Persons of versatility: private security officers and private policing in residential estates in Hong Kong
Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis
This study is the result of exploratory research on the daily lives and experiences of private security officers working in Hong Kong housing estates. As the first qualitative investigation of its kind, it examined two case studies of separate estates through the lens of Nodal Governance, which involved interviews with security practitioners and end-users, work practice observations, and documentary analysis. Security officers were found to ‘wear many hats’. Apart from crime prevention, the core roles and functions of private security in these estates are to enforce property owners’ orders and maintain the residents’ quality of life. These ‘hats’ were underpinned by the operational characteristics of property management businesses, especially that of security provision structures. The study found that security officers needed to improvise strategies that stopped short of exercising their legal powers, but dealt with suspects and rule breakers nonetheless. In this way, these officers and security companies provided a resident-orientated service style of private policing, with a focus on neighbourhood safety and harmony.The private security industry in Hong Kong is regulated by a ‘hybrid regulation mechanism’, with a unique mix of public and private actors, and closer inspection suggested that government ordinance initiatives on building management and security services have unintentionally shifted policing responsibility from the state to its citizens, which did much to address residential security inequity indirectly. These findings contribute to a variation on the theme of nodal governance in two ways: ordinances implicitly delegating security provision to citizens paradoxically centralised governance as an unintended consequence; and the genealogy of policing institutions in Hong Kong test the hidden assumptions in western norms of governance. Elsewhere, the study shed light on private security industry regulation, shifting policing responsibilities, security inequity, ad hoc strategizing by actors with limited powers, and high-rise housing security for future reference and further research.
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