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A Critical Exploration Of The Increasing Fragmentation Of Policing

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The past few decades have seen an increase in demand for private security driven primarily by the apparent return of mercenary activities (Adams 1999). Private security firms such as Erinys, Triple Canopy and Blackwater have joined the tales of “neo-mercenaries” such as Sandline International in Sierra Leone and Executive Outcomes in Angola to become the focus of widespread media coverage (Abrahamsem & Williams 2009).Recent figures indicate a growth from around 600,000 private security employees to well over a million today (Steden & Sarre 2007).

But this trend should not come as a surprise considering that publicly funded agencies that grew during the 19th century did not really eradicate the involvement of the private sectors in policing (Ericson & Kevin 1997). With the shift to private policing, investors in the security industries have seen their earnings steadily increase. This trend has stimulated a growing interest in contemporary international politics and has become the focus of widespread journalistic coverage. Some view the increasing fragmentation of policing as government’s failure to providing the most basic needs, security. As pointed out by Garland (2001), the pervasiveness of private firms is an indication of the impotence of governments in addressing the most basic demands.

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The increasing trend of outsourcing security tasks marks the state’s retreat towards a more coordinating role rather than a providing role As Button states: the increasing privatization of policing has eroded one of the founding myths of modern societies: ‘the myth that the sovereign state is capable of providing security, law and order, and crime control within its territorial boundaries’ (Button 2012, p.22).

Whereas privatization of policing may indicated states’ failure in providing fundamental security services to its citizens, this is not necessarily true.. It does not necessarily mean that the state is dying but rather diversifying and developing. Several key questions arise when debating on this topic. Why the increase in fragmentation of policingwhat are the implications of such trends in terms of democratic legitimacy, effectiveness and equityIn the midst of the far-reaching transformation, how best can the multiplicity of institutional reforms involved in policing be governed?

This paper addresses these questions with evidence drawn from various perspectivesfrom various perspectives. it The paper provides an adequate account for the shifting structures of security, providing an explanation for the increasing fragmentation and debating the extent to which it privatization of policing has occurred. In order to understand the trend towards private policing and the reasons for the increasing fragmentation, it is important to first explore the historical development. Since it is beyond the scope of this paper to examine the 1st world war and the 2nd world war more in depth, the paper will briefly touch on some of the important transformations. depth the post-conflict proliferation of the 1st and 2nd World Wars, it will briefly touch on some important developments that led to the rise of private security industry.

Historical context

The involvement of thee private secto in crime control and prevention can be traced back to the cold war. During the cold war, the private military sector provided services ranging from logistics to direct combat (Cusumano 2010). A prime example is the US firm Vinnel which was contracted to train Saudi Arabian National Guard in 1977. Other private security actors military sectors involved in military assistance during the cold war period include the British Watchguard, Gurkha Security Guards, KMS, Saladin and DSL(Cusumano 2010).

Whilst the growing trend towards privatization of policing is not a new phenomenonIt is clear that th involvement in security tasks is not a new phenomenon and has been there since the cold war period. However the transformations that followed after the cold war triggered the tectonic change and lead to the increasing in fragmentation of policing. First, there was massive downsizing with most of the armies which created a market for military assistance (Lock 199). With the demise of the cold war, the losing parties saw their military personnel transfer to other theartres. Having lost in both wars, Germany became the major source of private proliferation. The transformation that took place with most of the armies increased the demand for external contractors.

Th, Second, the strain on human resources and the increase in emphasis on specialization led to outsourcing of functions other than direct combat, such as foreign military training. This is evident with the planned gradual privatization of activities other than combat by the US Department of Defense in 2001 (Cusumano 2012).

Neoliberal reforms

Apart from transformations that took place during othe post-cold war period, this trend was further reinforced by the rise of neoliberals. The emergence of neo-liberal ideas that emphasized on the importance of fragmentation of power has played a key role in this trend. This perspective is in line with Focault’s concept of dispersion of power. Neoliberal ideas such as outsourcing, privatization and public private partnerships that were aimed at streamlining bereacracies played a key role towards this trend. The rise of neoliberalism during the late 1970s led to the Outsourcing, privatization and public private partnerships that were formed during the late 1970s to streamline bureaucracies resulted in the shift from the state-centered hierarchical structures towards the more diverse horizontal structures (Abrahamsen & Williams 2009). Neoliberal reforms aimed at limiting the power of the state by finding means of rendering them accountable (Button2012).

These new arrangements empowered private actors to increase their involvement in security provision. In this regard, he rein of power can be said to have been taken over by the private sector appears to have been taken over by private corporations.

As emphasis was placed on conflict settlement that goes beyond the state, this led to the widening of police infrastructure to include private bodies. In many states, public policing underwent major neoliberal reforms. Hybrid public-private structures were developed across many countries driven by the neoliberal ideology.

