Story: Security and personal safety

Page 4. Property security

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Night watchmen and security firms

From the late 1800s security guards, known as ‘night watchmen’, were paid a pittance (gathered by subscriptions from townspeople or from building owners) to watch over large factories and other buildings and shops. In settlements of closely-spaced wooden buildings the main risks were fire, and, to a lesser degree, burglary.

Chubb Security was established in New Zealand in 1952 and Armourguard was set up in Auckland in 1959. The rise of security firms was initially to meet a growing demand for commercial property security and for payroll security in the days when workers were paid in cash.

Until the 1960s, some bank managers and tellers had pistols to hand. In 1958 Securitas introduced new armoured-car cash-carriers and security guards in uniform complete with loaded .38 revolvers in holsters. In the mid-1960s the practice of arming security guards, and for bank staff to have arms, was stopped, and in the 21st century it was illegal for security guards and private investigators to carry weapons.

Police prioritise violent crime

In the early 1960s the police still monitored some intruder alarm systems and also ensured the safe passage of bullion. Over time the police have prioritised crimes of violence over crimes of property. In the 1980s the size of the police force was cut and in 1987 the police adopted a policy of not attending intruder alarm calls unless it was suspected that an intruder was still on the premises. Many private property owners sought their own security arrangements and the security industry grew. Firms have diversified into many other areas such as property patrols, surveillance and events security. In the 2000s Chubb Security also acted as a contractor transferring prisoners for the Corrections Department in Auckland and carried out electronic monitoring of offenders on home detention.

Private Investigators and Security Guards Act 1974

The Private Investigators and Security Guards Act 1974 regulated the work of security workers. The Act was directed at providing protection of individuals’ rights to privacy and ensuring that all security guards were “fit and proper persons” to do this work. The legislation made it quite clear that security workers had no special powers greater than any citizen and nor could they suggest or imply that they had any such powers. Until the 1980s private investigators were sometimes involved in seeking evidence of adultery for suspicious spouses, but in 1981 adultery ceased to be grounds for dissolution of marriage. Private investigators in the 21st century largely specialise in tracking down property crime offenders for their clients. In 2016 there were over 4,000 licensed private investigators in the country.

Private Security Personnel and Private Investigators Act 2010

In 2010 the 1974 legislation relating to private investigators and security workers was overhauled and the old legislation eventually repealed. Under the new law, private invstigators, security technicians and consultants, repossession agents, property and personal guards and crowd controllers, such as bouncers in pubs, required a licence or certificate of approval. These licences could be obtained by individuals or companies. The Private Security Personnel and Private Investigators Act 2010 also provided a legal framework for the Private Security Personnel Licensing Authority which had the power to issue licenses and certificates of approval.

This form of work became increasingly the focus for regulation and certification. Courses were established for those seeking to work as security guards. The New Zealand Security Association connects businesses offering private security services in a range of different environments and provides information on the latest technologies in this field.

‘Big brother is watching you’

George Orwell’s fear of a surveillance state chronicled in his 1948 book 1984 has in some ways come to pass – although the state is not so much interested in being ‘thought police’ but rather uses surveillance to provide rapid response to crimes, to reduce crime and to provide evidence to convict criminals. Many people also feel safer in inner city areas due to closed circuit television monitoring.

Public life on private property

Since the 1960s there has been a trend toward public life taking place on private property. The protection of large complexes such as shopping malls, stadiums, supermarkets and airports has fallen to private security providers. While they do not have greater powers than private citizens, they do have the right to restrict access to private property (conferred to them by the property owner).

Burglar alarms and remote monitoring

There has been huge growth in household burglar alarms, which were commonly installed on commercial premises, but rare in New Zealand homes until the 1980s. Since the 1990s and the arrival of the internet and digital cameras, surveillance monitoring has exploded.

Closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras allow police to view many parts of city centres from a central location. Some city councils have installed CCTV cameras to monitor what is happening in “trouble spots” in the city, to provide security for city council owned buildings and other facilities and to manage passenger movements.

Small web cameras also allow monitoring through the internet which is particularly useful for owners of baches (holiday homes) and other remote properties. It can also be used to monitor their homes while owners are at work and for businesses to catch employees stealing stock or money from the till.

Acknowledgements to Terry Mortensen and Trevor Morley.

How to cite this page:

Carl Walrond, 'Security and personal safety - Property security', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 15 April 2024)

Story by Carl Walrond, published 5 May 2011, updated 1 Aug 2017