The History of Private Security
From the moment our ancestors figured out there was a difference between ‘mine’ and ‘ours’ there became a need for private security. Since its humble origins in Ancient Egypt on through to the recent events of our post 9/11 world mankind continues to need the industries of private security.
One of the earliest recorded examples of private security forces being utilized dates back to the thirteenth century B.C. Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses the II hired Nubians (popularly known as Medjai), Libyans, Syrians, and Sherdens (from Sardinia) to compliment Egyptian’s own military and security forces. This established practice continued and evolved in ancient Rome where the wealthy hired private security personnel (usually consisting of soldiers who hired themselves out between military campaigns) to protect their families and property. Around Four Hundred A.D., during the Byzantine empire, the emperors contracted foreigners for their own personal security, forming the Varangion Guard.
Private security flourished during the Middle Ages both in Western Europe and Asia. In China and Japan the elite classes utilized private security to protect themselves and their property from the encroaching Mongol Hordes. Italian and Chinese warlords procured private security to guard their bases and fight in military campaigns. Once this started happening on a regular basis the private soldiers in these areas began to form structured private organizations.
In 1214 A.D. the English King John, under pressure by his barons, approved the Magna Carta. The lines ‘No freeman shall be taken, imprisoned,...or in any other way destroyed...except by the lawful judgment of his peers, or by the law of the land. To no one will we sell, to none will we deny or delay, right or justice’ (Vincent) established due process for citizens. Later in the same century in 1285 A.D. the Statute of Winchester (also known as the Statute of Westminster) established many security concepts for each village, and the citizens, to adhere to. The concept of ‘hue and cry’, whereby it was each and every citizen’s obligation to apprehend felons came from this statute. This concept included the practices of ‘citizen’s arrest’ as well as posse comitatus – the institution of a sheriff’s right to form a posse of citizens to pursue and capture criminals – both of which are used today by private security and public officers. The statute also demanded certain physical security measures took place such as closing village gates at nightfall, clearing brush and debris for a space of two hundred feet on each side of the king’s highway, as well as the establishment of patrols and night watches. Between the fourteenth and eighteen centuries, fueled by social revolution as feudalism ended, systems of security and protection grew. In 1689 English Parliament agreed to crown William and Mary if they reaffirmed citizen’s rights, which they did with a Bill of Rights. By the 1700s an increasing number of citizens moved to larger cities creating many hardships; crime, poverty, and violence were widespread, creating an even stronger need for security. Tax revenues were used for the first time in 1737, in a precedent setting step, to pay for the night watch patrolling city streets. Harry Fielding, a magistrate and author, proposed in 1748 the founding of a permanent well paid professional security force. The concept of preventing crime instead of trying to control it is attributed to this man.
The onset of the Industrial Revolution and subsequent factories produced yet more criminal opportunities resulting in an epidemic of crime. Although during his time as Home Secretary, starting in 1822, Sir Robert Peel created the criminal law reform bill to make urban police forces more efficient private security forces continued to prosper. America followed the example set by England’s security measures. In the 1850s Allan Pinkerton (a former Chicago police detective) created the Pinkerton Agency, his own private security agency. Although primary employment for the Pinkerton Agency was the booming railroads crisscrossing the country, his security forces even branched out into espionage during the Civil War, hired by President Abraham Lincoln. Other Security firms were created shortly thereafter such as Wells Fargo and Brinks. The first burglar alarm system was sold by Edwin Holmes in 1858 after he purchased the system designed by Augustus Pope. There seems to be some controversy as to when the first proprietary security forces arose, but many sources attribute Henry Ford as the man who refined ‘in house’ security to factory work. As the automobile gained popularity so the industries providing the necessary materials for the factories producing them across the nation needed and utilized private security personnel. With the high unemployment and possibility of crime due to the Great Depression private security further embedded itself within industry. Then with the war raging in Europe President Roosevelt passed an executive order giving the U.S. War Department mandate to procure and train private security to guard against any threat to U.S. industry. This was done due to a Lend-Lease Program the U.S. government had passed to provide war items to Allied countries in March, 1941. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor late that year we joined the war. As factories across America needed to produce more and more war materials the need for private security grew. By the middle of the war private security patrolled and protected more than ten thousand factories in our nation.
Once the war ended our federal government had set a standard which defense contracted companies continued to follow: it was expected that any and all companies desiring government contracts had to provide documentation and proof as evidence that they had a well detailed security plan in place to protect from Cold War espionage. Private sector companies quickly adopted similar measures to protect themselves from theft. Thus the first generation of private security managers was born, utilizing technological advances to further the efficiency of their guard and systems.
These practices have continued to evolve over the years as computer technology has increased the abilities and spectrum of the security industry. After the events of 9/11 industry need, and public reliance, for private security came to the forefront again. As these needs coincide with the shrinking budgets of public law enforcement, private security will continue to grow.
© 2009 D A Moore