However, the idea of diminishing power of the state As the upsurge of private security companies has led to the expansion of the state rather than the ‘rolling back of the state’.The impact of this upsurge in private security has been the expansion of the state rather than ‘rolling back of the state’. The increase in fragmentation and privatization has extended the state apparatus of criminal justice and strengthened the institutional architecture of crime control rather than diminishing or reducing the powers of the state (Steden & Sarre 2007).

Privatization revolution

The increasing fragmentation can also be said to have been driven by the ideological shift brought about by the ‘privatization revolution’. This is related to the emergence of ‘ mass private property’ where workplaces, leisure facilities, shopping malls and many other places are manned by private security guards. Whereas these places may be open to the public, in reality, they are private spaces. This seem to have has contributed to the growth of private security to the extent that private firms have mimicked nation states, a form of ( Button 2012).

Marketization’ or ‘commodification of policing

The trend has further been reinforced by‘commodification’ of security which has resulted due to increased public demands that the police have not been able to satisfy. the involvement of the private sector in security provision has been seen as private is an appropriate means for dealing with the growing lawlessness and crimes. Rising cases of impunity across the globe have increased the demands for private security. Sierra leone is a prime example. Despite its small size, it is known globally a paradigm case of security privatization. The highly publicized activities of private security firms such as Sandline International and Executive Outcomes have made this small sized country globally recognized as the target of transnational security firms.

Of course, this resulted due to the intense conflict in the country and presence of numerous rebel armies and civil defense militias. has conflict and the numerous rebel armies and civil defense militias in the country. The increasing demand for security across the globe has no doubt led to this momentous growth. Unrest and violence across various parts of the world including Syria, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan have further strengthened the need to have these transnational security companies. Some of the well-known examples of these transnational firms are the Securitas Group and Group 4 securicor which have developed their operations in more than 100 countries (Musa & Kayode 2000). Group 4 Securicor officers are currently providing protection to US troops in Kosovo.

Minimize public costs

Perhaps a most crucial factor that has played a central role towards this trend is the need to cut public costs. Given the rising cost of training and maintaining standing armies, many states have sought more cost effective ways of policing such as outsourcing security tasks to private sectors. (Krahmann 2002).

Expertise of the private sector

A more convincing argument for the proliferation of private security firms is related to expertise. The expansion can be attributed to the increasing emphasis on specialization of personnel. That is, the states have felt it necessary to outsource other security functions other than combat such as military training. It is a fact that success in military operations today is dependent on the state of the art technology. But most of the public military personnel do not have the necessary training for use of sophisticated technology. For example, the US relies on private military firms in using and maintaining sophisticated techology such as the Global Hawk unmanned aircrafts and the Predator (Tzifakis 2012). Private firms have an advantage in terms of their expertise especially given their practice of hiring regional expertise.

ontrary to the above view, private security companies have come under immense criticism for their low standards of professionalism. Despite their high profile in forensic accountancy and expertise in several areas such as manning of aircrafts, the most dominant view has been that of an industry filled with corrupt, amoral, and incompetent employees (Steden & Sarre 2007). This is evident with most of the studies conducted in North America which portray private security guards as poorly educated, marginally paid and hastily trained figures with dubious characters (Prenzer 2004, and livingstone & Hart 2003)

Risk-based thinking and global assemblages

The increasing fragmentation of policing can also be said to have resulted due to risk based thinking and global assemblageswhere global security actors are integrated in the provision of security. Paradigm cases of global security assemblage can be seen in Nigeria and Siera leone. In Sierra Leone, private security firms have used their material resources including technical expertise to wield significant influences within global security assemblages. For example, in the case of Diamond minning by Koidu Holdings, PSCs especially Securicor Gray have used their capabilities and material resources to exert their influence onwield significant impact on the choice of security strategies (Abrahamsen & Williams 2006).

Similarly, global assemblages and risk based thinking appear to have contributed to the rise of private policing in Nigeria which is estimated to have between 1500 and 2000 private security companies (Keku & Akingbade 2003). A good example of the global security assemblage in Nigeria is the contract between Group4Securicor and Chevron Nigeria Ltd (Abrahamsen & Williams 2009). Through this contract, Group4Securicor replaced most of the local security companies that provided manned guarding together with the police. Whilst this private company was mandated to guard the CNL headquarters, the operational base in Escravos and the two logistical bases in Warri and Port Harcourt; it has used its material resources and legitimacy to expand its mandate beyond guarding these areas.

Geographical fragmentation

A further probable reason for the increasing fragmentation of policing is the geographical fragmentation. This has led to the shift from government to governance within the transatlantic community (Krahman 2002, p. 23). Two developments are linked to this geographical transformation: progressive replacement of nation state and shift towards regional and global governance; and a shift towards private security actors. The shift towards regional and global governance can be seen with the geographical expansion of the EU and the NATO (Abrahamsen & Williams 2009). While the sideway shift to privatization of security functions can be seen with the proliferation of various private security firms.

