space
surveillance. Shearing and Stenning‟s (1982:100) statement that “Peel‟s dream of a truly
preventative police force” is being “substantially accomplished” through private security
rather than through the state police thus holds true. This is evident in the fact that private
security, while still retaining „traditional‟ private security tasks, engage in more and more
law enforcement duties while also in some respects becoming increasingly involved in
physical coercion, demonstrating greater symbolic and real powers (since much of what
private security do remain largely unchallenged).
Private security always seemed to be the epitome of Foucault‟s disciplinary society – “a
society that is based not on physical coercion but on a more subtle and pervasive form of
coercion that draws its power from surveillance” (Shearing and Stenning, 1982:101).
While this holds true for much of what private security still do the adoption of
increasingly coercive and public displays of coercion and threats of coercion demonstrate
a new role or rather new „imagining‟ for private security in South Africa. Singh and
Kempa (2007), on the issue of private security culture, note this shift from a future-
orientated loss prevention mentality to a more coercive one, demonstrated by the work of
South (1997) and Johnston (2006).3 Post-apartheid developments in South Africa, in
Since the focus of the paper is on one aspect of public space security – the policing of streets and parks
which are publicly owned and public accessible, for the purposes of this paper reference will in future be
made to „public space‟ to refer to this type of space.
While Johnston (2006) engages with the issue of coercive private security at a global level, the focus of
this article on private security coercion takes place at a very local level – nevertheless drawing on many of
the same conclusions as Johnston (2006).
particular, have not necessarily seen a linear shift from loss prevention to more coercive
control methods as, depending on the nature of the property being guarded, patrolled or
monitored, loss prevention may still be the primary modality used alongside more
coercive methods to create “new security configurations” (Johnston, 2006:35).
By means of South African examples this article will illustrate the evolving power and
mentalities of private security. By explicating the way in which private security represent
itself in these settings as well as attempting to expose its „culture‟ (Singh and Kempa,
2007), private security initiatives become a useful lens through which one can come to
grips which changing notions of state sovereignty and control, particularly with respect to
crime and security issues. The following analysis of evolving security modalities in
South Africa is not an attempt to essentialise any one style of private security. The aim is
rather to expose increasingly diverse means of security provision in a bid to understand
what private mechanisms of policing are attempting to achieve and what they actually do
achieve in relation to public fear, state withdrawal, changing spatial dynamics and local
responses to crime prevention.
What has Private Security Become in South Africa? Evolving Security Governance
Bayley and Shearing (2001) refer to “mentalities” as meaning the way that the police
think about conducting their business – in this sense many would agree that, on a
continuum of activities, private security mentalities are predominantly focused on
preventing loss or crime from taking place on one end of the continuum and thus have a
different mentality to the state police who are largely reactive, falling in at the other end
of the continuum. Bayley and Shearing (2001) also raise the point that these mentalities
are not mutually exclusive and the two entities may exhibit the same mentalities in
different contexts or amongst different sub-groupings within their respective institutions.
Private security companies in South Africa have grown exponentially both in size and
expertise, especially over the past couple of decades, the range of services the industry
has on offer is diverse and includes sedentary activities such as key cutting to more active
pursuits such as body guarding. Thus the industry exhibits a range of differing
mentalities about how to perform policing and security activities. The activity
predominantly engaged in – in that it is the one service offered by most companies and
involves the most personnel – is guarding or patrolling of spaces. This is the most visible
aspect of private security; it is the front-line of interaction with the public and thus
involves the most potential for abuse and/or success. What this article will argue is that,
in terms of the guarding sector and their use of public surveillance, the mentalities of
private security are not only aligning more closely with state police mentalities but that
this is becoming a predominant mentality in more and more public spaces in South Africa
due to a range of interrelated factors. What follows is an account of three types of
mentalities being displayed by private security in public spaces which demonstrates
different ways of thinking about security and policing as well as surveillance and crime
1. „By-law Bobbies‟4
City Improvement Districts (CIDs) have been on the rise in South Africa for just under a
decade.5 Clustered around major urban centres these Districts have come to present a
novel way of engaging with security governance in an integrated manner, straddling
(local) state and non-state institutions. The main service offered by CIDs in South Africa
is security and many have hired private security companies to patrol CID spaces and
thereby „top-up‟ policing and security provision in their designated spaces – which are
public spaces. Essentially the rise of CIDs in South Africa has been linked to the rise of
private security as the „by-law bobby‟ and thus represents a shift in the way in which
private security has had to think and do policing. CIDs were initially adopted to
supplement ailing municipal services and resources so as to reverse urban decline in
major city centres – including Johannesburg and Cape Town. Cape Town in particular
has vested much time and energy into creating an image of itself as a world class city.
