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06 July 2011

Small Arms Survey 2011 just off the press

Booming private security industry forces now outnumber police.

The private security industry has expanded to employ some 20 million documented personnel worldwide—almost twice the number of police officers, reveals the Small Arms Survey 2011, the key publication of the Small Arms Survey, an independent research initiative based at the Graduate Institute. In some countries, the figure represents a doubling or even a tripling of the number of private security workers over the past 10–20 years. Government outsourcing of many security functions appears to be driving the boom, among other factors.

Despite the rapid growth of the sector, private security personnel hold far fewer firearms than do state security forces. A review of data for 70 countries reveals that they hold no more than 4 million, compared to some 26 million held by law enforcement and 200 million held by armed forces. Findings also show that private security arms are not evenly distributed. Outside of conflict-affected zones, Latin America is the region with the highest ratio of arms per employee—about ten times higher than in Western Europe.

Regulation and accountability mechanisms have not kept up with the growth of the private security industry. Despite evidence that some private security companies have engaged in the illegal acquisition of firearms, have lost weapons through theft, or have misused their arsenals, there is no systematic reporting of such misconduct.

“In prisons, at airports, along borders, and on the street, security provision is increasingly in the hands of private actors,” said Small Arms Survey Programme Director and Graduate Institute Political Science Professor Keith Krause. “The key question—to which we don’t know the answer—is whether these evolving arrangements are enhancing or impairing security.”

The Survey also reviews legislation governing civilian possession of firearms in 42 jurisdictions around the world. It finds that almost all of them prohibit access to certain firearms they consider ill-suited to civilian use; the vast majority have a system of owner licensing in place to prevent certain types of civilians, such as criminals, from owning firearms; and many register firearms or maintain records of firearms owned. Of the jurisdictions reviewed, the vast majority (40) regard civilian gun possession as a privilege, while only two treat it as a basic right.

The Survey also includes case studies examining the dynamics of both public and private security provision in Côte d’Ivoire, Haiti, and Madagascar.

Key chapters focus on authorised light weapons transfers, on private security and small arms, and on regulation of civilian firearm possession.

The Small Arms Survey is an independent research project hosted by the Graduate Institute. It serves as the principal international source of public information on all aspects of small arms and as a resource for governments, policy-makers, researchers and activists.

Keith Krause is a Political Science Professor at the Graduate Institute and Director of its Centre on Conflict, Development and Peacebuilding, as well as founder of the Small Arms Survey.

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