On Duty In Lakewood, Colo.
The Lakewood, Colo., Police Department uses private security officers to protect the integrity of crime scenes and to guard prisoners during hospital stays.
In the future, this public-private partnership may confer more duties on private security firms. Police officials are considering the possibility of assigning private security personnel to transport prisoners to and from area hospitals and to process arrests of people who turn themselves in at the police department.
Lakewood has been using private security to support its official policing efforts since 1993. The program has encountered no problems and produced a number of benefits. “We’re providing essential services at reduced cost,” says Chief of Police Ron Burns. “On the private side, it provides jobs and benefits for the economy.”
Al Youngs, a division chief for community resources who initiated the program 10 years ago, says the department saves about $10 an hour when it turns to private security. That can add up. Protecting a crime scene requires 24-hour-a-day protection lasting sometimes for many days. Similarly, a lengthy hospital stay for a prisoner could tie up officers on three shifts indefinitely.
“We use private security services about a dozen times a year,” Youngs says. “That’s not a huge number, but we don’t have a high number of homicides or large crime scenes.”
Youngs believes the Lakewood concept could prove useful to police departments of all sizes. “This is an idea that will help large and small police departments, especially those short of people,” he says.
Private security officers outnumber police officers in the country by three to one.
FirstWatch Security Services of Lakewood has provided private security services for the Lakewood Police Department since the program began. The company works under an annual contract that specifies its duties, including the criteria for selecting security officers qualified to handle police duties. “The company does a great job of screening,” Youngs says. “Many of the security officers we use are former police officers familiar with the rules of evidence and police procedures. All undergo background checks to verify their credentials and receive special training.”
Private security officers working in the program wear light blue uniforms instead of the dark blue reserved for Police. They carry side arms, although their training focuses on ways to avoid trouble. They also carry radios to call in help if a situation begins to get out of hand.
The program has attracted national attention. Youngs says that 10 cities have called requesting a video tape that describes the program. The FBI Academy also uses this video tape in courses discussing future trends in law enforcement related to public-private collaboration.
While the program saves money and frees police officers to handle essential tasks, its most important benefit may involve the way it fosters increasingly important exchanges of information between public law enforcement officials and private security. “Since Sept. 11, private security relies more than ever on law enforcement for information about trends,” says Valerie Anderson of FirstWatch Security Services, the Lakewood firm that holds the current contract with the Lakewood Police Department. “We need to advise our clients and give them assessments of their security needs. Our interaction with law enforcement gives us information to pass on to our clients.”
FirstWatch officers regularly attend investigations, roll calls and uniformed officer roll calls in Lakewood. “The program has gone beyond specific duties,” Youngs says. “We share information and training with them. They share information and training with us. For example, they provide training about issues related to private security at airports, hospitals, and other sites.
“Bottom line: This is a way to increase communication and cooperation between the private and public sectors so that we’re all working together to make a better city.”