This has important implications for private security provision due to this political and
economic drive towards a crime and grime free, “purified and suburbanite sense of public
space” (Atkinson, 2003:1841). Private security, through the CID as client, in this sense
have become multi-purpose agencies, but is in many respects responsible for addressing
by-law related offences – „grime‟ issues which neither the South African Police Service
(SAPS) nor the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) have the resources and inclination to
fully take on board. The CIDs, and the private security companies contracted by them,
thus have a certain way of thinking about crime. They adopt visible policing approaches
to crime for the purposes of clamping down on petty crimes which lead to more serious
crimes and thus take on a “no tolerance” approach.6 In support of this approach private
security have been tasked by the CIDs to conduct visible patrols and monitor any signs of
disorder – whether it entails a missing drain cover or a non-functioning street lamp. Any
signs of physical (or social) disorder are addressed through reporting this to the CID
manager who then takes it further with the relevant authorities (usually the City /
municipality). The private security companies and CIDs thus subscribe to the „broken
windows‟ hypothesis which, in short, posits that any signs of disorder in a neighbourhood
such as broken windows that have not been fixed, graffiti, abandoned buildings and litter
will invariably “undermine the subtle and informal processes whereby communities
normally maintain social control” (Wilson and Kelling , 1982 in Bottoms and Wiles,
2002:645) and thus contribute to a “spiral of decay” (Skogan, 1986, 1990 in Bottoms and
Wiles, 2002:646) and the „tipping‟ of a neighbourhood from a low-crime to a high-crime
I am grateful to Christine Hentschel for her insight and assistance in developing the term „by-law
bobbies‟. By-law infringements include, for instance, prohibitions on: begging; unlicensed parking
attendants; the obstruction of public access points; behaviour which could endanger any person or animal;
washing, cleaning or drying of clothes in public; jaywalking; public nuisances (abusive language,
disturbing noise, fighting, urinating or defecating in public) and so forth. Available at
http://www.capetown.gov.za/ Last accessed 20 May 2008.
There are Business Improvement Districts (called City Improvement Districts in South Africa) in various
countries all over the world and, although there is not a general formula as to what a City or Business
Improvement District should look like, they are generally non-profit, public-private corporations created to
supplement local government services in localized, geographically-defined spaces in order to revitalize
particularly inner city areas, especially in terms of economic and spatial development and the perpetuation
of a certain consumer-orientated “image” (Morçöl and Patrick, 2006; Huey, Ericson and Haggerty, 2005).
Interview with City Improvement District representative, October 2006.
area due to these signs of structural disorder. Their duties are heavily focussed on issues
around urban management – by-law enforcement, parking infringements, petty crime and
grime issues. Consequently, in many CIDs private security, usually donning yellow
reflective bibs, have the task of patrolling CIDs either on foot, on bicycle or by car
looking for signs of disorder and possibilities for crime, while being highly visible and
engaging with the public.7 The CIDs and CID-contracted security may also play a
consultative role in light of the fact that they spend a lot of time on the streets getting to
know the needs of the CID „community‟. It is however, ironic that private security
guards have the powers to make arrests of suspects committing serious crimes8 but are
powerless when it comes to enforcing by-laws. Yet it is the focus on controlling the
„grime‟ within many CIDs that has prompted private security to become a visible
deterrent, to network with other law enforcement agencies so as to ensure that by-law
infringements are reported and also problem-solve by-law related problems so as to
prevent their future occurrence.
