Ethnic Minority Youths’ Encounters With Private Security Guards: Unwelcome in the City Space

Published date01 February 2020
Date01 February 2020
Subject MatterArticles
Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice
2020, Vol. 36(1) 128 –143
© The Author(s) 2019
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1043986219890205
Ethnic Minority Youths’
Encounters With Private
Security Guards:
Unwelcome in the
City Space
Elsa Saarikkomäki1 and Anne Alvesalo-Kuusi1
An increasing amount of literature is suggesting that ethnic minorities perceive their
relations with the police as negative and procedurally unjust. There is, however, a
distinctive lack of research on the relations between ethnic minorities and private
security agents. This study uses the qualitative interviews of 30 ethnic minority
youths living in Finland to explore their interactions with security guards. The findings
suggest that perceptions of discrimination, suspicion, being moved on, and exclusion
from city space were common. The study advances the theorizations of the changes
in policing and procedural justice and incorporates these into the discussions on
policing the city space. It argues that net-widening of policing means that city spaces
are becoming more unwelcoming for ethnic minority youths in particular, limiting
their opportunities to use city spaces.
ethnic minorities, private security, procedural justice, urban space, young people
Interest in studying police–citizen relations is growing, and more focus is being drawn
to ethnic minorities’ perceptions of the public police. Prior research has highlighted
intensive, disproportionate policing of ethnic minorities and subsequent negative
1University of Turku, Finland
Corresponding Author:
Elsa Saarikkomäki, University of Turku, Turku 20500, Finland.
890205CCJXXX10.1177/1043986219890205Journal of Contemporary Criminal JusticeSaarikkomäki and Alvesalo-Kuusi
Saarikkomäki and Alvesalo-Kuusi 129
relations and low trust among them and the police (Feinstein, 2015; Fine et al., 2003;
Flacks, 2018; Keskinen et al., 2018; Madon et al., 2017; Murphy & Mazerolle, 2018;
Van Craen, 2012; Wästerfors & Burcar, 2019). There is, however, an urgent need to
pay more attention to ethnic minorities’ perceptions of security agents because recent
years have witnessed a global growth in the private security sector. Scholars have
pointed out that the rise in private security indicates a radical shift from a criminal
justice system monopolized by the state and its police to a pluralized policing system
in which the private sector also participates in delivering security (e.g., Bayley &
Shearing, 1996; Jones & Newburn, 1999; O’Neill & Fyfe, 2017; Paek et al., 2019;
Søgaard, 2017; White & Gill, 2013).
Prior research has focused on the theoretical debates on the changes in policing,
and there is a paucity of empirical research from the perspective of those who are the
targets of private policing (Crawford & Hutchinson, 2016; Saarikkomäki, 2018;
Schuilenburg, 2015). For instance, Crawford and Hutchinson (2016) have pointed out
the importance of studying the everyday experiences of policing practices as well as
the differences and inequalities in how security is experienced by different groups in
order to understand security governance. Bayley and Shearing’s (2001) call for
research on the societal impact of changes in policing is still relevant today.
This study focuses on ethnic minority youths’ encounters with security guards, and
it offers findings from a fresh context. Finland, although a Nordic welfare state, has
not avoided the rise of private security and privatization of policing. Another contex-
tual character is that, compared with Western Europe and the United States, the num-
ber of immigrants is relatively low in Finland, despite a recent increase. A context in
which the majority of citizens belong to one ethnic group and religion can be unwel-
coming for immigrants, and ethnicity can be a striking marker of belonging
(Christensen, 2009). Both the public and private policing systems in the Nordic coun-
tries have been accused of ethnic profiling and disproportionate policing (Keskinen
et al., 2018; Löfstrand, 2015; Søgaard, 2017; Wästerfors & Burcar, 2019).
This Study: Objectives
This study scrutinizes the day-to-day interactions between private security guards
and ethnic minority youths in city spaces. It studies the kinds of situations and
spaces in which youths encounter security guards and whether these encounters are
perceived as procedurally just and fair. The data consist of qualitative in-depth-
interviews of 30 youths with immigrant backgrounds living in Finland. Drawing on
studies of procedural justice on one hand and the changing nature of policing in
urban spaces on the other, we focus on exploring how the changes in policing are
visible in ethnic minority youths’ lives. We argue that the net-widening of policing
means that city spaces are becoming more policed and thus unwelcoming for ethnic
minority youths in particular, whose opportunities to use city spaces and spend
unstructured time are limited.
We first examine how the presence of security guards in city spaces creates situ-
ations in which ethnic minority youths are constantly moved on. After this, we

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