Security Journal

, Volume 26, Issue 3, pp 206–221 | Cite as

Multiplicities of corporate security: Identifying emerging types, trends and issues

  • Randy K LippertEmail author
  • Kevin Walby
  • Rhys Steckle
Original Article


This article explores types and topics in corporate security work by developing a new typology along five dimensions – public/private, in/outsource, oversight, work type, and certification/training and personnel selection. Using this typology reveals emerging trends (such as decommodification or insourcing), challenges (such as accountability and oversight) and benefits (a greater range of legal and other powers) related to corporate security. To illustrate this typology’s value, as well as the limits of existing literature, the article considers findings from research on a nascent public, in-house, government form of corporate security: municipal government corporate security offices in Canada. We conclude by discussing decommodification or insourcing as well as expert certification and training and what these trends mean for scholarly debate about corporate security.


corporate security private security accountability oversight certification training 


Corporate security is less visible, often wields more authority or power and depends on higher quality technology and training than contract guard security. Yet, compared with the contract guard industry (Erickson et al, 2000; Rigakos, 2002; White, 2010), with public policing (Ericson and Haggerty, 1997; Chan, 2003), as well as with national and international security (Neocleous, 2008), especially concerning immigration and border controls (for example, Pratt, 2005), corporate security has failed to capture much attention from security and policing scholars. There is a small, insightful practitioner-oriented literature (for example, Leeds, 1998; Borodzicz and Gibson, 2006), but corporate security has not received the same multi-disciplinary and theoretical treatment as contract guard security, public police or national and international security. To the extent that corporate security has been researched and its features debated, private corporations have been the near exclusive site of study and reflection (for example, Button and George, 1994; Nalla and Morash, 2002). Therefore, scholarly attention to new corporate security types and trends is overdue.

When equated with ‘in-house’ security, where a private firm has its own security unit (Dorn and Levi, 2007, p. 214), corporate security is usually thought to exist on corporate balance sheets as a cost rather than a profitable commodity. It therefore contrasts sharply with the perspective of contract security firms, as well as with viewing security as a public good provided by public police (Loader and Walker, 2007). Much like executive travel, fuel for the truck fleet or depreciation of computer hardware, corporate security is often imagined merely as business expenditure. Correspondingly, in lean economic times, corporate security departments have been deemed too costly and inefficient. The potential responses are downsizing or being replaced by cheaper contractual arrangements. For this reason, today a mix of insourced and outsourced personnel ‘is commonly the case’ (Dorn and Levi, 2007, p. 214). However, for those security and policing scholars for whom corporate security has not been an interest, it is typically seen as little more than detritus from a wave of corporate outsourcing to contract security firms during the past four decades, and thus perhaps not worth sifting through to uncover theoretical or empirical insights.

If the common representation of corporate security is a skeleton crew housed within private corporations struggling to justify their worth to the organization, it is a mirage. Corporate security’s current iterations, locations, constraints and powers suggest these units and corresponding practices represent more than resource-starved survivors wandering an organizational desert in search of meaningful purpose. In a rare study of this issue, Nalla and Morash (2002) examined corporate security organizational arrangements in Fortune 500 companies. Conducted a decade ago, this study had discerned that ‘corporate security has shifted into a more managerial mode’ and moved up the organizational hierarchy (Nalla and Morash, 2002, p. 17). On the basis of this rare survey, corporate security research is perhaps rightfully thought to be conceptually impoverished compared with the green pastures of contract guard security, public police, and national and international security (which are not always mutually exclusive – see Gill, 2006; Petersen, 2013). We think corporate security is worth renewed study in its own right, but also as a well-spring of insights about trends in contemporary security and policing and forms of accountability. This article therefore reconsiders corporate security with an eye to discerning emerging trends, types and their broader implications. We introduce a new typology of corporate security whose purpose is to facilitate more in-depth analyses of corporate security, to enhance understanding of this form of security and to raise broader socio-political issues.