Despite the fact that they share public spaces with state agencies, private security
working for the CIDs still remain very much attached to a particular district like their
counterparts working on private property. In a sense, the public spaces they have
„claimed‟ (or re-claimed) have taken on the shape and language of a private space – a
space which is well-cared for and protected and thus a space which is more marketable
and attractive to investors, tourists, businesses and the like (Atkinson, 2003). The
activities of private security – visible policing, monitoring and reporting of infringements
and crime prevention – are thus very much space-specific, albeit a public space. Because
of this a large part of what CIDs do (although not all CIDs do this) is very much
cosmetic, moving the „grime‟ out of areas without finding longer-term solutions. Yet
some CIDs engage proactively with the state police and enable the arrest of suspects by
reporting or delivering these persons to SAPS or MPS. Serious crimes and specialist
policing activities are not part of their mandate so they may play a peripheral supportive
role to the SAPS as a force-multiplier to high-level operations and events. In other
words, many private security companies working for CIDs will try to „process‟ serious
crime and move the petty crime and „grime‟ offenders out of the area.
By moving into public spaces and liaising with other agencies, private security working
for the CIDs have linked privately protected spaces and recruited security guards in these
spaces who ordinarily would work past each other. A CID representative acknowledged
that the CID has “made it their business” to liaise with „private space‟ security and so
ensure open communication (by means of radio communication) with them as „public
space‟ security providers.9
“…When we started we had no relationship with all the different security
companies in the CID. Now [a private security] company is employed to watch
over that side, they just do their perimeter patrols. If there is criminal walking
past and the premises across the road does not have security, and they see a guy
breaking in, the security decides: “We not going to put our lives in danger and go
In one CID the author visited in Johannesburg the private security guards were called „Ambassadors‟.
Such as murder, rape and robbery which are schedule one offences.
Interview with CID representative, December 2006.
over and get shot in that other premises, our insurance doesn‟t cover it, this is our
premises”. That [is] where the CID comes in; we have a toll free number, a 24-
hour number, a security number. All the security places, all the places that have
guarding has our toll free number on their speed dials, so if they see something
going wrong they pick up the phone and call us. [Because] it is our job to patrol
the whole area and our guys will go assess the situation and call the police from
Private security in the CIDs therefore perform the role of a coordinator by bringing in the
knowledge and „eyes and ears‟ of the private security on private spaces to resolve crime
and grime issues.
Ironically, „the dream of a state monopoly‟ over policing has manifested itself, not
through the state police but through private security as an extension of the state police,
working for the CIDs as „by-law bobbies‟ and liaising with the state. Everything the state
police are expected to do to fulfill this dream of a monopoly is being undertaken by
private security, effectively breaking this monopoly but ironically also fulfilling by
working as agents for and behalf of the state through the CIDs. In other words, by
becoming an extension and support to SAPS and MPS, the CID-contracted security
companies fulfill this role on behalf of the state police and in so doing have also
ensconced a broader conception of „policing‟ – from narrow conceptions of criminal
activities to broader conceptions of safety and security, including physical and symbolic
signs of disorder. This way of „policing‟ has become a conventional role that private
security performs in South Africa, along with armed response, which is still growing in
2. Reassurance Policing in Suburbia or Vigilantism by Proxy?11
Started in 2006, an initiative called Community Active Protection/Patrol (CAP) is an
example of a different mentality of policing and security which is taking place in a few
Northern Suburbs of Johannesburg. Although not private security companies per se they
represent a private solution to a security problem – developed by the communities
involved to deter violent home invasions and hijackings. Communities with deep-seated
fears of violent crimes have, in lieu of one day creating their own CIDs, raised the funds
from their own pockets to pay a heightened rate for private security personnel with
special skills and training (usually having military or police backgrounds) to protect their
areas.12 They make use of physical tools (uniforms and weaponry) and symbolic power
to elicit signs of authority and power by dressing in black tactical gear, driving in black
4x4s and arming themselves with semi-automatic rifles and shotguns (Mopas and
Stenning, 2001). They create a foreboding presence by either driving around in their
Interview with a private security company representative working in a CID area, December 2006.
