The Evolution Of The Professional Security Industry

By Dan Levinson and Kelly Sundberg

Over the past decade, the private security industry has noticeably become more professional, skilled, responsive and integrated. As the criminal and security threats facing the public and private sectors become increasingly pronounced and complex, and as the resources of traditional law enforcement and police services become increasingly overstretched, the security industry has had to quickly position itself as a highly effective and responsive alternative. Notwithstanding that many jurisdictions around the world have significantly increased the licencing requirements for security services at both the individual and firm levels, the security industry itself has taken on a major role in coming together through various national and international bodies to raise the profile, quality and capacity of security professionals.

Old conventions primarily revolving around video surveillance cameras and minimally trained security guards have gradually made way for tiers of security guards and other professionals, highly advanced threat-centric analysis for buildings, sites and campuses, along with advancement in the areas of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED), emergency preparedness and response capabilities, and civil liability mitigation. Likewise, security consultants and advisors, along with inhouse security directors and managers, have advanced and professionalised through the completion of industry accreditation and certification programs – many also having completed specialised college and university degrees in the fields of criminology and security studies. Today’s private security professionals increasingly are expected to supplement their personal knowledge and experience through continuing education while also possessing a passion for learning about the most recent updates on case studies, state-of-the-art equipment, and the most efficient policies and procedures. Simply put, today’s security professionals cannot rely solely on their past work experience; rather, they must be dynamic professionals who continually seek to advance both personally and professionally.

The Need to Publicly Promote Today’s Private Security Industry

Similar professionalisation is required at the security guard level as well. While understanding that many of them receive minimal training and are relatively low paid, there nevertheless is an expectation that security officers perform at a level of professionalism not yet present within most of the global industry – Australia, Germany, Israel, the United Kingdom and the United States are serving as a few exceptions where private security has become highly advanced and professionalised.

With the private security industry rapidly replacing or supplementing many of the traditional services delivered by law enforcement and the police, the security industry as a whole is quickly realising the need to tier and standardise services. Furthermore, when discussing the proposed tiered standardisation of security and protective services roles with members of the general public, they often are surprised to learn that such a system does not already exist – many in fact insisting that it does. To this point, for an industry that is primarily tasked with protecting life and property, and whose frontline practitioners exercise various levels of use of force and at times carry firearms, it is legitimate to ask how this sector came to be governed by a patchwork of regulations largely based on anecdotal evidence that differs greatly from one jurisdiction to the next – at times with the requirements in one jurisdiction opposing those of another.

Ironically, in most jurisdictions it has been the private security industry itself that has driven an increase in professionalism and accountability, not the regulator. While there remains much room for improvement, many of the threats facing the public today are being directly mitigated and responded to by private security professionals, with traditional law enforcement and police services attending incidents upon notice from private security services. Considering the changing nature of public safety and security, it is advisable that the organisations and associations representing the industry more actively and broadly promote the important and quality work their members are doing to protect the day-to-day interests of the public, driving the continued and positive interaction between the industry and the general public, and the ongoing improvement in industry standards and practices.

Not All Threats are Created Equal

Public safety and security planning must be conducted with a view towards every stakeholder’s relevant threats. Different properties, organisations, corporations and individuals are confronted by different threats that are specific to their unique circumstances. A jewellery store is a more likely target for a robbery than a school, but a school may be a more likely target for an active shooter then the jewellery store. Recognising this results in adopting a threat-centric approach that analyses relevant threats on a case-by-case basis and informs which countermeasures will be most effective in every instance. In other words, rather than assessing a property as being under low, medium or high risk, a prudent risk analyst and/or security consultant should first determine which risks are pertinent and then assign them with corresponding levels of likelihood. One example that highlights significant differences in appropriate countermeasures is the threat of grievance-based lethal violence (GBV) – attacks committed by individuals or groups of individuals against other individuals or groups subsequent to a grievance, whether real or perceived. Notwithstanding the motive, whether political, ideological, religious or institutional, the GBV offender is often not deterred by access control measures, video cameras or even an armed law enforcement or security response. Therefore, for example, when planning security for a place of worship, where the relevant threat of GBV may be higher than theft, emergency drills with local police and rapid forms of communications such as emergency buttons are significantly more important than a recording camera system.