In what follows, we craft a typology that draws on previous research and promises to render corporate security more intelligible. We do not provide an exhaustive review of the corporate security literature. Rather, we examine and build on several previous contributions to develop our typology. Using our typology and a case study of one newer form of corporate security entrenched in Canadian municipal government, we examine emerging trends and challenges stemming from these arrangements. Because of its location beyond a private corporate environment, municipal corporate security (MCS) is an ‘instrumental case’ (Stake, 1995) not only conducive to showing the viability of our typology, but also to exploring trends in corporate security more broadly. This case is differentiated from other forms of governmental corporate security as it operates at a lower level and is thus subjected to (and empowered by) a greater range of legislation that would not necessarily pertain to offices in state/provincial or federal levels with which it would otherwise have much in common. We find that this type of corporate security reveals insourcing; encounters unique oversight arrangements; entails different types of work (knowledge or information work and physical security provision); and engages with public licensing arrangements as well as commercial private sector certification, training and personnel selection. As part of the state, it has a capacity to make exceptions to law that other iterations of corporate security do not necessarily possess. This type of corporate security also wields legal authority stemming from property law that traditionally forms the arsenal of private corporations with brick and mortar assets to protect rather than of state agents. In other respects, MCS offices face bureaucratic challenges such as closer scrutiny from political authorities and potentially greater public visibility, which stem from being located in municipal government. We argue that future research must explore corporate security in its multiple forms if the full scope of current security and policing networks and practices are to be understood.

The remainder of this article falls into four parts. We first discuss previous research on corporate security to justify the need for a new typology. After elaborating a five-dimensional typology of corporate security, we apply it to an empirical case study of Canadian MCS offices. In conclusion, we discuss two trends that emerge from our analysis of MCS and implications for future scholarly study of and debate about corporate security.

Previous Research

The outpouring of academic research about security and policing in the last two decades, including recent broad accounts (see, for example, Loader and Walker, 2007; Wood and Shearing, 2007; Zedner, 2009; Brodeur, 2010) reveals little attention to corporate security. This lack of consideration may be because contract security – usually guard services – appears to have outpaced in-house security growth in recent decades. As much of the literature on private security focuses on contract security firms (for example, Rigakos, 2002; Lippert and O’Connor, 2003; White, 2010), unearthing insights about corporate security in this research is difficult. One limitation of this research field is that often the guard sector’s dominance is trumpeted based only on numbers of personnel and despite a lack of data on corporate security with which to compare. Once outsourced, how control over contract guards within the corporate labor process is maintained has received limited attention too. As well, most academic literature neglects the role of in-house corporate security personnel altogether.

Perhaps a more significant absence in previous research, however, is exploration of corporate security operations within the state. There is much research on the state or national security apparatus (for example, Hallsworth and Lea, 2011), but little reflection on corporate security within bureaucracies of the various levels of government, and even less empirical study of their actual features, strategies and practices. A main point stemming from our typology discussed below is that what is corporate is not necessarily private. There is thus a need to expand what is currently understood as corporate security to include mutating private and emerging public forms at different levels involving various kinds of practices (that is, not only guarding).

Evident in the literature is some dated discussion of the benefits or advantages of corporate security arrangements compared with contract guard services. This usually refers to issues of quality, control and loyalty (see Nalla and Newman, 1990, p. 11; Button and George, 1994, pp. 213–215). Much attention to private security outgrowth takes as its impetus the potentially deleterious effects that a departure from public policing creates (see Kennedy, 1995); there is a degree of trepidation about the expanding private security sector due to a perceived cost to the greater public good (van Steden and Sarre, 2007). However, the sense of unease fostered by the notion of an expanding private security sector is somewhat presumptuous. This is because the expansion of public police is a comparatively recent historical phenomenon that is now often deemed on the decline as private security firms ascend (Morley and Fong, 1995; Forst, 2002; Barker and Crawford, 2013). There is also the matter of ‘marketization’ (Loader, 2000, p. 329) of public policing or what Loader and Walker (2007) describe as ‘the insertion of market logics and disciplines within the state itself’ (p. 201). One implication of this is that simple comparison of numbers of public police and private security firms is not very revealing as the public police and corporate security units in government may themselves be acting as a form of private security whereby their services are sold to other departments or external organizations for a fee (see Wood and Shearing, 2007, p. 124).

Exactly what corporate security entails remains elusive. An early known use of corporate security on a large scale is generally attributed to Henry Ford and the Ford Service Department of the 1920s, although private in-house security also existed in Europe during the same time period (Gill and Hart, 1996; de Waard, 1999). The Ford Service Department was largely composed of ‘tough-guys’ meant to instill fear in workers and thwart any attempt to disrupt the production process in hopes of receiving better wages (Gill and Hart, 1996). Corporate security is thus associated with an in-house, physical security presence. While the emphasis on employing physically-intimidating personnel has decreased, many companies subsequently recognized the benefits of corporate security units. By one estimate from the 1990s, corporate security might make up as much as 40 per cent of the private security sector (Button and George, 1994). Despite this estimated size, however, the increased use of contract private security firms (such as the Pinkerton security company) remains the dominant academic focus.