Unless otherwise stated, all the information obtained is from the following CAP websites:
http://www.houghtoncap.co.za/; http://www.sydenham.co.za/; http://www.slcap.co.za/. Last accessed 20
Skade, T. (2007) „Should Private Guns Take Security into their Hands? The Fine Line Between
Protection and Vigilantism‟, The Star, 20 November, p. 11.
black response vehicles (Tactical Response Units) or through their „spotter points‟ or
„filter points‟ located throughout the suburbs. These spotter points simply consist of two
(armed) guards standing on a selected street corner with a small table and radio
communication device. Spotter points “situated in areas with low traffic volumes” are
designed specifically to enable residents in vehicles to notify these guards if they suspect
they are being followed, they do this by driving past the spotter point and signaling to the
guards by hooting or flashing their vehicle lights and so stimulate a response from the
Tactical Response Units “to investigate”. As with CID security there has also been an
attempt to „connect‟ (perceived to be) un-policed public spaces and so close the gaps in
policed space through the installation of CCTV cameras and the establishment of an
Incident Command and Control Centre (ICCC) – a 24-hour a day, “single point of contact
for all residents” in all the CAP areas to which they can report any two or more males
walking or driving together, vehicles where the driving is erratic, housebreaking attempts
and doors or gates left open. The residents of CAP areas may also be recruited to a
Blockwatch programme which entails two or more residents driving around the
neighbourhoods reporting suspicious activity within the criteria mentioned. The rationale
behind the CAPs is clear as one CAP describes itself as “an innovative, multi-faceted
anti-crime initiative designed to proactively combat crime, utilizing a mix of early
identification, counter-observation, surveillance and static and mobile armed patrols.” In
this sense, the CAPs do not protect private spaces and also do not provide an armed
response service as conventional private security companies in the CAP areas still
provide. Their aim is a deterrent, preventative approach to avoid the violent crimes that
occur in these neighbourhoods. This is a far cry from the „grime‟ and petty crime issues
that much of private security has to deal with in other areas and so the technologies have
been adapted to suit the context. This policing can be described as a form of reassurance
policing as a response to a fearful community – again filling in a gap that many expected
the state police to fill by regularly patrolling these areas. Yet, ironically, as Crawford and
Lister (2006) have noted, this very presence and creation of reassurance may raise public
expectations and, if not met, perhaps heighten fear and awareness of risk. The symbolic
language and physical tools the CAPs have elected perhaps contributes to this – no
yellow bibs and friendly salutes, but a desire to emanate a mini-version of the
professional model of the police:
“…a highly trained, technologically sophisticated police department … with a
corps of well-educated police responding obediently to the policies, orders, and
directives of a central administrative command.” (Klockars, 1980:44).
The ICCC represents a central administrative command, an unseen centre deploying
Tactical Response Units, monitoring CCTV and „investigating‟ incidents unobtrusively.
Yet, by adopting this tactic, the CAPs embrace a certain response to risky populations.
Exclusion (CAPs will confront and question any suspicious persons entering the CAP
areas) and deterrence is the main motivation behind the CAPs presence but failing this
the CAPs necessarily have to respond to violence with violence – hence the heavily
armed guards and shooting incidents involving „suspects‟ and CAPS guards, reported in
daily newspapers. As mentioned, the main rationale or mentality behind private security
is the desire to manage loss and risk through prevention, but here we see a willingness to
resort to coercive tactics as a predominant technology of private security. This stems
from the particular needs and perceptions of the residents of those suburbs, the perceived
withdrawal of the state police and the “public‟s quest for symbols of order and authority”
as well as re-definitions over the ownership of space, particularly through the creation of
spatial identities (Crawford and Lister, 2006:165). This is demonstrated in the posters
and placards placed on lampposts at regular intervals as one enters CAP areas warning all
entrants that the space is specially protected by CAP.
