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

observe, report and react, he would have effectively been the first responder. Victoria Police officers arrived at the scene minutes later.

Sarre and Prenzler make the quite reasonable assertion that “citizens are far more likely to encounter private security personnel (and their security devices) than police officers in their day to day activities.”40 Collectively, private security officers possesses a relative ‘surveillance ubiquity’ due to their number, and also due to the fact that they are de­ployed to the very type of publicly and privately owned ‘public places’ that have become the venues of recent weapons attacks and acts of terror. In the event of an attack they may be already at the scene, or otherwise positioned closer to it than the nearest police officer. They also cost less than state-provided security and law enforcement.

While an attacker’s choice of weapon has been shown in recent examples to be depen­dent on availability and opportunity, such as automatic assault rifles in Christchurch, hostile vehicle in Nice, knives in Melbourne and London, and bombs in Paris, London and elsewhere, the one constant in these attacks is the choice of a public space as venue. From a counter-terrorism preparedness perspective, it is these very spaces and their owners and operators that have become the focus of government strategies such as the Australia-New Zealand Counter-Terrorism Committee’s (ANZCTC) Australia’s Strate­gy for Protecting Crowded Places from Terrorism.

On any given day, private security personnel provide security to any number of malls, office buildings, transport hubs, government offices, defence facilities and critical in­frastructure sites. The point is, private security staff could be the ‘eyes and ears’ before any attack and the first response after any security-related incident, and they are more likely than their defence and law enforcement colleagues to be ‘on the spot’. Superior personnel numbers and ubiquity in public spaces are characteristics that support the proposition that the private security industry is well-placed to serve as a potential na­tional security enabler. But it’s a proposition that has its problems. Although numerical­ly strong, the licensed security guard population is widely considered to be low skilled, and their generally low wages reinforce this. Although regulated, barriers to entry and compliance mechanisms reflect a regulatory light touch, and the industry suffers from a poor reputation among the public and among government security and law enforce­ment partners. All together these present barriers limiting the potential of the industry to play a meaningful and formalised role in New Zealand’s national security.

Low skilled, minimum wage

Within the OECD, security guarding is widely considered a low-skill, low-wage oc­cupation. “National security planners and police generally view the guarding sector as low-paid, entry-level employment that anyone can do with minimal training,” state the authors of the ASPI Special Report.41 The NZSA’s Gary Morrison explains that se­curity providers in New Zealand have tended to provide “low-level functions that are