Different Threats Require Different Countermeasures and the Courts Agree!

An efficient security system must be planned using an evidence-based approach that is specific to the building or site being protected, meets the unique needs of the organisation and its stakeholders, and is based on trusted research and scholarship. Moreover, it should encompass a threat-centric analysis, relevant design considerations, case-specific policies on procedures and maintenance, appropriate security equipment and suitably hired and trained security personnel. This methodology is supported not only by research and case studies of security incidents, but also by recent jurisprudence. Over the past few years, duty of care concerns raised during civil cases against property owners and managers under occupiers’ liability have demonstrated that the courts are increasingly holding occupiers accountable for negligent security practices that lead to death or injury resulting from reasonably foreseeable security incidents. In other words, when passing down judgements, judges are now reviewing details such as numbers of security personnel and their response time, and opining on whether the procedures, equipment and training in place were reasonable and adequate in the property’s operational and contextual circumstances.

Case in Point: ENMAX

In a recent exploratory study of ENMAX – the power generation and utility company that services the greater Calgary, Alberta, Canada region – the benefits and challenges associated with using an evidence-based methodology for an enterprise-wide security strategy were examined. Recognising the changing nature of risk to Calgary’s power generation and utility sector, ENMAX hired an expert to assume primary responsibility for the company’s security – in large part tasked with completely transforming the way ENMAX conducts its access control, physical security and other protective services. A key deliverable that emerged under ENMAX’s new approach has been the adoption of threat-centric analysis that identifies the relevant threats to the company (from irate customers, to copper theft to active assailants) in order to properly plan the most apt countermeasures. Consulting with ENMAX managers and other stakeholders within and outside the security industry, ENMAX established its new comprehensive strategy, which noticeably changed the static posture of the company’s historic security strategy. One noted challenge faced by ENMAX was achieving consistent security guard performance from their third-party provider. To address this challenge, ENMAX included a stipulation in its contract with the security provider that guards would receive in-house training developed and delivered by ENMAX and that the company would have a dedicated cohort of guards for its sites. Lastly, ENMAX has started to explore the value of adopting a systematic and evidence-based CPTED) standard – the SAFE Design Standard®. By having an independent non-profit organisation (the SAFE Design Council) reviewing the physical security of its buildings and sites (ultimately certifying these places as meeting the SAFE Design methodology), ENMAX stands to have great protection against possible occupiers’ liability. In all regards, the ENMAX study supports the value of having focused, overarching and comprehensive security policy, processes and strategy.


Standardisation, codification and consistency clearly are the next logical steps toward the professionalisation of the private security industry. Whether through legislation, regulation, industry best practices, peer-reviewed scholarship or case law and jurisprudence, security is becoming increasingly professionalised and evidence based. Stakeholders, clients, consultants, advisors, directors and managers generally agree and understand that applying threat-centric analysis, security-focused building and site design concepts, relevant procedures and policies, together with appropriate hiring and training of security personnel are not only imperative to demonstrating duty of care, but are essential for generating a secure and safe environment for residents, employees, customers and visitors. As the saying goes: fail to plan, plan to fail.

Kelly Sundberg (Associate Professor & Environmental Criminologist, Mount Royal University, Adjunct Professor in Adelaide Law School – University of Adelaide) Dr. Kelly Sundberg is a tenured Associate Professor in the Department of Economics, Justice, and Policy Studies at Mount Royal University (Canada), and the President of the SAFE Design Council. His research primarily focuses on crime reduction through design, as well as national and border security.

Dan Levinson, Executive Director, SAFE Design Council. Dan is a security advisor specializing in assessment, analysis and mitigation of security incidents. He combines 20 years of experience as a practitioner in government, aviation, corporate, and community security, with his research of case studies worldwide of both tactics employed and the civil litigation that followed.