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From Citizen Guarding to Private Security
physical security history
Physical Security

From Citizen Guarding to Private Security 

The development of the security industry played an important role in history and essentially bridged a gap between the times of established military structures and the establishment of organized police forces.

The security guarding industry was the commercial business’s answer to a societal problem, and another early indicator of a defensive security policy playing catch-up to an offensive security threat.

The original “private eye” or formal security professional in the United States dates back to 1850 in Chicago, when Allan Pinkerton founded Pinkerton’s National Detective Agency. Pinkerton achieved national renown in 1861 when he uncovered and foiled an assassination plot on the life of President Lincoln.

During the Civil War, Pinkerton organized America’s first secret service. His pursuits of Jesse James, the Dalton gangs, and his longstanding pursuit of the Wild Bunch brought extraordinary visibility to his agency. Among the agency’s main customers were the railroads, which had to contend with outlaws who robbed trains of cargo and passengers of personal possessions. In the mid-1800s, there were no federal authorities to chase outlaws across state and territorial lines, and local law enforcement was too poorly equipped to pursue fleeing gangs very far.

Therefore, the job fell to crime victims and their hired agents.The Pinkerton Agency’s work for the railroads helped build an international reputation for the company. In addition to tracking down and apprehending criminals, the early private security industry performed many other duties in the absence of organized security forces at the city, state, and federal levels.The industry also pioneered many of the early uses of technology and procedures that would later become standard practice in police departments and organizations worldwide.

One of the earliest references to the use of new technology in the security industry dates back to the use of photographs for mug shots of criminals.The man credited with the invention of the mug shot and associate recordkeeping process was none other than the aforementioned Allan Pinkerton.

According to Wikipedia, the term mug shot derives from mug, an English slang term for face, dating from the eighteenth century.Another source suggests the term comes from mug, as in grimace, because early subjects would try to reduce their mug shot’s value for later identification by grimacing or otherwise twisting their facial muscles.

This led to the term mugging in the acting profession, indicating “emoting” or “overacting” (i.e., an amateurish acting performance). Most mug shots comprise two parts, with one side-view photo and one front-view photo.The Pinkerton National Detective Agency first began using mug shots on “Wanted” posters from the Wild West days. Prior to the advent of computer technology, the accused was asked to hold a card with his name, the date, and other information on it.

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In recent years, digital photography is used for the booking process, and the accused is no longer asked to hold the card while the photo is taken. Rather, the digital photograph is linked to a database record concerning the arrest. Mug shots are standard practice in law enforcement today. In fact, in the United States alone, 12 million Americans are arrested and photographed by the police each year.

The modern history of surveillance photography may have begun in England in 1913 with the use of mug shots from a clandestine perspective.At that time, the British Home Office approved funds for Holloway Prison to use covert means (secret surveillance) to photograph inmates. London has since pioneered the use of video surveillance as well, beginning in 1960 with two cameras in Trafalgar Square, moving into the train station the following year, and proliferating through the decades as the Irish Republican Army (IRA) bombings occurred.

Today, according to an article in the Washington Post Foreign Service dated January 7, 2006,“People in Britain are already monitored by more than 4 million closed-circuit, or CCTV, cameras, making it the most-watched nation in the world, according to Liberty.The group said that a typical London resident is monitored 300 times a day.”

Alan Pinkerton’s innovations in contracting security services to major corporations (railroads) were an early example of security outsourcing. His additional work in the area of profiling criminal activities and photographs assisted in the investigation of crime and the ability to predict individual criminal behavioral patterns.

It is the work of early practitioners in any chosen field that lays the foundation for advancement of a discipline. The Evolution of Physical Security was not alone, as one English lawmaker and, eventually, Scotland Yard, were both advancing the new field of policing.

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