3. “Bandit-catchers”13: Private security as law enforcers
In contrast to the visibility of the preceding private security initiatives, the Mountain Men
in many respects prefer to remain invisible and place themselves in strategic positions
around parts of the mountain enfolding certain coastal areas in the southern suburbs of
Cape Town. By means of binoculars and radio communications the Mountain Men
engage in surveillance of public spaces from the vantage point of the mountain, so
observing all the activities that take place on the streets of these areas. Using the term
„bandit-catchers‟ adopted by Brodgen and Shearing (1993:166) is perhaps the most
appropriate way to describe this activity since, although they perform other services, they
are primarily engaged with what they themselves have termed “private law enforcement”
which appears on one of their logos along with an image of an all-seeing eye. Their aim
is to catch offenders red-handed by watching potential offenders from the mountain and
radioing in to ground support if/when they commit a criminal offence (usually breaking
into premises). They maintain this level of surveillance at various parts of the day or
night without establishing a routine and so create the perception of an “unremitting
watch” since no one is certain when they are on or off duty (Radzinowicz, 1968).
Although they perform other more conventional private security duties similar to the CID
mentality (since they themselves work in CID areas) this aspect of their work is
noteworthy since, because of the nature of their public space surveillance, it relies on the
participation of the state.
As mentioned by Shearing and Stenning (1982:97) private security “has been able to
develop without the constraints imposed upon the public police by their close association
with the public criminal justice system”. Yet in this context, in light of the real and
perceived inadequacies of the state police, private security has purposively aligned itself
with the criminal justice system and in many respects restricted itself to law enforcement
duties so becoming an agent of the state. Thus the Mountain Men collate and distribute
incident reports and arrest statistics buying into the rhetoric and practices of the state.
Brogden and Shearing (1993) have argued that the use of coercive force should remain in
the charge of the police and that crime prevention should be allocated to non-state
groups. Since the state police have to a large extent become „all things to all people‟
including the adoption of nebulous notions of crime prevention this capacity to police in
the traditional sense of crime fighting and law enforcement has perhaps dwindled, only to
be taken up by the private sector.14 The private sector in this sense has moved from a risk
management and prevention mentality to a detection and punishment mentality,
facilitating the arrest and prosecution of offenders rather than adopting problem-solving
techniques to avoid future risks. In other words by aligning itself with the criminal
Brogden and Shearing (1993:166).
I am grateful to Professor Clifford Shearing for his insights on this point.
justice system the private sector limits the resources available to it in reproducing order.
Private security work in public spaces to which is bound a certain type of law (i.e. public
law / criminal law) whereas in private space the law can be excluded and drawn upon
when needed (for instance consider the fact that private businesses, such as banks, often
deal with illegality internally rather than calling on the criminal justice system).
Bandit-catching may work for Mountain Men as one technique or technology because
there are certain crimes that they are targeting which they do not perhaps have the
capacity to problem-solve, whereas the other more CID-like duties involve constant
problem-solving to resolve ongoing by-law infringements. The „legal tools‟ of private
security are limited with respect to their activities on public spaces, which perhaps
explains their close association with the police in this regard, yet compared to the use of
symbolic and physical tools by the CAP security the mentality and thus the technologies
of private security have developed in a particular way in this context (Mopas and
Stenning, 2001). However, much of the activity of public space security involves
pushing the constraints on legal power further and further by drawing in the police at
later and later stages of the arrest process, sometimes filling in the relevant paperwork on
behalf of the police15, providing video footage as evidence of the transgression as well as
delivering suspects at the doorstep of police stations. Legally, private security have to
stop security activities at this point as security guards cannot „process‟ the arrest further
than this, but they can take the arrest right up until this point without losing their
legitimacy and thus without losing the much-needed buy-in of the state police. Again,
the notion of bandit-catching implies a traditional police mentality and technology and a
filling in of police duties while still maintaining the dream of a state monopoly over
policing – propping up the state police to fulfill this monopoly in public spaces. In other
words, private security has been re-invented and re-imagined in public spaces in South
Africa but not outside of the paradigm of a state mentality. There is not an attempt to
think completely outside of a state monopoly paradigm and to reconceptualise security
and policing as something other than what the state police should do. Private policing in
public space thus often represents a “rolling out” not a “rolling back” of the state
(Hudson, 2001:156 in Zedner, 2003:162).
