The Security Gestalt

The Security Gestalt

Plural policing can unravel the threads or form the individual building blocks of a strong security dispositive.

The concept of plural policing has recently received some more attention in Western Europe, after having had a more Anglo-Saxon oriented approach. As Ian Loader put it in 2000, policing is done by government, through government, beyond government and below government and this by many more actors than by just the police. The idea that this actor holds the monopoly on policing therefore simply cannot be maintained. At the same time, this error in thought is easy to make: who else but the police would engage in policing? The two words are almost identical! Defining policing as the tasks performed by the police however, is too limiting. Robert Reiner wrote in “The Politics of the Police” that policing encompasses tasks aiming to maintain a particular social order in society. Taking a more taxonomic approach, my earlier work makes the following distinction regarding policing functions: maintaining public order, guarding goods, services and people, investigations/information collection, advisory functions on security issues, and general deterrence/prevention.

So who, besides the police, performs these functions? Four main categories of actors can be distinguished. The first one is at the same time the most obvious and the most surprising, given that it is not immediately what crosses our mind when thinking about plural policing: other public actors. One Dutch example is the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority, tasked with enforcing Dutch legislation, through amongst others targeted investigations. The local level is quite productive in creating these kinds of arrangements, not in the least because the myriad of security issues this level is dealing with, while social control is lessening, as Jan Terpstra pointed out.

The second category concerns commercial private actors in the so-called private security industry, which for our purposes are all companies that have as their main business model the provision of one or more of the policing functions. Earlier research of the Dutch Research and Documentation Centre (WODC) revealed that in the Netherlands, amongst others, large scale sports events organizers use private security companies to maintain order, but that is only a small section of the many tasks that are performed by them. A third category is still composed of commercial private actors, but which fall outside of the private security industry. This means that these companies’ business model does not revolve around the provision of one or more of the policing functions, but they do have to carry out one or several of these policing function to be able to continue to perform their main activities.. An example here is all companies that fall under the purview of the European General Data Protection Regulation, making companies responsible for the protection of private data from users. The last category is made up of non-commercial private actors. Early literature on co-production already pointed to interaction between government and citizens on security issues. This participation can take several forms, amongst others joint supervision of public spaces, information gathering and dissemination, conflict resolution, and policy input.

This multitude of layers of security actors poses both opportunities and dangers. If implemented well, these actors can reinforce each other, thus ensuring that the whole is stronger than the individual parts. But if a good governance structure is missing, a lack of coordination may also lead to piecemeal solutions to broad societal security problems and the absence of definitive answers to them. A new research project has been engaged in recently, under the auspices of the WODC, which first seeks to explain the factors that give rise to this phenomenon and the current trends and developments. Part of the project, however, is also geared towards discovering what governance mechanisms steer these interactions. The aim is to at least provide the basis to understand what mechanisms work in which circumstances, helping the search for a security Gestalt.