The South African Institute of Race Relations says the number of active private security officers in SA has increased by 167%, while the number of sworn police officials has increased by only 18% from 1997-2007.
There were 192 012 more private security officers and only19 687 more police officials in 2007 than in 1997.
In 1997 there were 115 331 active security officers and 110 177 sworn police officials in South Africa. The ratio was 1.05 security officers to one police official the think tank states. In 2007 there were 307 343 active security officers and 129 864 sworn police officials. This puts the ratio at 2.36 security officers for every police official.
Kerwin Lebone, a researcher at the Institute, says “private security companies can be an important source of support for the police. Police resources are limited and private security companies can provide area specific patrols or services such as ensuring clients get into their houses safely at night.”
But he also notes, “these services are provided only to individuals who can pay for them.”
The increase in the number of private security officials is visible in affluent suburbs, as well as businesses and shopping malls, he adds.
Government departments (including the police) have spent millions on hiring private security guards to secure their buildings. For example, the Department of Home Affairs spent R37 million on private security in one year, up until March 2009.
The Minister of Police, Nathi Mthethwa, spoke about this issue last year saying that, “the police and private security firms could work together, without the security firms taking over police responsibilities. The co-operation extended to police authorities giving private security officials training on how to secure a crime scene.”
However, private security officials cannot make arrests, so co-operation with the police is necessary when private security officers detain criminals.
Private security could form a specialised part of the anti-crime network by providing support to the police and extra security for people who can afford it.
However, there are now more than double the number of private security officers than there are police and people need to pay the monthly subscription fees in order to benefit from the services these private officers provide.
Lebone also added that this seems to indicate that the private security sector is not just a supplement to the police-force, but has become an essential part of the security
“This is problematic as the police-force is a service intended to protect the entire
population whereas private security will protect only those who can afford to pay for it,” Lebone says.