Thinking Internally – combating a police force’s feeling of invincibility

Traditionally speaking, security has mainly been in the hands of the military and the police, in whatever form they might exist at the time and place. Public security is still the charge of the police, and the military to some extent. That, however, becomes a problem when looking at the security of security – i.e. internal security for the main public security force – the police. For years and years, the police has been – largely – spared internal security issues and intrusions, but that time could be fading away, for a lot of reasons.

Who is watching the watchers?

In the most benevolent meaning possible, certainly. The police, basically, is there to secure society, and looking at the police from a very basic point of view, they’re not much more than a bunch of security guard working for the government, charged with making sure that society and society’s rules are upheld and safe at any given time. Look, we’re not going to talk about abuse of power and police being in the pocket of either big politics or big corporate – that’s for another day. Most would agree that without a strong and benevolent police force, society would collapse rather quickly – crime would take over, then come vigilantes in their many forms, and then comes criminal syndicates and so on. So what’s the problem?

Well… it’s a bit of a conundrum. The police, our public security force, needs headquarters, satellites, stations, vehicles, storage space, archives and a whole lot of both fixed and moving locations and assets. The moving ones are one thing – vehicles are seldom left unattended in public, gear and any technology such as tablets, computers and communication is kept on the person or in an attended vehicle, so that’s not a huge problem – while we don’t have any numbers on theft from police, we’re not going to go into that either. The problem, as it were, is internal security in police forces, which can be a very worrying thing.

As always, it’s a matter of priorities. Putting police officers in a security officer setting is never a good idea – in general, police officers aren’t trained for security duties and techniques – they’re specialized in different areas, and there’s really no comparing the two. Unless you’ve got police officers with security officer backgrounds or training, then you’re in deep trouble if you use them for security matters. It doesn’t matter that the police force is a security force for the public – they’re just not equipped, knowledge and training wise, to take care of their own internal security. There’s another side to this – using police resources, i.e. police personnel and officers are better put to use out on the streets, working cases and keeping the peace than securing internal functions and assets such as buildings, stations and headquarters. That’s a given. But who’s going to do it, and why is it a problem?

Complacency and Invincibility

Police all over the western world is bound to disagree, but the sad truth is that the police feel invincible in their own “home”, on their own turf and in their own buildings. A police station, a police headquarter or satellite is a prime target. It’s as simple as that. When CCTV and alarm systems have been allowed to degrade, go out of date, and when technical issues are ignored for either time or budget reasons, that leaves some of the most potent terrorist targets and crime targets in the country vulnerable to whomever would like to exploit them. Granted, it would probably take a highly organized attack to take out a police station, but we know that modern criminals have the capabilities, and not to mention the technology, to pull it off. So why would they even try it?

The reward for taking out a police target, a police station or headquarters is potentially huge. Massive, in fact. Weapons, ammunition, explosives, tactical equipment, specialized vehicles and weaponry, impounded narcotics, valuables like gold and other “loot”, currency and last but not least – documentation, records and archives – are all often stored locally in police headquarters per city or county or town for that matter. A coordinated attack on a poorly secured police station by ruthless criminals or terrorists could have a devastating effect on the force itself, and unimaginable ripple effects within both the criminal part of society and the public. A worst case scenario might include a flood of drugs onto the street, impounded currency and gold for example funding further operations by the group or individuals who did the initial assault, and with the cash it generated they can build on the massive cache of gear and possibly even vehicles recovered from the police station. Unlikely, maybe. However, the massive sense of invincibility that reigns in many police forces makes it more of an issue than we’d like to think.

There hasn’t been a directed attack on a police force in our more “peaceful” parts of the world in a very, very long time. It’s almost overdue, in fact. That’s why the feeling of invincibility that reigns within many police forces, and the lax take on internal security procedures and systems is such a dangerous problem – and it’s not just a problem for the police itself – it would be a massive blow to any community or society if the police was compromised, and forced to use their resources on rebuilding itself or recovering from a blow like this. The neglect of internal security in police forces is staggering, and will, sooner or later, result in a devastating blow against themselves. Feeling invincible has never worked, and it never will – it has been the downfall of many a king, and many a military force, and will be again.

Internal Security for the Police – how and who

No one, strictly speaking, can secure themselves. There needs to be an independent, or semi-independent, system taking care of surveillance, control and security. That is why most corporate security departments report to no one but themselves, and the chief security officer reports to no one but the CEO or near equivalent. They’re outside operations, they’re outside administrations, watching nearly from the outside and removed from undue influence from other “players”. That’s what should happen within the police as well. Most police forces have internal security, but those departments are often neglected, often kicked around the administration with a whole lot of hurdles and bureaucracy to get through, even for the minutest of issues. Also, they’re often subject to having to seek the approval of police administration and police personnel when trying to implement or enforce security policies or systems, which is extremely damaging to internal security.

Here’s the ideal (it might be a pipe dream…) system for internal police security:

– Internal, dedicated security force, with security trained personnel
– Isolated security department, reporting to the chief of police only
– Distributed and delegated mandate and responsibility, AND internal enforcement
– Budget both for implementation and updating of security systems
– Centralized security control center for the entire district – surveillance, control and alarm
– Limited police powers for all security guards inside police property
– Administration enforcement such as access groups, infraction monitoring etc. delegated to the security force

Posting these specialized guards at access points, receptions (as receptionists for example) and vehicle access points, as well as alarm monitoring and access card activity monitoring along with CCTV in a centralized and secure location is by far the best approach. Now… allocating money and assets for training and maintenance, and finding the right people for the job is the main hurdle. Is it worth the cost? No doubt.

The first step for any security conscious police chief and police force would be to hire an outside, “civilian” security consultant and security planner (such as a CPP or PSP certified professional) would be the first step, and if you’re in this frame of mind, feel free to contact us for some useful pointers to both how, where and who!

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