PROFESSIONALISING PRIVATE SECURITY IN THE CARIBBEAN THE ‘CARROT’ OR THE ‘STICK?’
The need to professionalise the private security industry is an issue that continues to generate comments from academia and security professionals, nowhere more so than in the Caribbean, where the growth in demand for private security services is at an all-time high and increasing exponentially.
Many see regulation as the obvious method to ‘control’ companies in the sector, the ‘stick,’ while others see the voluntary ‘self-professionalisation’ of the industry through accreditation, the ‘carrot,’ supported by some elements of regulatory standards, as the way forward.
By necessity, in the case of some companies, there is a need to ensure adequate powers to support proportionate enforcement of legislative and regulatory requirements. But equally, if not more important, is the need to encourage companies to adopt internationally recognised industry best practices to improve standards of service, delivering a culture of ‘excellence’ in private security that serves to protect the public from companies lacking professionalism and from organised criminal groups that may wish to infiltrate the sector.
In considering what at first glance appears the ‘easy option’ of ‘control’ through regulation, the ‘stick,’ it is important to encourage and support those companies that can evidence their commitment to excellence and professionalisation, while being able to apply enforcement and address those that do not and will not pursue standards and integrity. It follows therefore that corporate professionalisation through adoption of good industry standards, the ‘carrot,’ must the primary objective in any regulatory approach, rather than an approach focusing primarily on control, compliance and enforcement, the ‘stick.’ It is also important that any regulatory approach is subject of extensive consultation with the sector, as if developed by those ‘outside’ of the sector and with little experience or through inadequate consultation, the result can be poorly drafted regulations and legislation that serve to work in opposition to the well-intended objectives of the regulators and legislature.
It is an easy trap to fall into to say that what is needed is some form of generic regulation, drafted with those companies causing greatest concern at its centre. And while effective measures are required to address unprofessional and ‘criminal’ elements, extreme care needs to be exercised to ensure that regulation does not create a ‘void’ whereby companies with integrity and who strive for excellence are disadvantaged or their competitive edge ‘blunted.’
The Caribbean region is a good example of diversity across different countries and differing needs in terms of private security expectations. What works in countries like Trinidad and Tobago, or Jamaica, doesn’t necessarily fit countries like the Turks and Caicos Islands, or Cayman. And it isn’t just about the different legislative frameworks that exist across the Caribbean. It’s also about cultural and communal attitudes and expectations, crime levels, severity and risk, country by country.
Regulation must be very carefully thought through and designed not to control the sector, but to nurture an approach of self-professionalisation and self-regulation achieved through excellence in business practice. The development of a professional security sector with a reputation much the same as many other professional sectors and occupations is key. Equally as important, is the need for reputable companies to work together, under a voluntary body, Association, or Institute, to commit to professionalising the sector.
A view worthy of consideration is that the client is the best regulator of the private security sector, as companies that operate to principles of business excellence and quality of service should increase their market share, thereby leaving those companies that do not pursue excellence to wither on the vine.
Many lessons have been learned over the years in the development of professional standards and regulation for the private security sector internationally and there exists a wide range of international standards that guide good business practice in security. Learning from and adopting the principles of these standards, with appropriate adjustments for the local context is a critical pathway to professionalising the private security sector in the Caribbean.
Such an approach will provide the much needed ‘carrot’ for responsible security providers, while gradually marginalising those that regulation is really aimed at through the ‘stick.’