To fight crime and protect people, property, and assets, we know there will always be more security officers than police officers in the United States. But the numbers of each are closer than you might expect. The need for this mutual partnership, offering support to each group’s specific duties and job requirements, must benefit from continued study and careful scrutiny to maintain appropriate and legal boundaries as each side works together and apart.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of May 2016 (updated July 2018), there were approximately 1,133,900 licensed security officers nationwide working for an average of $12.96 an hour, or a yearly salary of $26,960. This compares to 807,000 law enforcement officers, making an average of $30.27 an hour, for a yearly salary of $62,960.
Compare this modern data to what was collected back in 1985, in a document written by William Cunningham and Todd Taylor for the National Institute of Justice, known as The Hallcrest Report. They concluded that 1.5 million licensed security officers were employed, at an annual expenditure cost of $52 billion, along with 600,000 law enforcement officers, at an annual expenditure cost of $30 billion.
Note that the number of security officers has actually fallen in the past 30 years, while the number of law enforcement officers has risen over 30 percent in that same span. The ratio of security officers to police officers in 1985 was about 2.5 to 1, and in 2016, it’s about 1.4 to 1. What does this mean for our protections of people, assets, goods, and infrastructure? What does all this mean for the future of police officer hiring trends versus security officer hiring trends? Crime problems and security problems have always been better or worse than 30 years ago, depending on who you ask, what studies you read, the context of the environment, and adding in the new modern complexities of our fast-paced, electronic, globally-connected world.
The number of cops in the United States is unlikely to go up; it stayed at around 800,000 for several decades before now. The number of security officers is bound to increase as the federal government, cities and counties, and the private sector looks to save money and economize on the number of police bodies they must deploy for significant crime, murders, gangs, and civil unrest problems that continue to plague our largest cities.
Look where private security officers do many of things previously done by police officers, sheriff’s deputies, or correctional officers: running private prisons; protecting sporting events inside and out; running courthouse security, including staffing metal detector sites; providing jail transports for counties; protecting large-scale religious services; and protecting hospital environments by guarding jail and prison inmates there for treatments. These operational events must include the use of private security officers to function effectively, since there simply aren’t—and won’t ever be, it seems—enough cops to take over these duties.