The use of corporate security allows the corporation to prohibit conduct it deems harmful to its profit accumulation but which may not be deemed illegal. Corporations are able to regulate the minutiae of conduct transpiring in their private spaces and neglect traditional due process rights (Calder, 1987). Private corporations are said to be concerned primarily with loss prevention rather than law enforcement (Johnston and Shearing, 2003). In cases of acts that are both harmful to the corporation and illegal, the police are not oriented towards recouping the losses of the company (Johnston and Shearing, 2003; see also Williams, 2005a, 2005b). Corporations thus often employ security personnel because they permit greater control of and a superior capacity to investigate acts deemed harmful but which are not necessarily illegal (Meerts and Dorn, 2009). As a result, corporate security is characterized as investigative and intelligence oriented (Meerts and Dorn, 2009), involving more emphasis on knowledge work than physical security provision. Yet, an adequate typology accounting for this basic distinction, or that helps explain both investigative and intelligence oriented work as well as physical security, is lacking.

There has been more research of late on the ‘high end’ of the private security industry (see O’Reilly, 2010), namely, contract corporate security services (Williams 2005a, 2005b, 2012) and investigation services (Gill and Hart, 1997, 1999) but still far less than on contract guard services. Williams (2005b), for example, documents what he calls the ‘forensic accounting and corporate investigation services’ industry: ‘a diverse and loosely coupled network of private firms and professional groups providing investigative, advisory and adjudicative services to clients embroiled in cases of economic and financial wrongdoing, whether as “victims” or “offenders” ’ (p. 188). One finding is that this industry reflects a ‘bifurcation’ rather than a ‘blurring’ of public and private where each has ‘fundamentally different interests and objectives’ and they imagine financial deviance differently (Williams, 2005a, p. 336). Williams also suggests that ‘private security’ as an all-encompassing category is outmoded, justifying development of a more complex typology of corporate security.

Accountability and oversight are also key issues for corporate security. In countering the common view that the private security industry is unregulated, Button and George (2001) detail a wide array of statutes designed to control the activities of the private security industry and therefore establish minimum standards (see also Stenning, 2000; O’Connor et al, 2008). Yet, the majority of these pertain to contract security companies. Most attention on the accountability of private security is directed at contract security companies and the standards of operation they must maintain rather than on in-house and contract corporate security. Accountability for private security also sometimes focuses on criminal charges and civil litigation that can result from excessive securitization (Kennedy, 1995; Gill and Hart, 1999). The use of criminal and civil liability has been shown to be of limited efficacy (Stenning, 2000). However, the focus on market demand is not a particularly pertinent method of accountability for corporate security as (notwithstanding our point about ‘marketization’) their ‘markets’ are typically limited or when corporate security is seen only as a cost of doing business, non-existent. Although private contract security firms have been classified through an exhaustive empirical study of state regulation (O’Connor et al, 2008) at state and provincial levels in the United States and Canada, this has not been conducted in relation to corporate security. This article thus seeks to fill gaps pertaining to forms of accountability or oversight of corporate security.

A final gap in contemporary security literature of relevance here is a lack of attention to training and corporate security personnel selection. As Borodzicz and Gibson (2006) note, corporate security demands a mix of skills, education and experience, but this issue has received little empirical research attention. Corporate security is associated with higher standards of training, more experienced security personnel and more flexible training opportunities (Button and George, 1994). Security officers can be trained to the standards of the organization. This promises less potential for conflict among members of the organization. However, this also depends on the type of anticipated work, a dimension that forms part of our typology (knowledge work versus physical security provision). However, knowledge-intensive work like investigations often involves already trained and experienced ex-police investigators, which mirrors police involvement in other areas of the private security industry (Gill and Hart, 1999; Nalla and Morash, 2002; Rigakos, 2002, p. 13). For example, Rigakos (2002) discusses the ways security officers regulate conduct by exploiting ‘old boy’s networks’, which allows them to more easily extract sensitive information from the police than security personnel with no previous police connections.

