The Public Surveillance Functions of Private Security

Alison Jean Wakefield

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper is concerned with arguably the most pervasive body of watchers in society, private security personnel. Set in the context of the rapid post-war expansion of both mass private property and private security, the contention of the paper is that the inter-dependency between these two industries is key to understanding the significance of surveillance as a form of governance in privatised urban spaces. Drawing on an empirical study of private security in three settings: a cultural centre, a shopping centre and a retail and leisure complex, it is argued that surveillance practices represented much more than an approach to policing and crime prevention in these venues, and were central to broader management strategies for the three centres. These surveillance practices also became the basis for collaborative working with the police. In the conclusion, a number of concerns are raised with respect to the policing aspects of surveillance, in relation to both commercial and public policing objectives and the human rights and civil liberties being eroded along the way.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)529-545
Number of pages16
JournalSurveillance & Society
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2004


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