Private security firms are seeing a significant increase in demand as police departments in the United States struggle with staffing issues. This comes as crime rates continue to rise, leaving many business owners and civilians feeling vulnerable and in need of additional protection. As a result, private security companies are booming, with twice as many security guards employed in the US as there were 20 years ago. By 2021, there were roughly three private security guards for every two police officers.

The rise of private security is driven by income inequality, with wealthy people having more to protect and more money to spend on protection. While some business owners are able to pay $750 a day for armed guards, many others have to make do with what their taxes can buy. In cities like Beverly Hills, where residents and business associations have chipped in extra money to hire private security, the wealthy have effectively created their own private police force.

However, the rise of private security exacerbates income inequality. Sociologists have coined the term “guard labor economy” to describe a situation where a growing number of people are employed in jobs where they exercise control over people and protect private property. As inequality rises and there is more media coverage of crime, companies allocate more labor to protecting their property. Research has found that places with higher shares of people employed in guard labor are correlated with more inequality and racial animosity.

Private security also raises concerns about accountability and transparency. Unlike the police, private security guards are not subject to the same level of scrutiny, and there is less transparency about their activities. This lack of oversight can lead to abuses of power, as seen in the case of a private security guard who shot and killed a man at a Denver protest in 2020.

Moreover, relying on private security to fill gaps in law enforcement raises questions about the role of the state in providing public safety. If private security becomes the norm, it could undermine public trust in the government’s ability to protect its citizens.

Ultimately, the rise of private security is a symptom of a deeper problem: the failure of the state to provide adequate public safety. It highlights the need for comprehensive police reform and investment in social programs that address the root causes of crime. It also underscores the need for a more equitable distribution of resources, so that everyone, regardless of their income, can feel safe in their communities. Until these issues are addressed, the private security industry will continue to grow, exacerbating income inequality and eroding public trust in government.

By Impact Lab