By Redmond, Robert S.
Contemporary Review , Vol. 282, No. 1645
PROMOTIONAL gifts distributed today may not always be what they seem to be. Not so long ago, a ball point pen arrived in the morning mail. It looked like an advertisement and, of course, it was. A covering letter, however, pointed out that pens of that kind may be transmitters. They may be designed to enable strangers outside the building to listen to private conversations. Imagine what that could do in a hostile take-over bid situation! The pen will not always come by post. It would probably be left on a desk or table by a visitor, cleaner or other 'mole' within the company.
The firm which sent that pen was offering its services. It sought to advise on security arrangements and help to develop secure environments for confidential discussions. It was drawing attention to just one aspect of an industry which has probably the greatest growth rate not only in Britain, but in most of the world.
Until recently, security was regarded as a 'grudge' purchase. It was bought at the cheapest possible cost and when cuts had to be made during recession, it was the first department for 'economy'. Now, the escalation of crimes, fraud and vandalism of all kinds has increased demand for protection against loss from intrusion and swindle. The latest figures available reveal that the security industry enjoys a turnover in excess of [pounds sterling]3,500 million in Britain alone. The numbers employed seem to be exceeded only by the leisure industries.
Look at the Yellow Pages. See how many firms there are in the different aspects of the business: Burglar Alarms and Systems; Car Alarms; Closed Circuit Television; Identification Cards; Inter-Communication Systems; Locksmiths; Safe and Vault Equipment and Traffic Control. In the Greater Manchester Directory alone, there are seventeen pages. The activities of these companies are not to be confused with the work of Police Forces though there is close understanding and co-operation between them. Perhaps they replicate each other and work together on occasion, but their roles are different. It has been said the police are there to catch culprits after crimes have been committed while private security operators make life more difficult for the rogues and prevent the losses they can cause. That is by no means an accurate statement, but it has a grain of truth. While the private security industry will always support the police, it is universally accepted that it must never assume any kind of law enforcement role.
The installation of an intruder alarm at one's home may disturb a burglar, but when it sounds, it receives no attention unless a neighbour sees evidence of intrusion and calls the police. More expensive alarms connected to police control rooms may be cancelled after, say, two false alarms. Somewhat naturally, police forces have been increasingly concerned with the cost of false alarms. They now make sure they are treated with disdain after evidence of inefficiency. A false alarm can be caused because of neglect by, perhaps, members of a club who do not set things up properly for the night. To help with this, there are now private security firms who install systems which alert their office and not the police. When the alarm sounds, they go out to the premises and call the police if they think it is necessary.
There is at least one security firm which has a most sophisticated 'wireless' guard system. This was seen in action at a trade exhibition recently. They 'visit' premises on a regular basis by long distance controlled television. They were paying one of these visits from their stand at the time they were seen. It was quite fortuitous that during that demonstration, one actually saw 'action' at a depot 200 miles away. As the camera panned the premises, two suspicious characters were seen prowling round. The police were informed and, while the picture was still on the screen, they arrived and made an arrest in full view of visitors to the exhibition stand. …