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  • Writer's pictureSam Wilks

With Greater Power, Come's Greater Corruption

In the contemporary discourse on the role and powers of security personnel, a compelling argument emerges from the analysis of various fields, ranging from law, economics, and psychology to security management. The essential thesis promotes that security personnel, who possess no greater authority or power than the average citizen, contribute positively to societal norms and values, whereas those endowed with extra powers tend to foster environments ripe for abuse, corruption, and exploitation.

In scrutinising the optimal balance of power for law enforcement, one could argue that a model where security officers wield no more authority than their civilian counterparts underscores a critical democratic principle: equality before the law. This principle acts as a safeguard against the potential tyranny that arises from a power imbalance between the state and its citizens. By maintaining this equilibrium, trust in security as law enforcers remains intact, fostering a cooperative relationship between the public and security personnel. A relationship that is not held between many in the public and the police.

The historical and contemporary evidence from various regions, including the Northern Territory of Australia, provides ample testimony to the perils of granting extra powers to security personnel. For instance, the sweeping powers afforded to law enforcement in remote Indigenous communities have occasionally led to allegations of misuse and a palpable distrust towards the police. This is not unique to Australia but is a pattern observed in numerous global contexts, where disproportionate powers are often correlated with higher instances of misconduct.

Economic analysis further suggests that the monopolistic power in the hands of law enforcement leads to inefficiencies and abuse. A market-based approach, where the role of security is as accountable to the public as any private service would be, reduces these risks. Here, the competitive nature of the market encourages efficiency, accountability, and a higher quality of service.

From a psychological perspective, the standardisation of power across civilians and security personnel mitigates the 'us versus them' mentality that often permeates law enforcement agencies. This mental divide creates an environment where the ‘other’ – often the civilian – is viewed not as an individual with rights but as a potential adversary. Keeping the powers of security personnel in check aligns their perspective more closely with those they serve, fostering empathy and understanding rather than detachment and suspicion. It ultimately helps to build a stronger and more positive relationship between security personnel and the community they protect.

Insights from the field of security management further strengthen the arguments for limited powers. Effective security does not necessarily hinge on the might of the powers granted but on the precision and intelligence with which these powers are exercised. Community protection models, which emphasise interaction and cooperation with the community rather than dominion over it, have shown promising results in every jurisdiction.

In the Northern Territory, the introduction of community protection initiatives, like night patrols, and public order response units, has been met with varying degrees of success and acceptance. The engagement of local leaders in security matters and the employment of officers from within the community have proven effective in some areas but are still lacking in others due to inconsistent implementation and support. The response time for police in some communities is 4 hours; even in major urban areas, it is 77 minutes, and they only respond 23% of the time. There is clearly a need for improvement in the effectiveness and efficiency of policing efforts to support public security initiatives.

From the standpoint of preventing corruption and abuse, the limitation of powers acts as a natural deterrent. When security personnel are aware that their actions can be legally contested on equal footing by any citizen, the incentive to engage in unjust behaviour diminishes. This legal and moral boundary encourages a culture of responsibility and respect for the citizenry.

The analysis of the role and authority of security personnel through this comprehensive lens suggests that the ideal scenario is not one where security personnel are omnipotent, armed, or militarised, but rather integrated and accountable within the communities they serve. By maintaining their powers within the same bounds as those they protect, security personnel not only uphold the law but also the trust and respect of the community. This balance is crucial not just for the effectiveness of policing but for the health of democracy itself.

Security personnel differ fundamentally from police officers, and it is crucial to recognise that the vast majority have no desire to emulate the latter. Often, police are perceived merely as instruments for incarceration, and their interventions are feared as those of an armed enforcer. This perception was vividly illustrated during the protests at the Shrine of Remembrance in Victoria, where police, acting under state orders, deployed rubber bullets against protesters, including pregnant women—a clear demonstration that their actions were in service to the state rather than the public.

In contrast, security staff typically maintain amicable relations within the communities they serve. To compromise these positive relationships by aligning security roles too closely with those of increasingly militarised police forces would be imprudent. Equipping already apprehensive individuals with weapons is not a solution but a potential catalyst for further conflict and chaos. The role of security should be to foster a sense of safety and trust, not to exacerbate fear and aggression.

The philosophy underpinning limited security powers and the empirical evidence supporting it converge on a clear message: security forces designed to serve and protect must remain an integral part of the community fabric, not above it. Such a framework not only curtails the potential for abuse but also enhances the cooperative spirit essential for any society to thrive in safety and mutual respect. More effective PPE, rather than greater powers is a far more compatible and reasonable solution.

From the author.

 The opinions and statements are those of Sam Wilks and do not necessarily represent whom Sam Consults or contracts to. Sam Wilks is a skilled and experienced Security Consultant with almost 3 decades of expertise in the fields of Real estate, Security, and the hospitality/gaming industry. His knowledge and practical experience have made him a valuable asset to many organizations looking to enhance their security measures and provide a safe and secure environment for their clients and staff.

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