Growing awareness of importance of private sector in global governance

Finally, the trend has been reinforced by the growing awareness of importance of the private sector in global governance. In fact, a with Global Compact Initiative has been established to create partnership between the UN and private sector on human rights issues. , Kofi-Annan, the former secretary to the UN, once contemplated the possibility of the using private security firms in peacekeeping missions both in the provision of logistics and military combat (Abrahamsen & Willliams 2007). Today, we have many private agencies providing military assistance to the UN, Nato and even African Union peacekeeping missions.

Whilst th idea of a private police established to achieve accountability of public police may sound realistic, there is little persuasive evidence regarding the effectiveness of the private institutions in performing this role. In fact, it is case that the private sector is largely unaccountable. In theory, it is stated that both the public and private police are accountable through the criminal law of their actions. However, there is no persuasive proof to support this claim in practice. Notorious examples can be seen with the recent events which Some of the recent infamous events that unfolded in California. This indicates indicatinghow how difficult it is to convict public police offenders (Stenning 1994).

Fragmentation and privatization of policing a global phenomenon

The trend towards private policing is clearly evident across the globe. For example, in Russia, there has been an explosive growth in private security personnel since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Whilst statistics indicate that Russia had almost 200,000 licensed private personnel in 1999, the the actual number is has been estimated to exceed 850,000 (Steden & Sarre 2007).

Similarly, A similar trend can be seen in Bulgaria which currently has about 130,000 personnel employed in private security sector in sharp contrast to 28,000 state police officers (Steden & Sarre 2007). A similar trend can be seen with emerginerging economies of Asia. India has also echo the trend with over 5 million private security personnel, a figure that i exceeds the police, army, air force and the navy put together. In China, private guards are forecast to grow from the current 3 million to 5 million in the coming years.

Not only is this trend evident in the Middle East and growing economies of Asia, but also across the US and the UK and in most Latin American countries. The US employs approximately 1.5 and 2 million private security personnel, outnumbering the public police by almost three to one (Abrahamsen & Williams 2009). Similarly, the private security personnel in the UK outnumber the state police by a ratio of two to one. This growth is also reflected in the Latin American countries, African countries and even across Central and Eastern Europe. The resurgence is clearly evident across the world as countries such as Lithuania, Latvia, Slovenia and the Czech Republic continue to witness growth of private policing witnessing growth in this sector. Almost all countries now have their private security personnel exceeding the police number.

A further trend that has been observed and has perhaps been under-theorized or under-evaluated is the increasing emergence of transnational policing. Besides privatization of policing, there has been an expansion in cooperation between member states in areas of policing (Button 2012). Traditional forms of cooperation based on distribution of information through bodies such as the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) have now been transcended by organizations such as the European Criminal Police Office (Europol) (Button 2012, p. 25). In addition, there has been an increase in information sharing and the exportation of ideas among private security firms. For example, corporations such as Corrections of America and Wakenhut exportation have exported their ideas to the UK and Australia (Steden & Sarre 2007).

However, in some countries, private policing is still at its infancy. For example,In n Greece, the ratio between the private and public security personnel remains relatively small. This can be attributed to the security market that barely existed in Greece until the late 1990s when legislation that mandated some of the key requirements for a licensed security firm was passed (Steden & Sarre 2007). Other countries with a relatively low private security to police ratio include Italy, Portugal, Malta, Cyprus and Spain. Most of these countries still make more use of the police officers than private security guards. Nonetheless, the momentous growth of private policing is inevitable and is occurring across the globe.

Concerns/controversies over private policing

Traditionally, the state has been seen as a monopoly in crime prevention and control (Button 2012). However, evidence has emerged that have raised questions regarding the state’s monopoly in policing. Evidence have pointed to the increasing ‘pluralization’ or ‘fragmentation’ of policing as seen with the increasing involvement of the private sector and voluntary organizations in crime prevention and control. This raises key questions such as: does the state still have a monopoly in policing given the increasing fragmentationOr rather it can be questioned: did it ever have a monopoly given that the fragmentation in policing is not a new phenomenonThe only thing that is new is the increasing fragmentation and the expansion of private security.

Whilst the pervasiveness of these private firms may signal the state’s failure in addressing the most basic demands for security, it should not be viewed as weakening of the state’s role. It does not necessarily mean that the state is dying but rather diversifying and developing. Encouraging private personnel to become more involved in crime control is to support the state’s activities by allowing these individuals to become auxiliaries of the state as opposed to becoming rivals (Sarre 2002).