Focusing on how contract security forces are trained is not well suited to understanding corporate security. The contract private security industry is associated with the image of low-paid, poorly trained security guards who perform monotonous tasks such as night patrols, access and egress control, or parking or by-law enforcement, while in-house corporate security forces are often certified through special training (Button and George, 1994). The survey conducted by Nalla and Morash (2002) included an exploration of corporate security units’ relations with other departments as well as where they sit in the organizational hierarchy. Among their important findings was empirical identification of a wide range of corporate security work types, which they placed into six categories – personnel protection, access control, asset protection, investigations, risk management and ‘other’ (Nalla and Morash, 2002, p. 13). This shows the rich variety of tasks in this sector (for an excellent typology of ‘policing activity’ that bridges public and private sectors, see Rigakos, 2005, p. 272). We take this up below but collapse these categories into physical and knowledge work, with personnel protection, access control and asset protection falling into the former and investigations and risk management falling into the latter. There is of course leakage among them (access control can involve knowledge work). The well-respected but dated Hallcrest Report identified three types of corporate security, called ‘in-house’: physical security, information security and personnel security (Cunningham and Taylor, 1985). Johnston and Shearing (2003) refine this typology further by using a tripartite categorization of ‘opportunity management’, ‘population management’ and ‘information management’, though they then indicate that the last category as ‘intelligence’ is ‘inscribed’ into the first two and is not separate (Johnston and Shearing, 2003, p. 81). For this reason, we limit our typology to physical and knowledge work.

This article therefore expands on the methods of training and accreditation procedures of security as one dimension of a new typology. Enhanced perceptions of reliability, responsibility and professionalism seem to differentiate in-house and contracted security services. We argue a typology of corporate security must consider status, work type, oversight, source and training.

Toward a Typology of Corporate Security

Our typology of corporate security comprises five key dimensions. We elaborate each in turn.

Public or private status and legal tool

Previous literature typically assumes corporate security is housed in private organizations. Rather than defining corporate security as private, our typology assumes a degree of publicness or privateness to consider, leaving open the possibility of bifurcation or blurring of these ‘conventional distinctions’ (Stenning, 2000, p. 328; see also Rigakos, 2002; Williams, 2005a). It is important to assume a degree of publicness or privateness because marketization and commodification lead to profound changes in government bodies where corporate security is located. This mixed status is also important for the aims and the available tools, especially the varied set of ‘legal tools’ (see Stenning, 2000; Button, 2003) that empower and constrain corporate security practices. Corporate security work uses whatever legal tools are available and is always adjusting to new legislation regardless of the jurisdiction (for example federal, provincial) in which these laws are introduced.

Many accounts of private security focus on the legal tools used by contract private security agencies (for example, Rigakos and Greener, 2000; Rigakos, 2002; Button, 2003). Typically trespass law provides these agents with powers of search and arrest on private property. Stenning (2000) notes that property (trespass) law is ‘probably the most important source of additional powers of private police …’ (p. 332). However, focusing exclusively on laws of property and trespass limits our understanding. The import of legal knowledge to corporate security also lies well beyond enabling statutory regulations that explicitly target the conduct of private security (see O’Connor et al, 2008). Legal knowledge stems from new laws too, which in Canada, where our research is focused, include human rights codes, privacy statutes and workplace harassment legislation, among others. The relation between laws used and public or private status is one significant dimension of our typology.

Work type

As Rigakos (2005) argues, work type should be a key element of any security and policing typology. Corporate security involves a range of work practices and not only guarding or investigations. Recall that Nalla and Morash (2002, p. 13) identified six types of corporate security work. We collapse our dimension into physical provision and knowledge work, with personnel protection, access control and asset protection falling into the former and investigations and risk management falling into the latter. There is also a spatial aspect to this dichotomy, in particular whether the work is stationary or mobile. The inclusion of investigations and other reactive policing (that we see in MCS units below) means that while there is an orientation to property loss as Johnston and Shearing (2003) note, it is hardly the case that ‘corporate security focuses exclusively on governing the future’ and thus risk management is not the defining feature of corporate security (Borodzicz and Gibson, 2006, pp. 185–186; O’Reilly, 2010). It is vital to identify risk management as a work function but this difference is more one of emphasis as public police (Ericson and Haggerty, 1997) and contract security (Rigakos, 2002) also engage in risk management.


Oversight is associated with other dimensions such as status and certification/training and personnel selection, but is important enough to be a separate analytical category. Often the forms of oversight (or accountability) of private security and policing that are discussed in the literature, as noted above, pertain to private contract security only. These include contractual liability (contract security only) and accountability through the market (see Sarre, 1998; Stenning, 2000). Oversight does not simply refer to state purview over a corporate security unit within an organization, but can refer to how the network relations and obligations of corporate security units shape and constrain their practices.

One type of industry self-regulation is corporate security conformity to American Society for Industrial Security (ASIS) standards, benchmarking tools, and best-practice guidelines. ASIS holds annual conferences where security managers shop for new risk assessment tools and methods of achieving corporate security goals. This creates a form of accountability and oversight to the extent that corporate security units consult with others to learn about best-practices and what kinds of practices to avoid. The kind of market scrutiny enabled by the relationship between the ASIS and corporate security units is as significant in the public sector as the private sector. As more corporate security units emerge in the public sector with ties to ASIS and other international private security knowledge clearinghouses, market scrutiny might replace traditional forms of oversight such as elected government bodies. Indeed, recent research has emphasized security consumption; but one omission is that when security is commodified (this is hardly an inevitability, as our case study suggests below) the distinction between consumption and accountability fades (Stenning, 2000).

