Roles and Responsibilities of Public and Private Policing Essay


For better understanding of roles and responsibilities of private and public policing for the sake of comparing and contrasting them, it is important to elaborate on the meaning of word policing. According to Button (2002), the term policing have evolved over time. In 18th century the term policing meant “regulation of government, morals and economy” (Button 2002 pp. 5), which later evolved and became associated with crime prevention and maintenance of law and order. This understanding of the policing resulted to word ‘police’ greatly connected with body of persons created to perform role of maintaining law and order as well as prevention of crime.

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The association of the terms policing and police or the view that police performs only policing work results misunderstanding of the two terms. In the today’s context where the role of averting crimes and maintenance of law and order has been undertaken by other organizations other than the traditional police, policing has been defined to include the traditional police in conjunction with other organizations. It is important to realize that in the current world, the work of policing has been greatly done by other organizations apart from the police only, as it used to be in past. Button (2002) defines policing as; “a function of society that contributes to a particular social order that is carried out by a variety of different bodies and agents” (Button 2002 pp. 6). Despite contributing immensely on social order, policing should be discriminated from social control which is concoction of all functions resulting to social order. For example, good parenting culture in a society can lead to social order but it is not part of policing. Therefore, policing as a form of maintaining social order touches only on a part of social control bias to “those organized response to crime, delinquency, and allied forms of deviant and / or socially problematic behavior which are actually conceived as such” (Button 2002 pp 6).

This definition shows that policing which encloses public as well as private policing as a specific form of social control. Other than other form of social control policing goes a mile higher in administering systems of surveillance in collaboration with warning of sanctions for the contravention of a specific social order. This is done through conducting of patrols, getting into active investigation of a social disorder, apprehension of the victims to court of law to answer charges on the breach of law and if found to have contravened the law they are liable for punishments. To achieve this, there has been adoption of integration, for example citizen may create vigilante groups aimed at ensuring streets are free from criminals activities through street patrols and apprehending offenders to the authorities to face justice. This is also achieved through security firms which may be mandated to conduct patrol, investigation and forward offenders to the police.

Private and Public Policing

Idea of private policing has been perceived like a twentieth century issue but some literatures indicate that it can be traced earlier than this. According to Nalla (2009), the public policing establishing state controlled enforcement was developed from private organization in England influenced by growth of market economies. Market economy in England is said to have resulted to private policing where competing groups persuaded growth of this form of policing. This can traced from 1800s where private companies emerged to maintain social order driven by private interests. According to Nalla (2009), Jonathan Wild is said to have been among the initial private police organization which helped to keep social order in London at a time when this city was invested by rampant criminal activities.

Private policing contract services in United States are said to have been developed from public policing unlike in England where they resulted to establishment public policing. Policing activities were dominantly inhabited by the public policing exercising monopoly but of late private policing in the United States has gained momentum. In 1844, first public police force was established in New Yolk and followed by establishment of private police agency in 1855 in Chicago called North West Police agency. By the end of nineteenth century, United States had experience growth of both public and private policing. Private policing had grown more than public policing as a result of growing demand which public policing could not meet. On the other hand private policing were more flexible in that private policing agencies were more flexible and could be manipulated to suit demand than public policing agencies.

In their operations public and private policing exhibit a lot of similarities, differences as well as distinction in the way private and public police execute their activities. Both mode of policing exhibits major duplication of activities where private police to a great extent behave and operate as a public police. This call for a close scrutiny of how the two form of policing executes their operation and responsibilities for the sake of comparing and contrasting the two bodies.

Private policing can be distinguished from public policing according to the economic phenomenon they operate in. Private policing are generally funded by private companies while their counter part public policing are funded by the government from the tax payer money. “If they are part of government and funded out of taxation, they are public. If they are provided by companies through fees, they are private” (Button, 2002 pp. 8). On other accounts, trying to distinguish public and private policing for example, Jones and Newburn (1998), indicates that manner of provision, source of financial support, the nature, and existing relationship among provider and user of the policing services. Manner of provision in case of a public policing involves execution of service being spearheads by the state or government agencies. In case of private policing, mode of provision of policing services is to a greater extent done by private organization operating in the free market driven by demand and supply (Jones, Newburn 2006). The differences of the two mode of policing lie on the where the acts of poling occurred and the authorities controlling as well as directing.

