Fri | Jun 18, 2021

Editorial | Collaboration between police and private security

Published:Tuesday | May 11, 2021 | 12:06 AM

Except for implying that there will be a requirement for enhanced training and flirtation around the sector’s use of technology, Matthew Samuda was vague in speaking last week about the Government’s plan for a new law for the private-security industry.

His imprecision may not be a bad thing if it means that the administration’s plan is not yet set in concrete or that its ideas for the legislation are not fully crystallised. It may, therefore, be an opportunity for creative thinking on how the private-security industry can partner with the State to find solutions to Jamaica’s most intractable problems: crime and related violence. This will require that Senator Samuda, the point man on the sector in the national security ministry, along with his boss, Horace Chang, open a serious dialogue with stakeholders, including academicians, researchers, and civil society groups, on the topic.

Based on data on the website of the Private Security Regulatory Authority (PSRA), the industry’s oversight agency, there are 195 registered entities offering security services in Jamaica. Many of these appear to be companies and institutions whose approaches to the provision of internal security require them to register with the PSRA, notwithstanding their relatively few employees. There are a number of private security companies, though, whose employment numbers run into the thousands or several hundreds.

RELATIVELY EASY TO ESTABLISH

Establishing a private-security operation, on the face of it, appears to be relatively easy once the applicant for a licence has not been convicted of a serious crime over the past decade, is not an undischarged bankrupt, meets the regulator’s ‘fit and proper’ criteria, and can pass the licensee’s training test. Registered security guards, too, have to undergo prescribed training. The quality of this training is one of the matters that seems to exercise Minister Samuda.

“The training level is one of the areas of concern to me personally because the footprint of the PSRA is too small to truly ... check everybody’s training level, and that is a concern,” he said. “What we check is basic minimum standards. However, the minimum requirements under the law, I believe, is also weak.”

Mr Samuda also spoke about a “policy vacuum” between the security industry and the ministries of finance and labour. That, we suspect, was a roundabout way of mentioning the not infrequent complaints of security guards, who are mostly contract employees, of being paid below statutory rates, and of deductions from their salaries not being paid over to government bodies such as the National Insurance Scheme and the National Housing Trust. These failures, they say, often deprive them of benefits from these schemes. These issues, and others, including what will be the obligations of security firms when they collect and manage data in the increasingly digital environment in which they operate, should be clarified in Mr Samuda’s proposed law.

Of great potential value, too, we believe, is the possibility of using the proposed legislation, and the process thereto, as the springboard to formal collaboration between the security industry and the constabulary, in a transparent and clearly constitutional fashion. There are two obvious areas for cooperation.

First, as Minister Samuda observed, Jamaica’s private security industry is no longer about “a man carrying a baton” or, for that matter, a gun. “The issues that the security industry deals with,” he pointed out, “ are wide and diverse, and in many cases, complex. You now have data-security professionals, information technology security professionals, chief-protection officers, and all sorts of specialist needs in the industry.”

INVEST IN TRAINING

In other words, security companies, in order to meet the demands of, and to be competitive in, their industry, have been investing in training and digital technology. Many of the technologies they have acquired and the skills they have developed are the same ones required by the police, whose budget is crimped by the Government’s fiscal constraints. Moreover, there is likely to be substantial duplication and possible underutilisation of training and technology across the security sector.

Indeed, it would not be surprising if the police lagged behind the private entities in some areas. Perchance that that is the case, it cannot be beyond the capacity for the constabulary and the private sector to develop technology and information-sharing regimes that didn’t compromise legal and security norms of the constabulary, while at the same time, saving its costs.

Further, according to the PSRA data, there are just over 20,000 security guards on its register. Most of these are employed by security companies. That number is 8,000, or two-thirds, more than the current membership of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF). It is 10 per cent below the number to which the Government hopes to lift the JCF by 2022, but it is woefully behind schedule.

At the same time, Jamaica’s constabulary is recognised, especially in the context of the island’s crime situation (over 1,300 homicides per annum) as being severely undermanned. On a per capita basis, it significantly lags behind most of its Caribbean neighbours. It must be possible for the JCF to have agreements with private security companies for them to perform some of the functions that don’t require all the constabulary’s training and skills. The security guards employed by these companies, might, in specific circumstances, be sworn as constables to help in some of the jobs done by the police.