Training for emergencies: employees of Vüch AG during a target practice. They also guard those who are at risk in hospitals.
Thomas SchlittlerBusiness editor Sunday view
Schaffhausen is “just a city”, in which there is “instead of high society, just ladies”. Nevertheless, the singer-songwriter Dieter Wiesmann (1939-2015) praised the “munzig chliinii piece of the world” as a place “where it would be nice to loot”.
That was once. In the meantime, Schaffhausen seems to have turned into a cesspool of sin: a year ago, some of the 37,000 residents mobilized on the banks of the Rhine against noise, rubbish and drugs. In a petition, they called for the “enforcement of the police ordinance” and “enough personnel” for regular patrols.
The city council expressed understanding for the displeasure, but stated that permanent police presence was not possible “because of the personnel situation”. In order to ensure “prevention and repression” nonetheless, a private security company was presented as an alternative.
Monopoly on the use of force: a matter for the state
So it happened that from May to September 2022, Delta Security AG ensured law and order. And because their employees met with a “high level of acceptance”, the city council decided at the end of December to continue to rely on their services in the future.
Schaffhausen is located “äänen am Rhii”, but in this respect it is typical for the whole of Switzerland: Whether Arlesheim in the Basel area, Brugg in Aargau, Landquart in Bündnerland, Oetwil on Lake Zurich or Thun, the gateway to the Bernese Oberland – everywhere in the last Police tasks outsourced to Securitys for years.
Johanna Bundi Ryser, President of the Association of Swiss Police Officers, sees this with concern: “It is not the job of private companies to take on police duties on public land.” The monopoly on the use of force is a matter for the state and must remain so – especially since it can also be exercised by police security assistants.
Which tasks private security guards take on varies from place to place. In addition to patrols, they are also used in the event of littering or dog tag violations or record personal details. In some congregations, reprimands or penances may be given based on their reports. Security guards are often sent out at night, for example when there are calls about noise pollution. However, the municipalities and cantons responsible do not see any threat to the monopoly on the use of force. Like a mantra, they emphasize that the powers of the private sector are clearly defined and severely restricted.
Jürg Marcel Tiefenthal (50), lawyer and expert on Swiss police law, sees things differently. In an essay on the “Challenges of Swiss federalism”, he comes to the conclusion that cantonal solutions for the use of private security forces have turned out to be “weak attempts at regulation” that are easy to circumvent in practice.
Tiefenthal explains that such outsourcing is increasing and to an increasing extent with the lack of resources of the police corps. This is shown by the fact that there are now more private security guards than police officers in Switzerland.
Security decides how prisoners are handled
In the meantime, the security officers have long since acted not only as an extension of the police force on the street, but also in the cantonal penal system. In recent months, they have awarded several major contracts, which raises the question of whether the state’s monopoly on the use of force will be preserved.
In Bern, for example, detainees who have to be brought before the public prosecutor or the court have been accompanied by Securitas AG employees since August 2022. They were given the job by the cantonal police to lead inmates to their cells, to guard them, to look after them and to make them available for the respective handovers.
The authority writes: “The competencies and activities of the security service do not go beyond what a private person is allowed to do.” However, the “duty specifications” of the Securitas employees, which the SonntagsBlick was able to see based on the Public Information Act, reveals that the tasks of the “private persons” are not entirely free. Securitas had to guarantee the state that its employees knew how to deal with “people in exceptional psychological and emotional situations” and that they had mastered “de-escalation strategies”.
The canton of Basel-Landschaft has been using Securitas for night and weekend shifts in the Arlesheim, Liestal and Muttenz prisons since the summer. The tender for this order also stated that the service provider had to be able to provide support “in the event of an escalation”. In some cases, “irritant sprays” and “handcuffs and ankle cuffs” are also available to private individuals for their duties in prisons. This is evident from the contracts between the Office for Correctional Services and Reintegration of the Canton of Zurich and Delta Security.
From March 2023, the security company will be responsible for supervisory and security services, night shifts and accompanying client meetings in prisons. This costs the canton CHF 4.1 million per year. To do this, he requires contractors to know how to behave correctly “in the event of special incidents” and to have knowledge of “self-protection” and “self-defence”.
This requirement profile reveals that when a situation escalates, security officers also decide how prisoners are to be tackled – and not just sworn civil servants.
Outsourcing of government tasks
Zurich also relies on private security services for patients in hospitals who have to be monitored by the police. This is necessary, for example, for prisoners with health problems that cannot be treated properly in a prison. For a little over a year, police officers have no longer been standing in front of such people in the sick room, but also employees of the security company Vüch AG.
SonntagsBlick also wanted to see this contract. However, the request was rejected by the Zurich cantonal police. Reason: This would “seriously endanger public safety”. According to the canton police, there are some criminals in the hospital who have committed “serious crimes” and who have to be prevented from coming into contact with the outside world because of the “risk of flight or collusion”. In addition, people who pose a “danger to themselves or others” could also be affected. “Guarding them in hospitals and clinics, where operations and infrastructure are not geared towards deprivation of liberty, poses a particular challenge,” writes the cantonal police.
The staff at Vüch AG are obviously trusted to carry out these tasks – the prison office considers the outsourcing to be unproblematic. The authorities assert that the enforcement facility always remains responsible for issuing sovereign decisions.
Bundi Ryser from the Association of Police Officers considers the cases described to be “very questionable”. She is certain that dealing with those arrested should not be outsourced to private companies.
Florian Düblin, General Secretary of the Conference of Cantonal Justice and Police Directors, does not want to comment on individual orders, but states that there must always be an adequate legal basis, provided that it is not just a matter of support tasks under the supervision and responsibility of state personnel: ” The deeper the encroachment on the liberties of the persons concerned associated with the order, the more detailed the tasks, competencies and obligations of the executing employees must be regulated.»
A few years ago, Zurich National Councilor Priska Seiler Graf (54, SP) tried to create uniform rules for such interventions throughout Switzerland. However, their motion failed in 2019 in the Council of States. However, Seiler Graf still considers the concern to be justified. “I’m seriously considering making another push on this topic.”
Police law expert Tiefenthal also believes that uniform rules are urgently needed. In his analysis, he comes to the conclusion that the proliferation of outsourcing of state tasks can only be curbed by national legislation.