Conceptions of agency and space
Each mentality and technology adopted above has a particular conception of the criminal
subject and the way this subject needs to be governed – through exclusion, extraction or
management. The loss prevention mentality of much of private security – particularly
corporate private security – acknowledges the fact that offending is inevitable and
focuses energies rather on managing the situation and opportunities for the offence rather
than changing the offender. The governance of space or „spatial governmentality‟
becomes the overriding technology to construct post-disciplinary social order (Beckett
and Herbert, 2008). By changing the nature of a space – physically or symbolically –
those accessing the space are proactively managed in certain ways through the
„language(s)‟ emitted by the space. For instance, the CAPs emanate a certain territorial
Many private security managers are ex-police officers or security guards may enroll as police reservists
and so become familiar with police practices.
language, a language of threat and professionalisation where offenders will be excluded
from a space which is non-negotiable. The CIDs create another territorial language – one
in which disorder is not acceptable but where space is negotiable on the basis of subjects
meaningfully contributing to that space (by virtue of their capacity to be consumers).
The behaviour of subjects in both these cases are shaped or managed by the spaces which
they enter. In other mentalities, private policing adheres to a more static, modernist
conception of the subject where individuals rather than specific spaces are targeted. This
is demonstrated by the Mountain Men in their reactive responses to individual offenders.
Yet the Mountain Men also engage in post-disciplinary techniques to police public space
through the use of surveillance and the creation of a belief that there is an „unremitting
watch‟ which in turn, may incline those being watched to internalise “regulatory ideals
and techniques” and so self-regulate (Beckett and Herbert, 2008:18). Beckett and
Herbert (2008) argue that the differences between post-disciplinary and modernist social
control techniques are often overstated, this is demonstrated by the fact that private
policing may engage in both techniques depending on the context but not necessarily
depending on the nature of the space (private versus public space). As mentioned, this is
most apparent in the activities of the Mountain Men who simultaneously engage in
modernist and post-disciplinary techniques to police public as well as private spaces –
there is thus no binary between the two techniques or some linear progression from one
style to the other. CAPs too may, as mentioned, engage in space management through
symbolically altering the meaning of the public space they are protecting, but also engage
in modernist discourse through reacting to individual transgressions and aligning with
state disciplinary techniques.
Loss prevention with a hard edge
Revisiting the notions of space as outlined above and following on from Palmer and
Whelan (2007) in their discussion of major event policing of communal spaces, a
differentiation needs to be made between ownership of space and intended use of space
(Shearing and Stenning, 1981). Even though the space in question is public space as
traditionally understood – owned and managed by the (local) state and frequented and
accessible to „the public‟ the actual use of the space is worth delving into. Kempa et al
(2004) discuss the notion of communal spaces and, drawing on Jones and Newburn
(1998), the dimensions which one can use to assess where on a continuum of public-
private a „space‟ can be situated. Jones and Newburn (1998) posit three measures to
make this assessment: the accessibility of the space, the ownership of the space, and the
(physical or informal) controls in place to manage access. Kempa et al (2004) add to this
by including another dimension, namely: “Who has been given or has otherwise assumed
the capacity and authority to define the orders that are enforced in these spaces?” It is
clear that all three privately managed spaces are accessible to the public, are publicly
owned (the streets connecting private houses and property are public streets) and do not
contain any physical control or impediments to entry – they are not gated communities
which physically manage access. Yet they do contain informal controls – signs and
symbols that the spaces in question are managed in a different way and that certain
expectations need to be met for ones entry to the space to be unchallenged. The question
posed by Kempa et al (2004) is particularly interesting in the context of privately
managed public space. There is an underlying state order in these spaces, these private
companies do not engage in overt vigilante activity (they do not seek out conflict) and in
the CID context the by-laws are state-defined orders. By default or direct delegation, the
authority to enforce these orders has been given to private security. Yet, there are other
orders defined by much of what private security does which are not attached to the state
order – these orders involve the control and management of risk, not just criminality, it is
a moral social ordering not simply a legal ordering. Put in another way, all are legally
entitled to enter these public spaces but not all „belong‟ to the space and private security
have been empowered (symbolically) to manage those who „belong‟ and those who do
not. As Hook and Vrdoljak (2002:217) succinctly state in their work on gated
“…place (italics in text), is an instrumental and fundamental means of transposing
the logic of power into the forms of material practice”.
