Much has been said about the budget cuts and rising crime rates in major metropolitan areas around the U.S as we dive into 2022. The headlines are increasingly negative and tell a story of law enforcement inadequacies, officers being targeted, and the public outcry from retail businesses and citizens about growing public safety issues (refer to link on growing crime trends). Law enforcement is definitely reeling from budget cuts in 2020 and 2021, with higher voluntary separations and less financial wiggle room for crime reduction programs. Even with 3-5% increases in police budgets in 2022 in many large cities (see links below), it is fair to say that statistics don’t lie and many crime trends are pointing in the wrong direction. But what does this mean for the private security markets? On the surface, it seems like a great opportunity and market driver, but what can the private market handle, and what will be more challenging?
First, the good news. Private security companies are numerous and there are hundreds of talented professionals ready and willing to jump into the fray to help. Cyber security companies have been helping businesses and citizens for several years, but physical security companies and guard forces are now being thrust onto center stage. Technology developments (like www.alpharecon.com and many intelligent sensor systems) have also helped private security companies to provide services that can often exceed what public security elements could provide. The movement from “boots on the ground” to more proactive, agile, and comprehensive solutions has gained a wide audience of clients and the idea of security risk management is taking shape in this sector for the benefit of security companies and their clients alike. Data and intelligence-driven security are becoming more normalized. There are few jobs that many of these security companies can’t do, and the late majority that hasn’t evolved will be forced to or lose market share.
Physical security companies are confronted with the reality that they are NOT backed by a government in many cases. These companies rely on heavy insurance costs to cover their losses when incidents occur and their freedom to operate effectively is not always allowed. In fact, private security companies are subject to rigorous standards and limitations in many states which makes the implementation of their job extremely difficult. Many bad actors know this and take advantage of it by circumventing patrols, using whether the client imposes operational limitations or the government does, security companies must tread carefully to avoid devastating losses. In many cases, this limits the effectiveness of the security service and many security services still rely on unreliable public law enforcement for help with serious issues. They do not have complete freedoms to arrest, detain, or carry weapons in some places and largely act as a deterrent. It is for this reason; many businesses sadly choose to “hire” camera systems alone and take their chances to avoid human-caused liabilities.
The benefits of physical security services and products must therefore equate to more value than simple deterrence and peace of mind. How can security companies contend with competition from big-box security companies, camera systems, and the limitations imposed on them by governments and clients? These answers will undoubtedly be revealed this year as governments grapple with the politically unpopular option of raising law enforcement budgets or leaning more on private solutions that carry their own risks. The rise of vigilantism is also of concern and may become a threat if security conditions deteriorate too much. Consolidation within the physical security companies is also a challenge. A security company is now the 5th largest employer in the world. However, with consolidation comes a lack of differentiation, competition, and innovation. Staple and antiquated security services are rinsed and repeated, and this is especially the case with technology when these large firms acquire capabilities and either dismantle them or fail to use them properly.
To respond to the needs of the populace and their clients, security firms will need to become much more technology-driven, efficient, and comprehensive in their offerings. They will also need to cover gaps that public law enforcement had before budget cuts even occurred. Threat and risk intelligence (known in physical security circles as protective intelligence), public sentiment, public programs, sound governance policies, client expectation management, operational effectiveness, innovation, and high-quality standards are just a few areas that will require improvement and attention. Focusing on human risk, cyber risk, sensor integrations, crowdsourcing, and civil threat trends while attempting to allocate security resources intelligently based on actual data will be the order of the day. Reducing interfaces and friction, improving communication capabilities, training, and gaining more political buy-in will help physical security companies advance their state of the art whether public security comes back into the picture or not.
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