The Watchman’s Work Is Hardly Done

When the dust settles from the pandemic blowout of U.S. employment, I’ll be interested to see how many security guards this anxious nation has retained.

Although optical technologies ranging from robots to drones, plus the omnipresent video-cam in the corner, have made the watchman an endangered species in some analysts’ eyes, through 2019 the job category held up well. And the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has forecast 3% growth for a decade (which is average for the labor force).

Does America need more than a million private hires—beyond all its sworn police–to safeguard persons and property in an era when, at least until 2020, crime has fallen to notably low levels? Even when so many functions can be performed as well or better mechanistically (think artificial intelligence/facial recognition) than we can expect of the “mall cop”?

Maybe the answer shouldn’t be yes, but likely it will be. Here are some reasons why the BLS growth prediction can come true:

  • Heightened apprehension in public spaces since 9/11 shows no sign of abating, and the guards who now man the doorways to shield the occupants from terrorists or maniacs will not easily be done without, as was the case not so long ago. This is particularly true in school buildings. Essentially we have added daytime duties—more fully staffed—to what used to be an after-hours crew.
  • A large chunk of the gains in this job category accompanied the rise of legal casinos. Even if bank branches shrink in the face of fintech, I doubt that online betting is going to obviate the gambling halls.  Sure, there’ve been temporary Covid-19 layoffs there as at most entertainment venues, but the social impulse will eventually win the day. For now, the intrepid hedonists must be thinned out and temp-tested by somebody.
  • Politically-related disturbances in commercial areas seem to be a persistent if sporadic feature of these times. Businesses will find the ready presence of a guard to be a better shield than plywood.
  • Although, at a large site, the use of remote devices may allow a manned station to suffice without other guards to “make the rounds,” the technologies will require capable hands on. So maybe you have half as many bodies but they get paid twice as much.
  • To the extent that “defund the police” movements succeed, there may be a void to fill in situations where uniformed officers are still used to cordon off areas at peaceful gatherings, such as parades. If someone is going to be planting himself, better it be a guard whose pay and pension in the six figures. (Don’t think it’s possible to privatize? Consider that the District of Columbia has the highest presence of private guards in the country.)
  • Finally, there’s simply more wealth to protect, whether out of legitimate worry or paranoia. Cruise any affluent neighborhood (if you’re allowed) and you at least will see a growing number of security-monitor signs out front, if not a roaming detail on the streets.  The 1% are more numerous all the time.

As the U.S. economy gets back on both feet, the payroll for private protection stands only to grow.

Published by timwferguson

Longtime writer-editor, focusing on topics of business and policy, global and local.

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