By looking at material practices of these spaces one can come to grips with the logics of
power in operation which can perhaps not be easily bifurcated into state and non-state.
There appears to be different levels and networks of power and authority displayed in
these communities ascribing to mentalities which may or may not align with a state
“…it is not the criminal law that is the most relevant source of definitions of
disorder but rather the values and objectives that define the „community‟, be it
„imagined or symbolic, real or hyper-real‟ (Santos 1992:136 in Brogden and
In a sense, private security, despite subscribing to state policing mentalities in many
respects is still, simultaneously, presenting those mentalities within a risk-based
discourse. Ironically, the mentalities of private security fall within a crime control
discourse but also the roles they have adopted fall within the paradigm of a loss
prevention discourse. In these public spaces then, there is a private enforcement of a
state order but also an underlying or overt reference point – that of managing populations
by virtue of their perceived degrees of dangerousness and so excluding, extracting or
managing populations based on hypothesized future risks, a hypothesis or prediction
which is not neutral (Lianos and Douglas, 2000):
“…equality before the law is neutralised by assigning dangerousness to specific
social identities.” (Lianos and Douglas, 2000:261).
Assigning dangerousness by virtue of social identities is something that the state police
may do through profiling certain groups but is something which private security may
have to do in order to be effective in its management of insecurity and risk and therefore
cater to the high expectations of, often fearful, local communities as clients.
As shown by these three case studies a large part of the activities of private security
hinges on conceptions of the state and what the state police should be doing. Broadly
speaking, perceptions of diminishing state sovereignty and police effectiveness, coupled
with high crime rates contribute towards the rise of formal and informal economies
created and organised around the delivery of security. The nature of alternative security
governance arrangements also in large part hinges on the socio-economic status of the
community. Communities, particularly wealthier communities, who can afford private
security, tend to veer towards coercive and exclusionary tactics in the perceived absence
of state involvement in policing and security through gating and armed patrols. In many
parts of Africa where the state police are largely absent from security arrangements
communities and individuals cater for their own security (see Baker, 2008). Often these
alternative, informal security economies are effective and well-functioning at least for
those involved. However, more often than not, they degenerate into lawless groups
dealing with criminality and insecurity in undemocratic, often violent ways. They in
themselves contribute to crime and criminality through vigilante activities. The state
police will never monopolise all of security and policing – we are all engaged in various
ways in our own security (directly and indirectly) – but the police should retain a
monopoly over the coercive use of force. When communities and individuals police
themselves informally in novel and effective ways which are democratic the state police
can act as a link between these informal economies and the formal sector through the fact
that they represent the law thus legitimising their activities by becoming “guardians of
public order” (Shearing, 2007). Therefore the state police can promote communities
taking charge of their policing but still retain that monopoly over the use of force when it
is needed (but it may not be needed in most instances). But when the state police are
absent, indifferent or ineffective and so excluded from these arrangements the links with
the formal sector, particularly at a grass roots level never take place and these worthwhile
arrangements are never legitimised, supported or recognised by the state. Communities
may become increasingly self-reliant, drawing on local resources and capacities and are
more likely to operate in ways which are undemocratic and exclusionary. The challenge
is to encourage the rise of informal security networks which meaningfully contribute to
safety but that these arrangements are held accountable to the public good in lieu of the
nature of the spaces, mentalities and technologies of non-state security. A number of
normative questions remain: what should the state‟s role be in engaging with informal
security governance arrangements; what should the role and mentalities of private
security be in relation to its new role(s) on public space and how should informal security
innovations be held accountable?
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