Of course, there are concerns with this trend of privatization of policing with the greatest dangers being the subversion of public interests into profit maximization. Another concern relates to the fact that privatization results in more unequal access to protection and security with differential treatment in the provision of security services to the rich and the poor (Stenning 1994). A further danger is that private policing may lead to the erosion of the cherished notions of liberty, human dignity and privacy which may eventually results in an intolerably controlled and regulated society

It is clear that the state’s role is changing. The increasing fragmentation of policing is evidence of a new social world where governance is no longer monopolized by the states, but rather one in which the rein of power is taken over by the private sector. there is a dispersion of power more to the private sector. The hope of many is for governance to be controlled by the local communities. However, the reality is the emergence of a pervasive and intrusive corporate governance where in capital interests become the priority and are more pursued than that the interests of the local communities (Ndlovu-Gatsheni 2007). Further, there is the it is the possibility that the state might slowly wither away and that the proliferation of private security firms may pose threat to the state’s sovereignty. Other problems relate to issues such as the lack of transparency and accountability and political control over the operations of these private firms.

The fundamental goal of outsourcing such service is obviously to protect the citizens from harm and against human rights violations. Whereas the outsourcing of security services to private firms is justifiable, it may be subject to violent manipulations. One variant to this manipulation can arise through coercion towards prospective clients by the private security firms with the aim manipulating them to buy into their services. Another maipulation can arise where these firms invite others to commit crime in order to increase demand for their protection.

There is a possibility that the private security may also end up creating ‘security enclaves’ as their availability in the open market allows the wealthy and ruling elites to buy more of their services than the less-priviledged counterparts hence running counter to the social bonds considered essential to security (Karsent & Volker 2000). In fact, the so called ‘security enclaves’ have emerged in the US. This is a clarion call to pay attention to isssues of accountability for attention to paid more on control and accountability especially given the increasing fragmentation and privatization.

But, as argued by Les Johnston (1992), some of these concerns are not unique and do not constitute compelling arguments against private policing. For example, the concern over the subversion of public interests into profit maximization is not unique. This concern is also evident with the public police where corruption and political interests have led to public disservice. Criticism of erosion of state’s sovereignty might not necessarily be true as the private security sectors have often acted under the government’s control. For example, Siera Leone is far from entirely private as the government still plays a key role by integrating public forces and setting the legal framework.

Future of private security market

Nonetheless, there is a clear momentous growth of the private security sector. The massive growth is evidence of expansion of this type of market. In fact, the industry’s global turnover was maintained during the recessionary period indicating the high demand for this type of service across the globe. In 2007, the global security service market was valued at $136 billion and in 2009, it was estimated at $152 billion (Steden & Sarre 2007).

The future for private security firms seems promising given the increasing demand of security services driven by the rise upsurge in conflicts, war and human right violations across various sectors of the globe. The commercial private security market is currently estimated to be $165 billion and is forecast to grow at a rate of 18% per anum into the foreseeable future. Despite the recent decision made by the US DoD to reduce reliance on support service contractors to pre-9/11 levels, the global market for private security services is anticipated to continue to grow to reach $218.4 billon in 2015 (Tzifakis 2012). However, much of this growth would be mainly concentrated in the emerging economies. What was once a “quiet revolution” has grown in size and demand to become a global actor in in the provision of security services.


There is no doubt that the privatization of policing has become a reality. This is evident with the proliferation of private security actors across the globe with activities that range from manned guarding to surveillance and risk analysis to even military combat. The increasing fragmentation has clearly been triggered by several key developments: the emergence of neoliberal ideas; second the increasing commodification of security; third, the global assemblages and risk based thinking; fourth, the transformations that took place during the post-cold war period, and the fourth, emergence of the “privatization revolution”. lso, the increased emphasis on specialization of personnel, the geographical fragmentation and the increasing recognition of the role of private sector in global governance have no doubt played a significant role towards this trend. All these processes have been central to the growing fragmentation and globalization of private security.

However, these changes have fueled controversies. On the one hand, it has helped secure the transition to democracy by providing for a stronger presence of security forces in states under threat of instability. On the other hand, it has had exclusionary effects by increasing the division between the rich and the poor which in the long-run can be detrimental to its legitimacy. Other concerns highlighted include the subversion of public interests into profit maximization; erosion of cherished notions of liberty, human dignity and privacy; and threat to state’s sovereignty.

In the midst of these changes, states have a greater role to play. With development of more diverse forms of policing, governments have the central responsibility of coordinating and regulating all policing activities, both in the private and public agencies. Government must serve as a central anchor point ensuring multi-agency networking and efficacy, equity and accountability of all agencies, both private and public. Accountability can perhaps be achieved by bringing all the policing practices under the control of democratic institutions such as citizen boards, commissions and ‘watchdogs’ at the local, national, provincial and regional levels. This would ensure equity, efficacy, legitimacy and accountable of all security actors.


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