Another form of unconventional oversight emerging in relation to corporate security pertains to liability, both criminal and civil. The article by Savard and Kennedy (2013) demonstrates how criminal and civil liability shape the responsibilities of corporate security managers. There are also federal and state/provincial laws pertaining to labor and employment that matter for how corporate security units can conduct their investigations. Therefore, although corporate security units are often without conventional or traditional forms of oversight (such as police boards or city councils), the networks in which they conduct their work and the concerns for litigation and laws that come across their desk mean they experience oversight and accountability in unique ways.


Corporate security can involve more or less in-house services or contract services. As Dorn and Levi (2007) indicate, today a mix of insourced and outsourced personnel ‘is commonly the case’ (p. 214). It varies from unit to unit and organization to organization. We cannot make much more of this element other than to indicate that any analysis of corporate security using such a typology should account for the degree of mixture of in-house versus contract members of the security team, as well as the rationales for why certain levels of in-house versus contract are used and how they work together to achieve the security unit’s goals. As noted in Table 1, it is the degree of mixture that should be the focus rather than measuring these items in either/or terms.
Table 1

Typology of corporate security

Dimensions of corporate security


Degree of mixture


Status/legal tools













Public: Statutory training

Private: ASIS

Certification/training and personnel selection

As Borodzicz and Gibson (2006) note, certification and training is a key dimension of professionalization of corporate security. This takes several forms, including generally accepted and legally mandated qualifications that apply to corporate security, and standardization of the organizational structure of corporate security units. Although we do not delve into it here, personnel selection is often a function of certification and to some extent training. So, for example, having an ASIS credential or holding a security license in jurisdictions where these are portable rather than firm-specific and relevant to corporate security are used as objective selection criteria (as seen in job advertisements). While recent attempts to professionalize contract guard security services rely on application of state or provincial laws and demand conformity to these laws and qualifications (O’Connor et al, 2008), corporate security units often are advanced in their experience and education and set their training and certification bar much higher. This leads to hybrid forms of training and certification that include in-house and on the job types, as the skills are either deemed so specialized they can only be transferred in-house or the skills are different from what American Society for Industrial Security (ASIS) certification offer. The Certified Protection Professional (CPP) training from ASIS has become an industry standard and a minimum qualification for corporate security managers; almost 10 000 professionals now hold this credential (ASIS, 2012). There must also be on-going training in information technology security for personnel security. Corporate security managers are also encouraged to obtain Master’s or PhD level training in criminology to build skills on that side of their portfolio (Borodzicz and Gibson, 2006). Outside accreditation of a security team’s members is necessary but not sufficient for the success of corporate security units. Comparatively, in contract guard security, the same level of training and certification would be enough to advance in the organization (Borodzicz and Gibson, 2006). This illuminates a key difference between corporate security and contract guard security, hence the inclusion of training and certification in our typology.

These five ideal type dimensions are analytical and interrelated at the level of practice. Thus, whether an organization in which a corporate security unit operates is primarily private or public may also influence the type of work undertaken (for example, investigations versus physical security) and may be relevant to the level and type of training of personnel required. Certification and licensing, which are linked to training and selection, overlaps with oversight as certification and licensing can themselves be a form of oversight by external bodies. This also begins to reveal the multiple forms corporate security may take in principle: thus a unit could be housed in a private corporation, involve knowledge work, be publicly licensed and not be affiliated with ASIS or there could be a unit embedded in a public government agency, involved in physical security, governed through the market, operating with mostly contracted employees, and be accredited by ASIS and ASIS trained, to name only two. Next, we demonstrate how our typology can be applied in one novel form of corporate security emerging in Canadian municipal governments.

MCS: A Case Study

A municipal government employee is tracked by an internal investigator and monitored by video surveillance as he moves from his desk to a secure area and outside to his car after work. Municipal employees display identification badges and swipe them through an electronic reader at checkpoints as they come and go – any break in protocol causes municipal security agents to arrive at the scene. Uniformed guards stand watch outside a city council meeting. Plain-clothed security personnel escort the Mayor to her car afterwards. A security director instructs employees at a municipal swimming pool about the liabilities involved in leaving doors open after-hours and the benefits of using trespass law to remove unwanted clients. A security officer watches a bank of alarm indicators and video surveillance screens aimed at public facilities and streets. A municipal government employee returns to her desk after coffee break only to find a sticker in place of her computer, instructing her she has broken department policy and directing her to contact ‘MCS’ (which she has never heard of before). These are examples of the work of MCS in Canadian cities, practices that have not been accounted for in existing literature.