 On the side of private policing, there has been misconception between private police and private security. For the purpose of comparing of public and private policing it is important to distinguish the concept of private police and private security. Although these concepts are often used interchangeably they may have different meaning. “…private security more often refers to in-house security (personnel who conduct policing activities within an organization), and private policing refers to contract security (security guards/ offices hired by organizations to secure and protect assets and personnel)” (Nalla 2009 para. 1). Although this definition may look similar, private police or contract personnel are usually uniformed and conduct policing activities more that private security or in house personnel.

According to Larrabee (2007), public and policing has a lot of relation which is exhibited by many similarities. They also show many differences which is important for their distinction. In terms of behaviors and look the two form of policing shows a lot of similarities in that private police execute duties and behave like public police. Although there are several differences the two bodies mirror one another greatly.

The growth of the private police and that of public police has been influence by different factors. Public policing growth is greatly dependent on the policy of the government and the public demand. On the other had private policing growth and expansion has been influenced by change in society influence by economic factors. These changes and economic factor lead to rise of private property resulting to growth of business premises which demanded service of policing. Due to complexity and bureaucracy involve in the public sector, public policing has been inadequate in provision of surveillance service making private policing to be demanded as it can be executed on consumer convenience unlike public policing.

As mentioned earlier in this paper, private policing service is provided by private organization or persons other than public institution like public police to execute policing activities, “…carry out security work, crowd control or private investigations” (Larrabee (2007) pp 1). In their operation they are view to execute protection of individual or private organization interest. On the other hand, public policing has its operative with the interest of the public at hand aimed at ensuring regulation of justice system is enforced. It protect the society by ensuring the criminal are looted out of the society by arresting criminals which amount to maintaining role and order in community.

Compared to public policing, private policing can be said to be passive while public policing can be describe as active. This distinction is well elaborated by the fact that public police react to avert crime directly while private policing avert crime through surveillance. In there target, private policing lean toward private crime that is protecting private individual as well as corporate while public policing target public crime.

Despite the fact that the two model of policing may be doing almost similar task of averting crime and maintaining law and order in their operation, the practice is doing the same is different. According to various researches as described by Larrabee (2007), public police are more respected as compares compared to private policing due to ideology of ‘rent a cop’ associated with private policing. On of the issue making the public policing to look more popular and look more respected is notion that private policing is for rich since you can only hire if you can afford. On the other hand, public policing safeguards interest of every one in society, rich or poor.

When it come to issues of regulation, public policing operate in amore stricter environment established by law if the land while regulation of private policing depends on organization establishing it. “Unlike the public police, private police are not hampered by their regulatory actions by probable cause” (Larrabee, 2007 pp. 3). While public policing operates within legal flame work, private policing behind this regulation making it to be more enterprising and flexible as compared to public policing.


Despite various similarities and contrast given in this paper, public and private policing are very important and form most important elements in criminal justice system. Combination of the two in the community is important since an absence of one of them may lead to insecurity in society. For better execution of their activity since their activity are geared towards preventing crime and maintaining of law and order, interaction and cooperation is important as it can help to attaining this goal more efficiently.


Mark Button (2002): Private Policing. ISBN 1903240522, 9781903240526; Willan

Nalla Mahesh K. (2009): Police: Private Police and Industrial Security – Scope Of Security Work, Nature of Security Work, Legal Authority, Public Vis-Ã -vis Private Police. Retrieved on 23rd February 2009 from;

Jones Trevor, Newburn Tim (2006): Plural Policing: A Comparative Perspective. ISBN 0415355109, 9780415355100; Routledge.

Larrabee A K. (2007): The Debate on Private Versus Public Policing. Retrieved on 23rd February 2009 from;