Private security in South Africa now outnumbers nation’s police force

Data published by the Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority (PSIRA) shows that South Africa’s private security sector now dwarfs the official South African Police Service (SAPS). In some cases, private security firms have been carrying out official police duties, even when not authorised to do so.

PSIRA said: “The increased demand for private security and the resource constraints within SAPS results in private security service providers entering functional areas of policing, which are normally exclusively the domain of the SAPS.”

In their annual data report, PSIRA noted there have been several cases where private security industry has overstepped its mandate and exercised powers that they do not officially have. This includes infringing on the rights of clients, as well as the public at large.

PSIRA pointed directly to the civil unrest experienced in July 2021 which placed the private security industry’s actions under the microscope: “The private security industry, in general, played a significant role to strengthen the hand of the SAPS in dealing with the unrest to protect lives and property. But there were also challenges in that the private security industry was not sufficiently resourced and trained to react to the situation.

“The environment also highlighted some gaps in intelligence-driven collaboration between the private security industry and other government law enforcement agencies. It is clear that continuous cooperation between a legitimate and compliant private security industry and the SAPS will go a long way in ensuring that the State’s and public’s interests are protected, and this partnership must be strengthened.”

PSIRA added: “Improved training and professionalising of the industry is essential to ensure that the industry can become and remain a valuable partner to the SAPS in the fight against crime.”

The data report from PSIRA showed that the number of actively employed security officers has increased by 43% since 2010, while the number of security businesses has increased by 44%. The total number of registered active security officers at the end of 2021 stood at 557,277. Gauteng has the highest number of security officers (37%), followed by KwaZulu-Natal (18%) and the Western Cape (12%).

Discussing the figures, PSIRA said: “During 2007, almost 50% of active security businesses and security officers were operating/deployed in Gauteng, but as highlighted, this ratio has changed and is expected to continue to change in the future.

“The contract guarding sector constitutes the larger part of the industry, but there is also growth in other areas, such as the electronic security, assets-in-transit, and anti-poaching sectors.”

The local private security industry has also seen efforts from clients looking to stop outsourcing for their security needs but hiring in-house security staff instead. PSIRA commented: “Lately, several universities have begun to in-source their security services. This is going to have an impact on security service providers and the transformation of the sector, as many of the security service providers rendering services to the government and its agencies and/or entities are Previously Disadvantaged Individual (PDI) -owned and/or small enterprises.

“In addition, an increased in-house security sector will also have an impact on the authority, as revenues through annual fee payments will decline, and extra resources will be needed to regulate the growing in-house security sector.”

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