To illustrate the value of the typology proposed above and limits of the existing corporate security literature concerning new types, trends and issues, below we draw on a study of municipal government corporate security offices in Canadian cities. Our case study reveals emerging trends (such as decommodification or insourcing) and challenges (such as accountability and bureaucratic hurdles) facing the introduction of this nascent public, governmental form of corporate security. Before commenting on our findings, we review the research design of our study. We conducted 35 anonymous interviews with MCS personnel, including directors, supervisors, investigators and officers, in 10 Canadian cities (also see Lippert and Walby, 2012; Walby and Lippert, 2012). The purpose of these interviews was to understand how MCS agencies have become established in municipal governments across Canada, form policy and procure technology they apply in municipal spaces. Our interviews focused on MCS practices, including the monitoring of municipal employees, regulation of people on municipal lands, securitization of buildings, camera surveillance use and other kinds of work to assess risk and threat in municipal buildings and on municipal properties. We also asked about the drivers leading to the formation of MCS units, the ongoing professionalization of MCS, as well as the network links between MCS units across Canada and between MCS units and other corporate security bodies. The duration of interviews ranged from 45 to 120 min.

These MCS units in Canadian cities reflect changes in the direction and intensity of securitization processes. MCS problematizes this public–private distinction as the product of a reformulation of municipal government resources designed to provide security for its infrastructure and lands, which relates to the first element of the typology. MCS units use techniques and logics of security from the private sector, but they work in the public sector and their budget comes from municipal government. Many MCS managers have private sector experience and bring this to their post with MCS: ‘that was one of the things that I brought over from private sector … is being a business enabler. I think it’s very important, I’m sure it’s almost cliché term these days, but you can’t exist in this line of work without enabling your organization’s business’. This is a far cry from seeing corporate security as merely a cost. What is unique about MCS is not only its nominal public status, but how it is infused with influences from corporate security in the private sector, this idea of being a business enabler being one example. Another way MCS is influenced is through benchmarking: ‘[A]ny large private enterprise, they would normally have a corporate security model … where you could benchmark off’. However, key differences between the public status of MCS and corporate security in private sector remain, namely, the political–bureaucratic hurdles MCS managers face: ‘There’s an overall agenda for the city to make it reach its objectives but when you’re developing a policy that will cut across each of those departments you now know that you’re going to run into road blocks, so that does take a lot longer than [the] private sector’.

MCS units are nominally public, but their skill set mimics private corporate security (cf. Ocqueteau, 2011). That said, consider that the private security world is often considered a haven for retired public police (Lippert and O’Connor, 2003). This is evident in MCS offices too where, for instance, one MCS manager worked for a police service for 20 or more years. However, the fact that MCS offices are nominally public, unlike corporate security within a private corporation, hindered the movement of public police officers to MCS. They now benefit from the experience, which a new law permits:

At one time … when somebody retired from the police department they couldn’t come back and work for the City again, and the City couldn’t use that expertise. But when they changed those laws and those regulations … and somebody could come from the City in one department and go work for another and still collect their pension after serving their time … but they’re still the same employee. Once that started, then now you could utilize the expertise of retired police officers who could come in here, and somebody with twenty five years plus or thirty years plus experience in investigation can now come work for the City and use that expertise.

This example illustrates how skills and expertise from both public and private spheres of security and policing are mixed in MCS in Canada.

The second element of the typology is work type. As the vignette at the beginning of this section suggests, the wide array of duties performed by MCS personnel complicates the simple examination of training procedures. MCS personnel are found to engage in numerous types of security work. This includes the installation and monitoring of video surveillance systems as well as conducting patrols and removing potential nuisance behavior. It also includes employee surveillance and investigation, access control and asset protection, event security, personnel security, security penetration testing and much more. For instance, some MCS offices have a ‘market’, albeit one typically limited to other municipal government departments. They train and educate all municipal employees to be aware of security and follow the corporate security policies. Therefore, MCS work is neither pure risk management nor reactive policing, but combines both.

