Canada-UAE partnership strengthens security options

April 6, 2011
Amy Dove
Tags: newsalumni

For Vikram Kulkarni it was the difference between chalk and cheese.

With a professional background in private security, the chance to observe changes to the industry in the United Arab Emirates showcased a drastic change in policy and public perceptions of a previously mismanaged service for the Royal Roads University student.

"This was an industry which was perceived in a negative way" Kulkarni said. "They really wanted to transform and professionalize this." 

Sponsored by the National Security Institute (NSI), Kulkarni spent four months in Abu Dhabi, UAE, starting in October 2010. He was there gathering research material for his professional field practice project to wrap up his MA in Human Security and Peacebuilding.

His research was based on an evaluation of the relationship between the private security industry and community stakeholders in light of new regulations to the industry. Prior to 2001, issues arose with unprofessional private security companies using employees who were largely unskilled and uneducated, he said. In the absence of regulation and standardized training, some companies' drafted unfair policies, created sub-standard training programs, and overworked and deprived employees of deserved wages.

"All too often protecting the overall public security interests of clients and community was sidelined," he said. "The government recognized the need to step in to establish strong regulations, to gain firm control and to introduce standardized training."

To address these issues, government officials in Abu Dhabi formed a partnership with the Justice Institute of British Columbia in 2001. The Abu Dhabi government wanted to increase public safety and enhance the role of public police by using the private security industry, he said. It also wanted to implement consumer protections and ensure business transparency.

The Canadian experts, referred to as the Security Authority, took a consultative approach with other stakeholders including the Immigration and Labour Ministries as well as sections of the Abu Dhabi Police's Criminal Records and Fingerprinting departments. The government created a regulatory authority known as the Private Security Business Department (PSBD). An arm of the Abu Dhabi Police, the PSBD is responsible for establishing the framework for regulations and training. PSBD has 25 police personnel and 15 female administrative staff, an overwhelming majority of whom are UAE citizens.

The Security Authority promoted the concept that security guards could take over the lower priority functions of the public police. In some cases, a partnership could be created whereby private security worked alongside the police.

This approach is unique as it was the UAE government that regulated this industry with a vision that both public and private security are high priorities, Kulkarni said. The government did not seek consensus from industry and was convinced that controlling the industry through regulation alone would not be sufficient. The UAE government authorized a security training standard for all. Today, both regulation and training are in sync with each other.

Four areas were identified as needing regulation and government mandated security training. They include: security guarding, armoured car services, technical security and security consultancy. Priority was placed on security guarding and armoured car service, he said.

What differentiated the Canadian contribution was their expertise in both private and public security regulations and training and their willingness to integrate this expertise with the Middle East culture. Successfully, a hybrid model of Western private security service delivery was merged into a Non-Western society, Kulkarni said.

"There is a perception that (the Western way) is the best way and that's not always the truth," he said. For the UAE social and cultural norms shaped the security approach. There are places and interactions where a man or woman's presence would be inappropriate, for example. Moves to make the industry more professional have opened up opportunities for more women to work as security guards, Kulkarni added.

The regulations and training were designed to weed out individuals and companies whose primary focus was profiteering and providing compromised service to corporate and individual clients. Stringent measures, such as a due diligence model for criminal record and fingerprinting checks, were adopted to overhaul the image of the industry.

In October 2006, His Highness Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahayan, president of the UAE, signed Federal Law No. 37 for Private Security making the Abu Dhabi private security model law for the whole of the UAE. Today, six of the seven emirates, excluding Dubai, follow this model.

"Today, the private security industry in the UAE is a first class hybrid model for the security industry which is being considered for implementation by neighbouring Arab Gulf States as well as other Middle East States," Kulkarni said. "(That they have managed to do all of this) speaks volumes of their commitment. They are a very proud people."