Canadian Security Magazine

The value of research in the security industry

By Canadian Security   

Features Opinion

One of the things we suffer from as an industry is a lack of scientific research. Yes, we certainly “borrow” a considerable amount of information, particularly in the human domain from psychology, sociology and philosophy. But borrowing is not the same as creating our information specific to security conditions and parameters.

Part of the problem, in my opinion, is that the security industry is dominated by massive companies selling us stuff that may or may not work. There is little real research that informs us at whether a particular countermeasure works or not.  What I find particularly amusing are the so-called “white papers” that various companies offer up to the industry on a regular basis.

The origin of the term comes from Commonwealth countries which would issue authoritative papers on any number of topics. They were meant to be a document used to enunciate an official government policy. Details of the paper laid out the facts around a particular position to educate the reader in order to help solve a particular problem. 

Unfortunately the term ‘white paper’ in the commercial world generally is simply a marketing tool used to sell a particular product. Most commercial white papers start off with defining a problem then quickly state that the product the company has available will solve that problem. There is often absolutely nothing behind the claim.

I have conducted formal research into various security countermeasures over the years including the benefits or not of implementing crime prevention through environmental design changes, installing cross-stairwell barriers, conducting crime mapping in commercial high-rise buildings, false fire alarms and what caused them and investigating laptop theft prevention strategies. The information I found out always assisted in better decision making for our security team. We ended up saving money in some cases where it was deemed that particular measures were ineffective and therefore not worth implementing. We were also successful in reducing criminal and undesirable activities, and made the work site a safer place.

Several years ago, I was part of team conducting research into the decision making process of shoplifters of fast moving consumer goods. These goods included razor blades and other toiletries, batteries, over the counter drugs, etc. While the study made a number of observations, one of the more interesting was, ironically, the research that offenders put into determining the effectiveness of EAS systems.

Several shoplifters told us that they regularly tested the electronic article system through such methods as activating alarms by placing EAS tags surreptitiously on people exiting the store and watching employee response to alarm activation.  They also used decoys, conducted surveillance of locations and used security countermeasures such as mirrors to keep an eye on staff. This told us that criminals were putting as much or more effort into defeating security  countermeasures as security people were putting into implementing them. What I learned from this was that simply implementing a security countermeasure is often not enough to solve a problem.

As an industry, we need to start investing in research carried out in partnership with scientifically trained people in order to determine what actually works or does not work. The industry is maturing and its leaders are more and more educated.  As we mature as an industry we need to be able to rely upon measures that have been tested, subjected to intense scrutiny and passed.

The problem is, there are not a lot of avenues where people can invest in getting quality research done. Commissioning properly trained consultants is one avenue.Conducting research on your own is another.  Investing in independent organizations that do research is  another. My suggestion is that if an organization is interested in getting some research done, they should do their homework. Ask around to determine which reputable organizations can conduct research. Once you have found a potential organization, ask them what kind of research they have done in the past, what training they have in this 
field, and what their qualifications are.

Two good examples that come to mind of the direct benefits of research and how it assists in decision making for the security practitioner are the series of CRISP whitepapers put out by the ASIS Foundation and the POP white papers published by the U.S. Department of Justice. I have a direct connection with CRISP (Connection Research in Security to Practice — as I have been associated with them, first as an author  of one of the papers and secondly as a member of the ASIS Research Council. The POP website ( provides several  documents for those interested in conducting their own research. I would encourage participation in security research from four different perspectives.

1. Conduct your own research.  It is not as difficult as one imagines. 

2. Use the research papers available to you to help inform your decision making process. 

3. Commission research if you in a position to do so. 

4.  If so inclined, submit a proposal to either to the ASIS Foundation or the Center for Problem Oriented Policing to write a document.

To progress as a profession, the security industry needs to conduct research so when we make our recommendations, it is with authority and 

Glen Kitteringham, M.Sc., CPP, F.SyI. is President of Kitteringham Security Group.

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