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ESLJ Volume 5 Number 1 Reviews

Security Officers and Policing – Powers, Culture and Control in the Governance of Private Space by Mark Button

Ashgate Publishing, Aldershot, 2007. Pp187, £50.00 hbk (ISBN 978 0 7546 4797 3)

The past thirty years or so have seen a dramatic shift in the culture of policing. From a once exclusively publicly funded operation we now see a range of private actors performing policing functions. This gone hand-in-hand with the economic development of private and quasi-public space with the result that private ‘policing’ is now greater in strength than traditional state sponsored policing.


Over the years a good deal of research has taken place internationally into the role of private policing or security officers. However, until now relatively little was known about the legal tools and strategies employed by security officers in their work, particularly in England and Wales. Mr Button’s book addresses those issues.


The context in which this research took place concerned two sites in the south of England. One was an up-market retail and leisure development; the other was the factory of a ‘List X’ defence equipment manufacturer. Both sites employed security officers, performing a variety of functions. The clear differences between the two sites provides a useful contrast for the reader in distinguishing the varying roles that security officers play depending upon the particular ‘node of governance’ in which they operate. ‘Node’ is used here to denote the physical space or community being policed. The methodologies employed included sites visits, structured interviews and observations. All of these, when taken together, clearly provided the author with a high degree of insight into the operations of the security officers at these sites.


The author’s primary goal was to assess the nature of the legal tools available to security officers depending on their node of governance and to assess their familiarity with them. The author initially identifies what he terms ‘universal’ legal tools which are available to everyone. These include the right to ask, the power of citizen’s arrest and the power to use reasonable force. Secondly, he identified what are called ‘select’ legal tools, or legal tools available to security officers specifically in the performance of their functions. These include the right to remove someone from private property, the power of search (subject to consent) and miscellaneous tools, such as the power to wheel clamp.


It should be noted here that when discussing legal tools this research has, to a certain extent, become of historic interest due to recent changes to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 introduced by the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005. That Act amended, amongst other things, the law in relation to citizen’s arrest. The author openly acknowledges that the research was conducted prior to those changes taking effect. Notwithstanding, it is arguable that the outcomes would not have changed very much, if at all, as a result of those legal developments.


As regards security officers’ knowledge of their legal tools, the most recent research prior to this seems to have been a US study in the 1970s. The author usefully updates the position and identifies that whilst officers tended to have a reasonably good knowledge of their powers and tools they lacked confidence in their understanding of them. It seemed clear also that training had a strong role to play in reinforcing that understanding and confidence. This raises another issue as to the timing of this research. Since the research was conducted the government has introduced a national licensing and training regime under the Private Security Industry Act 2001, regulated by the Security Industry Authority. One might question therefore whether the findings would have been different in light of the new training requirements, given their clear focus on legal tools.


An interesting point to come out of the research concerned the culture of security officers. It seemed clear that many only worked in this field as a last resort rather than as a matter of choice. Again this raises questions concerning the future effects of the regime introduced by the Private Security Industry Act since it aims to professionalise and decriminalise this field of activity. Usefully, the author recognises that this piece of research is not an end in itself, but rather a starting point for further research in this field, and within other nodes of governance.


Overall, this book provides a valuable and useful insight into the modern workings of the security industry. The focus on legal tools is particularly useful since this is virtually virgin territory as regards academic research. The book is well written, well structured and interspersed with (sometimes amusing) verbatim comment from the security officers interviewed. This book is a valuable addition to the body of writing on security officers and private policing and, notwithstanding the issues concerning more recent legal developments, comes highly recommended.

Alan Barron
University of Abertay, Dundee

Barron, Alan, "Security Officers and Policing – Powers, Culture and Control in the Governance of Private Space by Mark Button", Entertainment and Sports Law Journal,  ISSN 1748-944X, August 2007, <>

Volume 5 Number 1