THE MAGAZINE

Private Security and Public Safety: A Community-Based Approach

By Ross Johnson, CPP

Private Security and Public Safety: A Community-Based Approach. By K.C. Poulin and Charles P. Nemeth; published by Pearson Prentice Hall, www.prenhall.com (Web); 344 pages; $46.67.

This book examines the concept of private security companies providing community-oriented crime prevention on a contract basis. Borrowing heavily from the experience of security practitioners, it is rich in detail, well thought-out, and comprehensive--a close look at a bold new way to protect neighborhoods with a high risk of crime.

That said, it has one serious flaw. It places too great a focus on a single company--of which author K.C. Poulin is the president and CEO. The experiences of the company are described strictly in positive terms, without any "negative" lessons to balance them out. As president and CEO, Poulin is in a position to know both sides of the story, but he chooses to offer only one, reducing the book's value as a teaching aid.

At times, the book takes on the irritating feel of an extended advertising brochure. Too many pages are dedicated to proprietary photographs of so-called Community Protection Officers (CPOs), excerpts of company policies, reproductions of advertisements, and descriptions of the company's operations.

The first major, and perhaps most provocative, argument in the book is that community-oriented policing by public authorities doesn't and won't work. The rest of the book is devoted to proving that privately owned community policing is the panacea of community ills, capable of delivering on the failed promises of the public sector. By the end of the book, however, the reader is left wondering exactly why community policing by public authorities won't work.

Some of the contentions are undermined in almost the next breath. The authors cite the proposition that clear visual distinctions be drawn between public and private sector police to avoid confusing the public. Directly facing that page is a photograph of a man in a dark blue uniform with a shield, utility belt, collar brass, and a large shoulder flash emblazoned with a star. A Motorola radio microphone is clipped to his right shoulder and a holster is on his right hip.

Only on close inspection can a reader determine that the officer is a CPO. Elsewhere, CPOs are shown wearing body armor and battle dress, using canines, and driving vehicles with light bars, emblems, and terms like "Sector Command Unit" on the side.

All told, this book ably describes an important experiment in private sector community policing, but it certainly would have served the security industry better had it explored competing ideas as well.


Reviewer: Ross Johnson, CPP, is a safety, health, environmental, and security supervisor at Atwood Oceanics, in Houston, Texas. He is a member of ASIS International.

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