Private security can never replace the police - Nathi Mthethwa

Police minister says amendment bill aimed at eradicating criminality in the industry



The UN also recognizes the threat posed by international growth of private security companies

PARLIAMENT, CAPE TOWN - 30 October 2012.
  South Africa has the largest private security industry in the world as such an effective regulation of this industry needs to be revised in order to address as amendment, the Private Security Industry Regulation Act, 2001 (Act No. 56 of 2001). 

This was announced by the Minister of Police, Nathi Mthethwa when presenting the Private Security Industry Regulation Amendment Bill to the Portfolio Committee on Police in Parliament this morning.  The Bill seeks to address identified security threats, risk and problems regarding the regulation of the private security industry.

"According to the Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority (PSIRA) Annual Report, 2010/11, there were 8 828 private security businesses registered as security service providers (which is an 18.35% increase compared to the number of companies registered for the previous financial year).  The number of private security guards registered was under 1.7 million.  It is also estimated that of the guards registered, over 400 000 are active within the industry." 

According to PSIRA it is further estimated that between 15 000 and 20 000 new members join the private security industry each month.  However not all companies and private security guards register with PSIRA as required by law.  Many companies and security guards attempt to operate under the radar and unlawfully.

"The South African private security industry is increasingly performing functions which used to be the sole preserve of the police.  This has, and will continue to have a serious influence on the functioning of the criminal justice system as a whole.  While it is true that private security does and can fill certain vacuums, private security can never replace the public police," added Minister Mthethwa.

Some of the notable different objectives between the police and private security include:

  • Public police aims to protect the public while private security has a profit motive and has as its main objective the protection of its client's interests. The interests of private clients and those of the state and public are not always the same.
  • The police have special powers that are exercised in the context of public accountability. Private security companies have no special powers beyond those of citizens or those delegated to them by owner of private or "public-private" property.  Private security guards do not have the same legal powers as police officers.  Security guards, however, do exercise discretion over criminal matters that occur on the property of their clients.

Part of this amendment is aimed at eradicating the criminality within this industry.  Clearly, the ability of criminal networks to infiltrate the industry and the vulnerability of the industry to such infiltration poses a major threat to the government's capacity to address crime.

"An indication of the extent of criminal infiltration of the industry can be seen in the results of a voluntary vetting process initiated by some private security business in 2008 where 170 728 guards were vetted through the SAPS Criminal Records Centre, 14 729 were flagged as being linked to possible criminal activities.  All these guards allegedly had valid registration certificates as required under the Private Security Industry Regulatory Act, 2001."

The regulation of the private security is not a uniquely South African government's approach, it is a global practice.  The United Nations has recognised the threat posed by the international growth and globalisation of private security companies.  To this end, it has set up a working group to address international instruments regarding this industry.  However, there have been strong international lobby groups and countries which are opposed to the finalisation of effective international instrument.

"In fact, on 16 March 2012, over 55 international private security companies met in Geneva to sign an International Code of Conduct (ICoC) for private security service providers (16 of the 27 African based security service providers where South African based companies).  The ICoC essentially promotes international self-regulation of the industry and while the move may be welcomed, some commentators have expressed concern that this initiative cannot replace and should not circumvent moves to implement effective international instruments through the United Nations," stated the Minister.

Minister Mthethwa emphasized that it remains government's overall objective to effect a well-regulated and ongoing transformation of the private security industry and dispelled notions that such a process will result in job losses.  "I want to lay to rest the arguments advanced by opponents of this process that it will lead to job losses in the industry.  This argument has no basis.  The provision of security service depends on supply and demand like any commodity in the market place.  Change of ownership will not change demand."

"To this day, there is no evidence that because there will be change in the ownership, people will simply disinvest.  Indications are that when the time comes they will sell the relevant shares to comply with the law, not closing down as we are led to believe.  When foreigners bought number of South African companies no job losses were experienced.  Private security companies, like any business are driven by profit nothing else," concluded the Minister. 

Issued by Zweli Mnisi, Spokesperson to the Minister of Police, October 30 2012

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