As MCS problematizes the traditional public–private dichotomy, the mechanisms of accountability for corporate security personnel are often ill-suited to their mandate. Accountability is the third element of the typology. Corporate security may be subject to private security regulation designed for contract security, as seen in recent legislative changes requiring in-house security personnel to be licensed in Ontario, Canada. Aside from this, the oversight provided by elected officials is more relevant and challenging for corporate security units that are nominally public, including MCS, than in private corporations (though of course there is an internal politics that must be navigated within private corporations present in one form or the other in all organizations). MCS units can expect an impact from the regular political changes in municipal government. As one MCS manager noted:

[T]he recession really hasn’t affected us. What has affected us is … we go through a significant change every four years about. A new council and a new mayor [are elected] … In this case when Mayor Jimmy [was elected] there was commitments to funding cuts that were going to be made. We took a 10 percent cut in funding for this.

This is a form of accountability that is contingent on oversight from other administrative officers as well as elected officials within the municipality. As one MCS manager explained:

We have six departments here at the City with six General Managers that report right to a City Manager, and then he’s accountable to City Council. So if it gets past the General Manager, it will go to the Corporate Leadership Team. And then those guys have got everything in a big pot and they pick and choose as to what’s priority … budgets are then awarded.

Thus, MCS offices are exposed to scrutiny that other corporate security units are not, insofar as their proposals and initiatives are subject to both economic and political questioning in the municipality by numerous administrative officers who make decisions about where to allocate funds and jobs.

The fourth element of the typology is source. At least six MCS units in the largest Canadian cities we studied are ‘insourcing’ rather than contracting out services to guard companies for daily security operations or to risk mitigation companies for more elaborate threat assessments. As one MCS manager said, ‘if you’re a small operation, maybe you do it yourself with your staff. If you’re a mid-sized operation, maybe you contract it out. If you’re a large organization, maybe you do it in house or with a specialty contractor’. While there is variation depending on municipality size, there is also a trend in the Canadian cities where we conducted interviews toward insourcing: ‘before I became involved, security was always third party. Now it’s not. Our group has evolved. That third party service is not really required. That’s slowly being phased out. That’s part of the visionary component, the “insourcing” ’. Insourcing means decommodification, which is significant in the face of claims that privatization of security and policing is a kind of monolith that is hollowing out the public sector. Instead, we witness creation of hybrid units with multiple sources that are neither clearly public nor private, but are instead strategically combined.

The fifth element of the typology is certification, training and personnel selection. As mentioned above, ASIS certification and policies are one strong influence on the certification and training of MCS staff: ‘I think the CPP (Certified Protection Professional Designation) is a really valuable one to have. I’ve done it, my staff is currently going through to get certified … ASIS probably offers the support that’s closest to what our operational reality is, so I tend to work a lot with them in terms of their manuals, their bookstores are really good resources, their training programs are pretty good’. These certifications play an increasingly important part in MCS as it undergoes professionalization: ‘you’re looking at the CPP, and PSP, which is the Physical Security Professional, which is more towards the systems, and the CPI, Certified Private Investigator … those folks who have chosen to get that accreditation, they have chosen to get that so that they can move on. With this particular organization, I couldn’t get the job without a CPP’. Comparatively, the Canadian Society for Industrial Security (CSIS) offers a similar certification, but does not carry the same cultural capital: ‘CSIS does have a designation called the Accredited Security Professional … I just don’t think a lot of people in our business know that credential’. Regarding selection as a function of accreditation, this MCS manager further noted: ‘When you see postings for security managers you see CPP, CPP repeated. You’re not seeing the Accredited Security Professionals’. Advertisements for security manager and security officer positions in MCS units typically cited a CPP and a security license, respectively, as selection criteria.

While ASIS certification and training is increasingly common in MCS units, MCS managers also indicated that ASIS tools for risk assessment and corporate security are too generic and must be adapted for municipal use:

Well [ASIS tools] are geared toward the private sector, so a lot of the techniques will be the same, a lot of the mindset, but the politics will be different. If I am the Security Manager for Bell and you want to come in to protest because you don’t like Bell, odds are I’m just going to throw you out and lock the door, and I’m done. Whereas if I am in Council here, and you come in and you want to protest, what I am going to do is not throw you out unless the Chair says ‘you’ve disrupted enough’. What I’m going to do is make sure, are you safe? Are you respecting the rules and procedure, if you’re taking your five minutes and that’s legitimate, that’s no problem … So that’s a different aspect from what ASIS or CSIS or CANASA does. Unfortunately there isn’t yet an organization that does the municipal focus on that. Municipal, federal, and provincial associations that will draw from the ASIS material and talk about ‘what does this actually mean in our world?’ and ‘how do you actually do this in a way that works?’

Once again, as regards training, there is an insourcing trend with Canadian MCS units, insofar as the risk assessment tools and guidelines from ASIS are deemed insufficient for dealing with security at the municipal scale.

