Private security is fundamentally a business service. If the sign says “No Smoking” I do not care what you are smoking, just, please take it over there. This is different from public policing. Still, the intersecting set of guardian duties continues to drag into private security a large army of “cop wannabes” – those who never could be police officers because they cannot make the metrics; and those who having been police officers do not want to retire from work. Both groups are problematic. The permanent solution is to build a rational model based on empirical evidence that brings private security completely into the markets of business services and out of the public arena.
Jane Jacobs delineated two modes of human action in Systems of Survival: A Dialogue on the Moral Foundations of Commerce and Politics (Random House, 1992). The commercial mode of the merchant and trader shares some intentions of the political mode of the guardian and warrior. Honesty and honor are easy analogues, as are the sanctity of contract and the duty of loyalty. Other standards are diametrically opposed. Merchants are open to strangers; guardians are closed. Traders seek voluntary agreements; warriors use force.
According to Jacobs, the political mode is common to the police and army, to charities, as well as to the Mafia, and socialist political systems. Alternately, scientists and farmers share the moral code of the merchant. When the modes cross or mix, then corruption results, as when police officers accept bribes or when businesses get laws passed for themselves.
In her book, Jacobs developed the two lists from their inherent hierarchies. To the trader collaboration with strangers is most important. For the guardian, loyalty is the primary virtue. The list can be re-arranged by similes and opposites. Some have no direct corollaries.
Consider the array of comparative virtues:
From Systems of Survival: by Jane Jacobs.
What could be changed in private security to make it more entrepreneurial and less political without risking the fundamental responsibility for the safety and security of our clients and their property?
As businesses whose profits come from the difference between the cost of production and the market price of our services, the commercial virtues of thrift, efficiency, and productive investment speak against the rich use of leisure, distribution of largess, and ostentatious displays.
Vengeance is not appropriate to private guard companies. Although warriors and guardians engage in it, the ultimate value is putative, at best. Vengeance is not justice; it is not even retribution. It certainly has no place in the business world where competitors become partners.
Jacobs stressed the innovative and inventive nature of enterprise. The guardian virtues of obedience, hierarchy, and tradition are less salient in business. A certain level of expected obedience defines some of the relationship between the CEO and the Board, as between the line worker and the manager. But those are defined by contract. In warrior groups, any implied “contract” is secondary to the need for obedience. Military units are sacrificed and cowardice is punished. Troops are expected to fight without pay and even without food.
Security guard firms attempt to mimic the warrior virtue of obedience with “post orders.” Unlike the rules of Generally Accepted Accounting Practice, these are not merely instructions, and they are certainly not suggestions. They are called “post orders,” not “post practices” for a reason. That reason should be questioned because it could be falsified with counter-examples and logic. Obedience and hierarchy might have no more place in private security than in a private dental practice.
Guard businesses also mimic the paramilitary command structure with sergeants and captains, and even majors and colonels. Academic criminologists have questioned whether the police need captains, lieutenants, and sergeants, but unsuccessfully, as the public seems overwhelmingly to prefer the paramilitary model of policing.
This raises questions about “exclusivity.” You can claim to be a computer programmer, but you cannot just claim to be a police officer or an army officer. You cannot spin off your own police force or air force, taking your command staff with you. If you do, we call it civil war, not competition; and it is the primary symptom of a failed state. To gain entry to the warrior caste, you have to pass tests. But this is true of many professions, by definition. In any complex, urban society, not just anyone and everyone can whimsically enter any field of enterprise without some validation.
The warrior values of fortitude and honor have their analogues in the industriousness and honesty of merchants.
The Commercial Guardian Moral Syndrome
- Be loyal
- Show fortitude
- Be fatalistic
- Be honest
- Shun force
- Come to voluntary agreements
- Respect contracts
- Use initiative and enterprise
- Be open to inventiveness and novelty
- Be efficient
- Invest for productive purposes
- Be industrious
- Be thrifty
- Promote comfort and convenience
- Dissent for the sake of the task