Belgian private security sector #1 - Context

This first chapter focusses on the context of private security in order to set the scene.  What are the differences in Belgium and abroad, how does public private partnership occur, with police and army and with the citizens, how to properly exchange information. And finally, do culture and politics influence the context?

This series of publications are extracted from my final paper written within the frame of university certificate on foresight (UCL – Sept 2018)

context-of-Private-Security-Sector-300x300 Private Security Sector: context

Private security in Belgium and abroad (September 2018)

Some countries prohibit private security from carrying out tasks incumbent on the public authority, others may perform specific tasks, under certain conditions.  Some countries are holding on to their position of refusal (Finland and Norway), on the other hand, for others, a tendency to transfer police tasks to private security is notorious, this is the case in Croatia, Greece and Switzerland.

We conclude that a common « European » approach is not really conceivable at this stage.

Defense, police and private security collaboration

As far as Belgium is concerned, there are numerous collaborations with the police forces, clients of private security for equipment (cameras, mobile office,…) and within the framework of coverage of cultural and sporting events, … (use of drones, viewing of surveillance images, …).

It should be noted that the army’s first subcontracting contract for barracks guarding has been awarded to a private security company (Securitas) since November 2017.  Pilot project (Heverlee) which, if convincing, is intended to be extended to other barracks in the country. 

Opinions are divided on the suitability of subcontracting for this type of mission.  The justification comes from the fact that the army needs to refocus on its « core business », especially as its numbers are constantly decreasing and will reach 25 000 units by 2030 as against 30 000 in 2017, according to the strategic vision of Steven Vandeput, then Defence Minister.  Security is therefore not the only issue concerned by subcontracting (food, etc.).  Although this is a major first for Belgium, « in France, the guarding of certain military sites has already been privatized, such as the Toulon naval base or the National Commando Training Centre ».

Since September 2018, we are witnessing further changes as private security (Securitas) secures a police station (Antwerp) for the first time.  At the Tihange nuclear power station, the DAB police officers have replaced the military, which has been responsible for its security since 2015.

The DAB is a new unit of the federal police, a security directorate.  It will be staffed by some 1,600 people, including police officers and former military personnel.  Their missions will namely include securing infrastructures, including critical infrastructures, and transferring prisoners.

Exchange of information between public and private sectors

In addition to the « provision of services » and « subcontracting » components, the « exchange of information » component should be strengthened and benefit from a legal framework.  According to Yvan De Mesmaeker, Secretary General of ECSA, the exchange of information between the public and private sectors should be possible if the following three conditions are met:

  1. Reliability: the persons concerned should have a security clearance (and hold a position as a police officer, magistrate, customs officer, etc.).
  2. Confidentiality: the persons concerned should be bound by professional secrecy, which should be regulated by law.
  3. Need to know: data subjects should be required to have the information in order to carry out their task properly.

Collaboration with the citizens

In addition to partnerships with professionals, the police organize Local Prevention Partnerships (LPP) with the inhabitants. The initiative comes from the FPS Interior.

« They concern an exchange of information between the inhabitants and the Police, by neighborhood, within a pre-established framework in the form of a charter, in order to improve the prevention of burglaries in particular.  This information relates to suspicious behavior or any attempted burglary. »  Indeed, every year, 75,000 robberies or attempted robberies are committed.

« Citizens are asked to inform the police of what they observe as suspicious behavior in their neighborhood, but certainly not to carry out patrols. »

Within the police forces themselves, the subject is a matter of debate; while some people welcome the organization of these PLPs, others have mixed opinions on the formula, ranging from reproaches about « extra paperwork, possible discrimination between inhabitants and especially an organization that has not yet been seriously evaluated » to fierce opposition to « letting citizens share the work of the police ».

Cultural and political influence

It should also be noted that there would be cultural and political differences between the regions: on the one hand, « a Flanders more sensitive to security of the Anglo-Saxon type and a Wallonia, let’s say… more unconcerned and above all reluctant to the idea of surveillance by neighbors. There are also more political positions with a Flanders where the NVA (and especially its Minister of the Interior) dreams of police missions that would be delegated to the private sector. And, a contrario, a Wallonia where security is a mission that is considered to be the exclusive responsibility of the State and therefore of the police ».

We are therefore witnessing a reorganization of security among its various actors and a redistribution of the cards.  One of the challenges will be not to leave any aspects uncovered.

Useful links & resources

DAB Direction de la sécurisation website

ECSA – European Corporate Security Association