Better safe than sorry

Mexico's recent crime wave is a boon to the private security sector, but not always for the professional kind.

The security business is a booming one in Mexico, though it does not necessarily operate in the most formal of channels. Mexico’s need for security has been well-documented, and many private-security services have sought to serve the gaps in public offerings. Unfortunately, many of these security firms work clandestinely, or without any formal permission from the government. A 2018 report published by Inter-American Dialogue found that some 8,000 companies or up to 80% of all security firms were unregistered and thus unregulated. This lack of regulation directly translates into a lack of oversight and enforcement on these firms’ activities, leading not only to questionable practices, but also hurting the industry and creating a more unsafe environment for all Mexicans. To fight against this trend, Mexico must increase enforcement of its regulation while increasing incentives for formalization and professionalization in the industry.
According to Mexico’s Secretary of Security and Citizen Protection, only 1,256 private security businesses are registered with the federal government as of June 2020. However, a 2018 report by Mexcio’s National Security Commission and Robert Strauss Center for International Security and Law found around 4,000 private security companies operating in Mexico employing at least 450,000 employees. Most of these private firms are to be found in states with the highest economic activity—mainly in the country’s north around the US border, the country’s center, and its Yucatán peninsula. While these firms may provide services, they do not necessarily provide adequate training or employee benefits, thus promoting unprofessionalism in the business. Without training, workers are also much more likely to make mistakes, which can lead to grave consequences in this business.
Indeed, according to director general of Prosegur Alexis Langagne, professionalizing the private security sector is vital. The company is currently focusing on expanding its reach in the multinational companies in private sector headquartered in Mexico and abroad, especially in the automotive, heavy manufacturing, and financial businesses segments, areas where they have had previous success. The company’s main challenge is to grow its market share against these informal, cheaper competitors that have sprung up in recent years as crime in the country has been on the rise.
The increase in crime in Mexico, which saw its deadliest year in 2017, may be partly attributed to Mexico’s privatization schemes of public utilities. As explained by Pedro Sanabria, Director General of the Trust Group, when public Pemex facilities, which had previously been guarded by the Mexican army, became private, there was no entity or infrastructure in place to guarantee safety for these facilities. While lack of public security forces and infrastructure is certainly to be lamented, it does show that there is opportunity to be found in Mexico’s increasing privatization of its entire economy. What is important now is that the government promotes formalization of these security businesses, as it could promote better hiring standards, better background checks, and employee performance evaluations. It would also help in addressing Mexico’s age-old story of corruption and criminal infiltration into the sector.
While government regulation plays a vital role in helping create better security firms, organizations are also stepping up to the plate for those formal firms that want to improve their services. Sanabria, who is also a part of ASIS International, a prominent security organization, says the association’s main purpose is to help in the professionalization process. “For that, we have extremely well-defined programs. This is the gold standard in the world of certifications, such as the Certified Protection Professional (CPP), the certificate for professional protection that is valid across the world,” he explained in his TBY interview. For a safer industry and country, the government and the sector must work together to craft better incentives for informal security firms to formalize and reduce insecurity in what is already a dangerous profession.

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