Do you feel safer seeing security guards in public places? Or do you get more of a sense of safety when you see uniformed, sworn police officers?

That was one of the questions posed in a news story earlier this week (from the Washington Post and posted on the Arizona Attorney Magazine News Center). The story explains how there has been a huge proliferation in the number of security guards nationwide since 9-11. But is that a good thing?

As if on cue, an Arizona Republic story yesterday reported that it appears Phoenix will soon join other cities in replacing sworn police officers on Metro Light Rail duty. Instead, security guards will provide safety—and ticket-checking—duties.

The article also went to some lengths to explain that the change would cost no additional public money. That would be a real trick—getting something additional for nothing—so it took only a little more reading to see that it would actually cost us something:

“The switch to G4S for passenger monitoring won’t cost the city any extra money. It won’t save Phoenix any money, either, but it will improve oversight of passengers.

“[Cmdr. Jeff Alexander of the Phoenix Public Transit Police Bureau] said that with the change, the bureau would shift $770,000 to Metro light rail to pay for the private-security service. That money would otherwise have paid for filling several vacancies at the bureau: two sergeants, four police assistants and two municipal security guards.”

G4S Security guard

So public monies—and police positions—would be transferred to a private entity, albeit for a public purpose. Given the realities of City budget politics, those are dollars and police positions that we are unlikely to ever see return.

Of course, if the service the public receives from the guards is at least as good as that of the police, it may be a good deal that is being executed (assuming, of course, that a formal RFP and weighing of private options was done, and this was not a single-vendor contract with no analysis of alternatives).

But much of what police and security provide is peace of mind and a deterrent effect, so public impressions about this change in service matter a lot.

Where do you stand on the privatization of security services? Does it have its place? Is it appropriate in some scenarios but not others? Is this national shift an improvement, a detriment, or of little moment one way or the other?

Post your thoughts below, or write to me at arizona.attorney@azbar.org.