UBCO research suggests private security systems take protection away from those without them

Security systems an issue?

New research from UBC Okanagan suggests people may not be uniformly protected by police services thanks to the prevalence of private security systems.

Dr. Ross Hickey, an economist in UBC Okanagan’s Faculty of Management and the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, and his team of researchers examined data from a Canada victimization social survey.

The survey asked people whether or not they had added security measures to their homes to protect them against crime.

“We are seeing more expenditures on private security systems installed in homes and, as economists, we have to ask why. We know that crime rates are down and expenditure on police is up,” says Hickey. “But private security purchases are at an all-time high.”

Initially, the research team thought of supply and demand equations. The government provides resources and supply for policing which creates a demand for public protection. Although, when you combine the supply of various security products with criminals, Hickey says the supply and demand equation does not add up.

There is a wide variety of security measures out there for people to take, including putting bars on windows, getting a dog, adding motion-detection lights to your home, alarms and security cameras.

While these measures may make people feel more secure and safe, it’s been proven that barking dogs deter thieves more than a camera or alarm would.

Many security systems will automatically alert police, even if it’s just a false alarm. According to Hickey, these systems can divert police from attending to other duties.

“All of these innovations in private security don’t prevent the crime, they increase the chances of the person getting caught. When the police are called to homes using these technologies, we see the police being taken away from responding to another, perhaps, more urgent call,” he says, adding that this demonstrates inequity between segments of society.

“This is a dimension of inequity that doesn’t show up directly,” he says. “The inequity is in how some people are accessing this public good. It is available for everybody but some people are getting more of it, because they have chosen to install these private systems. And police are responding to those systems.”

According to Hickey’s research, municipalities should consider police budgets differently because right now, adding more money to the system will not change the inequity that continues with the widespread presence of home security systems.

“We need to think more carefully about this. In a world where private security investments are happening, we may need to look at different methods of funding the police,” he says.

Hickey says the solution is not adding extra funding. Right now, people are not uniformly protected by police because officers are being drawn to those who have invested in private home protection measures.

“Are the people with lower incomes, or those living on the street, getting the same service from police? And we have to ask—if the city adds more police services next year, is that really going to make downtown much safer?”

Hickey's research was published recently in the Journal of Public Economic Theory.

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