Contract Security vs. Off-Duty Police

It’s decision time. You’re wondering whether to use contract security or moonlighting policemen to handle your security needs. True, there are many fine policemen and policewomen out there, but they usually cost a lot more. And maybe there are some other issues you need to consider before making your decision—you be the “Judge”

Moonlighting policemen may have already worked a full shift when they arrive at your post. They’re probably more tired and irritable than a fresh security officer. That’s no reflection on the individual policeman, just a fact of human physiology. A reputable private security company will provide you with a regularly assigned, permanent staff of officers with no other job obligations.

Contract security typically costs one-half to one-third less than off-duty police. Why have one policeman when you can have two security officers for the same or nearly the same price?

Believe it or not, police and security functions aren’t the same. We don’t investigate homicides or have a SWAT team, but the average policeman probably doesn’t have much experience in detecting shoplifters, checking cargo seals, handling emergency evacuations, or taking orders from civilians.

Statistically speaking, off-duty policemen are far more likely to use their weapons than security officers. They’re frequently forced to draw their weapons because of the nature of police work, and it’s not easy to change ingrained habits and reactions when working a private detail.

Despite what you may have been told, private police details are not insured by the city or parish. Off-duty police officers are private security guards for all intents and purposes. They may or may not be independent contractors, depending on your arrangement with each officer, but they are your agents and you are responsible for what they do when they are working your post. Even if you’re held to be jointly liable with the city or parish, you could end up footing the entire bill for damages. Better check with your attorneys on this one.

Reputable insurance carriers usually won’t underwrite private police details. The insurance carrier may be financially weak (check the various insurance rating guides), claim reporting and premium calculations may be irregular, and there may be serious gaps in coverage. Ask your police representative if they have intentional acts coverage, then confirm this in writing with the insurance agent and demand an updated insurance certificate with your company or association’s name on it. Beware of anyone who can’t answer these questions affirmatively or can’t provide you with a certificate of insurance.

Compare apples with apples. If you need high quality protection, then ask your contract security company what can be provided at the rates usually paid to moonlighting policemen? You might be surprised to find just how competitive in quality private security can be at police detail rates.

  •   Policemen become pretty scarce around the holidays, when you’re most likely to need security. Who’s going to mind the store on Christmas, Mardi Gras, etc.?

  •   Moonlighting policemen aren’t supervised or checked while they’re on duty. How will you know what they’re doing all night? Who’s going to handle the paperwork?

     If you have a problem, who are you going to call for help? Private police details don’t have a twenty-four hour dispatch desk, but reputable security companies do.

  •   Did you know that it’s against the law for a policeman to use public property like squad cars, radios, gasoline, etc., while working a private detail? By the way, it’s also unfair competition.

  •   Some private police details have trouble providing their customers with a regular staff, and few have a regular replacement capability. This won’t be a problem for a reputable private security company.

  •   Off-duty policemen aren’t going to spend the time, nor do they have the expertise, to give you a comprehensive security survey. They’re not going to provide you with a comprehensive set of post instructions, report forms, and security equipment. And they probably don’t know much about surveillance cameras and electronic alarm systems.

    During emergencies and natural disasters, the policeman’s first obligation is to his unit, not your post. You could lose your police staff for weeks if a hurricane hit New Orleans.

A reputable private security company will send you an itemized bill for a previously agreed upon billing cycle, and will be glad to verify the bill with you. This service isn’t usually available from moonlighting policemen.

We don’t mean to disparage the police when they’re doing their job as public lawmen. After all, we’ve been working with public law enforcement agencies for over seventy years, and we know as well as anyone just how important these folks are to our community. But private security is a different line of work, and there’s a built-in conflict of interest when you pay a public law enforcement officer extra money to protect a place that he’s already supposed to be protecting.

Okay, Judge, so what’s your verdict? 


Since 1930 ... “Our prevention in your protection.”