Strengths and Weaknesses of the Typology

MCS is only one form of corporate security. By virtue of its location within, rather than merely contracting with the state, it does not reflect privatization as currently understood (see van Steden and Sarre, 2007, p. 232) but may represent ‘marketization’ (Loader and Walker, 2007). It is corporate security’s decommodification of security arrangements, on the one hand, and commodification of strategies and technologies, on the other hand, that reveal this complexity.

Typologies lend themselves to already existing dichotomies (for example, public versus private), and ours is no exception. However, where we differ is in our emphasis on the mixture of these elements rather than measuring them in binary terms. For instance, we have suggested it is more important to discern the degree of mixture of in-house and contract members of the security team, as well as the rationales for why certain levels of in-house versus contract are used and how they work together, rather than to simply count how many are in-house oriented versus how many are contract. Similarly, it is the amalgam of laws and statuses that is noteworthy in corporate security, rather than measuring whether any given corporate security unit is more private or more public based on the types of laws with which it operates. Indeed, ostensibly public corporate security units in Canadian municipalities use forms of law that could be considered private and they draw strategies and technologies from ASIS. Meanwhile, they are subject to the budgetary ups and downs of municipal government and oversight from municipal councils. At the same time, corporate security units in corporations might be subject to oversight from criminal liability, the epitome of public law. Thus, for every element of the typology, what is important is the level of each category present. The differences are never so stark as not to contain both to some degree.

Our typology offers a way of differentiating corporate security from other forms of security and accounting for corporate security unit variance across organizations. If corporate security is as significant as the contributors to this special issue suggest, and the corporate security literature is still nascent, our typology will hopefully help anchor future social scientific studies of corporate security.


We have developed a typology of corporate security comprising five dimensions. We illustrated the value of this typology in relation to empirical study of MCS in Canada, which is only one form that corporate security takes. Our typology permits identification of several trends and features, and we focused on two that are interrelated: insourcing and expertise. It appears that perhaps through the influence of ASIS there is insourcing occurring in several MCS units and a perception of a capacity to employ and train in-house. Not all offices revealed decommodification or insourcing and it was not a complete return to full elimination of contracts, but there are currents in that direction. This occurred even in Canadian provinces and municipalities marked by austerity budgets and commodification and marketization of security in other respects. This is all the more significant at a time of harsh fiscal restraint in the public sector. Yet, this insourcing in corporate security may have wider significance in relation to the contract security industry which, even after stepped-up regulation in several jurisdictions where it was lacking, may still be unable to ensure quality contract personnel. Despite regulation and efforts by contract firms at tailoring to consumer demand (Lippert and O’Connor, 2006) when it comes to municipal government, it is unclear if this is having the intended effect on public perception. Nevertheless, the trend toward decommodification or insourcing is counterintuitive and in many ways is the result of attempts at professionalization by corporate security industry managers and staff (Borodzicz and Gibson, 2006).

It also appears that expert certification and training coming from the private sector has the potential to influence public corporate security to such an extent as to begin to erase the distinction between public and private worlds. The role of ASIS in relation to training but also to the kind of oversight emerging in the corporate security field is a significant development. The impact of ASIS on corporate security units represents a form of privatization different from outsourcing and different as well from marketization per se. Thus, there may well be more blurring and less bifurcation after all. This kind of blurring has a number of socio-political implications that should be brought into focus. For example, this form of privatization raises questions not only about whether the public and political representatives recognize this largely concealed influence, but also whether it is appropriate for municipal (or higher levels of) government. After all, governments are supposed to primarily serve and be accountable to the public, and only secondarily to a much narrower corporate structure or – perhaps – to the private security sector as an economic stakeholder. This privatization also raises issues about what proper public accountability mechanisms would look like, as intervention would be at the level of expertise and training. It is complicated further by the extent to which insourcing is occurring, as many observers would view this as a trend simultaneously headed in the opposite direction of privatization. What is clear is that the spaces and assets under the purview of municipal government and their corporate security units are not the same as those of private profit-driven corporations, the typical location of corporate security as we have noted throughout. Whether these developments are unrecognized or being willfully ignored at the political level, whether they are appropriate to the practices of public democratic government or what to do if they are inappropriate, is a public debate that should take place. The point is that our typology permits these two trends to be discerned, debated and empirically studied. Future research should consider using this typology to further explore unchartered corporate security waters and what the identified currents mean for the security industry, public accountability and society.


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Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Sociology and CriminologyUniversity of WindsorWindsorCanada
  2. 2.Department of SociologyUniversity of VictoriaBritish ColumbiaCanada

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