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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services

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Washington, DC 20530

February 2022 | Volume 15 | Issue 2

As local state, tribal and federal law enforcement agencies deal with financial and recruitment challenges, an increasing number are creating partnerships with private security professionals to gain extra eyes and ears on the ground and expand their capabilities without increasing their costs.

According to the 2009 report of Operation Partnership, a program established by the COPS Office and the U.S. Department of Justice to study law enforcement-private security (LE-PS) relationships, more than 450 of these partnerships had been established by 2006—and it is likely that this number has grown in recent years.

A Wide Range of Partnerships Addresses a Variety of Needs

In some cases, these relationships are informal networks established by individual officers with security personnel, such as those who guard stores, houses of worship, and office buildings, or by law enforcement departments with homeowner associations which give access to their CCTV videos.

To address specific or more extensive needs, such as the protection of critical infrastructure from terrorist attacks or the need for additional workforce to combat widespread crime, more formal partnerships are developed.

One of the largest formal partnerships is the New York Police Department’s (NYPD’s) Shield program, a private-public partnership liaison program with close to 20,000 members in 50 U.S. states, 54 countries, and more than 7,000 organizations.

The program’s focus is on counterterrorism through information sharing via the Shield website, seminars, conferences, and digital communications, as well as table-top exercises and live drills.

Training is a major component of the program, and more than 100,000 individuals from the corporate, private security, and management sectors, including some who are not members of the partnership, have taken the Shield training given by the NYPD in subjects such as active shooter incidents and detecting hostile surveillance.

As in any public-private relationship, the collaboration can go far beyond information sharing to include preventive and investigative efforts as well as enhanced emergency response to situations such as workplace violence, natural disasters and as well as terrorism.

Practical Guidance for Building and Maintaining Partnerships

However, there are issues that need to be addressed in these efforts, and establishing an effective formal partnership requires written agreements detailing roles and responsibilities as well as ongoing communications, meetings, and training.

A highly respected source of guidance is the 2009 Report of Operation Partnership: Trends and Practices in Law Enforcement and Private Security Collaborations published by the Law Enforcement-Private Security Consortium, which is a group formed to support the development of effective Public-Private collaborations with research, training and technical assistance.

The Report, which was developed with the sponsorship of the COPS Office and the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), provides detailed information for setting up and maintaining successful joint efforts.

After making initial contact with private security, business, municipal and other stakeholders, the report suggests the following:

  • Document your strategy and initial plans
  • Recruit members after agreeing on a vetting process
  • Establish leadership
  • Address legal considerations
  • Develop a detailed plan for sustaining the organization
  • Decide how to share information and communicate with members
  • Promote awareness of the partnership to raise support, funding, and resources
  • Conduct training, together if possible
  • Carry out an easy-to-manage initial project to gain credibility
  • Measure and report progress to members, other stakeholders, and the public

In addition to providing practical guidance in all of these areas, the Report describes 24 LE-PS partnerships which were current at the time of publication and formed to address a wide range of needs, such as responding to terrorism, supporting urban revitalization, uniting universities to expand area-wide public safety, and applying community policing approaches to improve public safety.

Key Factors for Success

According to the report, successful partnerships include strong, active leaders and facilitators, as well as ongoing communication, regular meetings, and training.

It also notes that the primary barriers to effective collaboration are lack of information sharing, mistrust, and misinformation. Other common sources of problems are poorly defined roles and responsibilities, which invariably lead to misunderstandings.

To eliminate some of these challenges, law enforcement and private security should educate each other on their professional capabilities and training, identifying who is best positioned and most capable to respond in different situations, and developing a skill inventory.

As to information sharing, agreements on what, when, and how often to reach out are critical. It’s also recommended that private security and law enforcement meet and participate in training or other activities in person before a crisis requires them to work together.

Security Support from the Public and Private Sectors

Free training for building and sustaining an LE-PS partnership is available on Team Up: Action Planner for Police–Security Partnerships.

An interactive application developed by the Law Enforcement–Private Security Consortium (LEPSC) with COPS Office funding, Team Up provides private security and law enforcement professionals with guidance for addressing mutual crime and disorder problems, developing a plan for collaboration, and identifying tools and resources for the partnership.

A private organization that is working to facilitate collaborative partnerships between public law enforcement and private security agencies is ASIS International, an association of private security companies.

ASIS’s Law Enforcement Liaison Community (LELC) fosters alliances between law enforcement, business, and security stakeholders to advance critical infrastructure protection, business recovery, and assess protection efforts by identifying best practices and facilitating opportunities for networking.

ASIS offers four levels of certification to security personnel, all of which require field experience and a written exam on topics such as crime prevention, evidence handling, the use of force, and emergency response.

Another resource for law enforcement is the Matthew Simeone Grant for Public‐Private Partnerships, which ASIS awards to a partnership between a law enforcement agency and a private organization that demonstrably improves public safety and private security.

IACP’s Private Sector Liaison Community (PSLC), which also works to improve the relationship between law enforcement and private security through discussion and data sharing, is composed of members from all areas of the public and private sectors.

The IACP/Security Industry Association (SIA) Michael Shanahan Leadership in Public/Private Cooperation Award recognizes partnerships between law enforcement agencies and private industries that have collaborated to build community trust and enhance public safety.

Looking to the Future

Recognizing the expanding role that private security plays in supporting public safety, Florida State University’s (FSU) College of Criminology & Criminal Justice established The Policing, Security Technology, and Private Security Research & Policy Institute in the fall of 2021.

Led by Darrel Stephens, a former Executive Director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association (MCCA), and Brian Stephens, Senior Managing Director of Teneo, a global consulting firm, the Institute was created to examine the effectiveness of private security and law enforcement partnerships, and identify best practices.

To this end, the Institute is partnering with police and law enforcement organizations as well as the private sector to collaborate on research and executive development initiatives, with a focus on technology.

Noting that this is a growing area of private security, Brian Stephens said, “In some areas, such as cybersecurity, private security has exceeded the capabilities of most police departments.

“Many in law enforcement don’t have advanced technology skills, but are being asked to make decisions using it. So private security and tech companies are becoming a vital resource.”

“We hope to promote better partnerships between police and private security because there are other challenges to law enforcement, such as funding and staffing, that can also be met through collaboration,” added Darrel Stephens.

Thomas Blomberg, Dean of the FSU College of Criminology and Criminal Justice, summed it up by saying “Creating and maintaining safe communities is not just the responsibility of the police. It requires wide-ranging partnerships with the community, private sector and other governmental entities to develop effective evidence-based policies and practices. We believe the Institute is in a unique position to contribute to re-imagining public safety in this ever-changing environment.”

Faye C. Elkins
Sr. Technical Writer

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