Securing Public Places: New Zealand’s Private Security Sector as a National Security Enabler

Author: Dynon, N.
Published in National Security Journal, Volume 1, Issue 1, October 2019

– and increasingly – privately rather than publicly owned. In the shopping malls, retail precincts, entertain­ment and leisure complexes and al fresco café footpaths of contemporary New Zealand, notions of public and private space have become increasingly complex. From a public or community security perspective, this presents challenges in terms of the proximity of the state to these sites for the purposes of visual surveillance and incident response.

The rise of the private security industry in recent decades is in large part the product of the privatisation of (i) publicly provided security services (policing), and (ii) publicly owned space. The proliferation of ‘privately owned public spaces’ (POPS) has fuelled growth in private security. On the one hand, the state has pushed responsibilities for the surveillance and policing of these spaces onto the private sector, while on the oth­er hand venue owners see commercial and legal compliance benefits in providing for the security of their patrons/visitors. With so-called public spaces and crowded places now of significance to state counter-terror and national security considerations, private security presents as a potential national security enabler that remains as yet largely un­tapped.

The proposition that private security may be harnessed purposefully by the state as a national security enabler has been raised – and indeed enacted – in several jurisdictions internationally. In the UK, for example, Project Griffin was established in 2004 to bring together police, fire and ambulance services, private security and government agencies to deter and disrupt terrorist and extremist activity. By 2018, the approach had become part of the United Kingdom’s Strategy for Countering Terrorism:

We will seek a more integrated relationship with the private sector both to better protect our economic infrastructure and to scale our ability to tackle terrorism… We will jointly with industry improve security at ven­ues in the UK, gain faster alerts to suspicious purchases and design out vulnerabilities in our infrastructure or in products that terrorists exploit.1

In Australia, a Project Griffin spin-off was established in 2007 by Victoria Police Count­er-Terrorism and Emergency Management Division to train security staff on identify­ing potential threats to client premises; and in 2017, Australia’s Strategy for Protecting Crowded Places from Terrorism identified a key role for private security consultants in advising owners and operators of crowded places. Against this background, the Austra­lian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) published a Special Report in October 2018 titled Safety in numbers: Australia’s private security guard force and counterterrorism. Authored by Bergin, Williams and Dixon, the report explores the feasibility of the private security personnel industry playing a role in Australia’s counter-terror efforts.2 The challenges and opportunities identified in that report, as this paper will discuss, share many paral­lels with the New Zealand context.