A three part investigative report published by TIME magazine in May of 2023 announced that “private security guards are replacing police across America,” and cites FBI data which states that “nationally, the number of sworn officers dropped 7% between 2019 and 2021” while the number of security guards employed by private firms has exploded. According to the report “by 2021, there were about 2 police officers but 3.1 security guards for every 1,000 civilians” in the US.
The realization that private security must work directly alongside traditional law enforcement is nothing new. As early as 1995, twenty eight years ago, the US Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs opined that “Private security will assume many responsibilities now held by public law enforcement”.
In Canada the news is similar, where a 2015 report prepared for Public Safety Canada noted that “cooperation between private security and the police can reduce emergency response times, enhance the protection of critical infrastructure, and facilitate intelligence gathering.”
There is no doubt that private security can help ensure public safety through assisting law enforcement, but in some cases the security industry suffers from a perceived lack of professionalism and accountability that can act as an obstacle to the development of this much needed partnership.
This stigma can be traced to the public perception that private security lacks the oversight, training, expertise, and equipment normally associated with professional law enforcement because the industry is not governed by the same legislation and policies that police departments must adhere to.
While the Public Safety Canada report acknowledges that private security is already playing a significant role in the safety and security web in Canada it goes on to state that “the challenge is to optimize this role while ensuring that there are standards for training and oversight, as well as protocols, for the development and maintenance of public police-private security partnerships and collaboration.”
Without strict legislation and oversight this means that it is up to each individual private security provider to set it’s own standards when it comes to hiring, training and equipping their security officers, and while some companies will fall well short of public expectations one company that has emerged as an industry leader in pursuing excellence is the Sotera Investigative Group, a multinational firm with offices in Canada that specializes in corporate and private investigations, risk management, executive protection and uniformed security services.
Dieter Boeheim, a Managing Partner of Sotera’s Canadian office believes that “the public must have faith in private security if it is to take on a greater role in protecting public safety. If you go out on Bloor Street this morning you will see ten times as many security guards as police officers and they are all making a major contribution to protecting not only property, but people as well.” Having served as a police officer for 35 years whose duties included being the Officer in Charge of the Intelligence Bureau for York Regional Police, Boeheim understands the opportunity that these numerous uniformed guards provide to police agencies. “They are on the street everyday and are an excellent source of intelligence. Human interaction is still the most common and most important way that intelligence is gathered, and police departments can make use of this intelligence in many ways – not just to solve crimes but also to identify areas which may need more support or to make decisions on how to deploy manpower and resources.”
Sotera Investigative Group’s other Managing Partner, Brian Bigras, is also a retiree from policing where his last position was Deputy Chief of Investigations for York Regional Police. “Sotera has the expertise and experience to undertake in depth surveillance operations that cross international borders and to undertake complex investigations ranging in scope from historical missing persons cases to major files involving everything from fraud to criminal case reviews.” Still, he acknowledges the challenges ahead.
“The private security world is in some ways the wild west,” says Bigras, “and there is sometimes a very low level of accountability, transparency and even credibility in some segments of the industry. Sotera wants to improve on that and is founded on the principle that we will be a leader in the public safety web. We recognize the imperative to establish extremely professional standards for ourselves in all aspects of our operations.”
Both Bigras and Boeheim acknowledge that changing the culture of private security can be tough, but they have committed to leading the way by hiring the best employees and then providing them with the best training and equipment available.
One of their most recent innovations has been the adoption of the eNotes Intelligent Mobile Patrol software created by Digital Mobility Inc., a Toronto based company who has already provided their electronic notebook solution to several police agencies.
“We wanted to lead the way by maintaining the same record keeping system that police departments do,” says Boeheim, ‘so that we can share information with them instantly when it is legal and proper to do so, for example when served with a subpoena or search warrant.”
“It’s all about setting that standard,” adds Bigras, “the same high standard being met by the best public safety agencies. By focusing on excellence we can ensure that our company meets the expectations and demands of the judicial system, right up to and including the Supreme Court of Canada.”
Intelligent Mobile Patrol will allow Sotera employees to take advantage of the same cutting edge technology that sworn police officers use. They can gather information quickly and document their investigations electronically in a digital notebook which meets the evidentiary standards set by both criminal and civil courts while avoiding the many pitfalls of old fashioned paper notebooks. Fully encrypted and secure, these eNotes allow for immediate supervisor oversight and are a complete cross platform solution that will allow Sotera to gather and manage information in a quick, reliable, and professional manner.
To learn more about Sotera please visit soteragroup.ca