Why Young People Obey Private Security Guards? A Scenario-Based Study

Date01 February 2020
AuthorSamuel Moreira,Carla Cardoso
DOI10.1177/1043986219890206
Publication Date01 February 2020
SubjectArticles
https://doi.org/10.1177/1043986219890206
Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice
2020, Vol. 36(1) 144 –160
© The Author(s) 2019
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DOI: 10.1177/1043986219890206
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Article
Why Young People Obey
Private Security Guards? A
Scenario-Based Study
Samuel Moreira1 and Carla Cardoso1
Abstract
Private security guards (PSG) are prominent social control agents in many contexts of
youth attendance. However, studies about youth’s acceptance of PSG authority are
scarce. In a scenario-based survey, this study examines youngsters’ compliance with
three types of PSG requests and explores factors influencing compliance, particularly
instrumental and normative ones. Findings from 631 high school students from the
metropolitan areas of Lisbon and Porto (Portugal) suggest that youth typically obey
PSG requests, and that perceptions about the role of PSG in protecting public interests
and normative judgments about these guards and their requests are important in
shaping compliance. Interestingly, variations according to the type of demand are
observed. Youth obey more and see their requests as more legitimate when those
requests echo shared moral positions.
Keywords
private security, youth, instrumental judgments, normative judgments, compliance
Introduction
The growth of private security worldwide in the last decades has extended policing
largely to the private sector (Bayley & Shearing, 2001; Kempa et al., 1999). These
developments created large-scale private security agencies as realms of power and
authority across civil society having capacity to impose a social order and to enforce
norms that significantly affect citizens’ lives (Crawford, 2006; Loader, 2000).
Portugal is in line with this trend. In 1996, there were 15,000 private security per-
sonnel (De Waard, 1999); this number more than doubled in 20 years and reached
1School of Criminology, Faculty of Law, University of Porto, Portugal
Corresponding Author:
Samuel Moreira, School of Criminology, Faculty of Law, University of Porto, Rua dos Bragas 223, 4050-
123 Porto, Portugal.
Email: smoreira@direito.up.pt
890206CCJXXX10.1177/1043986219890206Journal of Contemporary Criminal JusticeMoreira and Cardoso
research-article2019
Moreira and Cardoso 145
37,871 by 2017 (“Annual Report on Private Security,” 2017). The national entity in
charge of regulating private security is the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Law No.
34/2013 of May 16 asserts that the sector’s purpose is protecting persons and property
and preventing crimes. The State allows the use of private security and, in certain situ-
ations, mandates it.
Private security guards (PSG) are particularly present in spaces attended by young
people in large urban centers. However, little is known about how youngsters accept
PSG authority. This article aims to understand how young people respond to PSG by
assessing the influence of factors that may shape their decision to obey or disobey.
Background
Compliance Theories
Two main models explain compliance with authorities: instrumental and normative.
The instrumental perspective focuses on the outcomes and suggests that people shape
their behavior by responding to the immediate sanctions and rewards associated with
following the authorities’ edicts (Tyler, 1990). It argues that the public will comply
with policing authorities when (a) they create a high risk of detection and sanction for
wrongdoers; (b) they are effective in controlling crime and disorder because it is
important in shaping not only the people’s sense of the risk of being caught and pun-
ished but also the sense that people benefit from these outcomes (Hough et al., 2010;
Sunshine & Tyler, 2003).
By contrast, the normative model suggests that people defer to directives of authorities
not because of mere estimates of sanctions and rewards, but because they feel they ought
to (Tyler, 1990). This kind of compliance is linked to the perceived legitimacy, defined as
“a property of an authority or institution that leads people to feel that the authority or
institution is entitled to be deferred to and obeyed” (Sunshine & Tyler, 2003, p. 514).
Legitimacy is typically operationalized as (a) trust in the authority and (b) felt obligation
to obey the authority (Sunshine & Tyler, 2003; Tyler & Jackson, 2014). From this per-
spective, legitimacy (normative judgments) is more important than instrumental judg-
ments in shaping people’s compliance with authorities. The normative model suggests
that the fairness of procedures by the authorities when dealing with the public is the key
antecedent of people’s views on their legitimacy (Sunshine & Tyler, 2003; Tyler, 1990).
Private Security Guards as Social Control Agents
PSG operate in private, semipublic, and public places. However, with the proliferation
of “mass private property” over the last decades, that is, private properties opened to
the public (e.g., shopping malls), security personnel now operate largely in these
“hybrid” spaces (Kempa et al., 1999; Shearing & Stenning, 1983). There is some
ambivalence in academic discussions regarding the role of PSG. On one hand, some
emphasize that PSG serve the private interests of their clients and not the public inter-
est (Loader, 2000; Zedner, 2009). On the other hand, others stress that they serve the

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