Crowded Places Strategy: from development to implementation

New Zealand Security Magazine - April-May 2021

Crowded Places
Detail from cover of Protecting Our Crowded Places from Attack: New Zealand's Strategy.

Recent discussions between New Zealand Police and the New Zealand Security Association around Protecting our Crowded Places from Attack: New Zealand’s Strategy is a positive development, writes Nicholas Dynon.

Published by Police on 17 September 2020, Protecting our Crowded Places from Attack: New Zealand’s Strategy forms part of the New Zealand Counter Terrorism Strategy, also published in 2020 by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

There is no history of ongoing liaison between Police and the NZSA, and no established mechanism for engagement. No input had been sought by Police from the NZSA or the private security sector in the formulation of the crowded places strategy. 

Recent engagement on ‘crowded places’ between Police and the NZSA is unprecedented, yet has been welcomed by the security industry.

A 23 February meeting attended by Police, NZSA, and a small group of industry representatives was convened by the NZSA to talk crowded places and the potential for industry involvement.

A quick recap on the strategy

New Zealand’s Crowded Places strategy builds on the body of work trail-blazed by the UK Protecting crowded places from terrorism guidance of November 2014, the US Department of Homeland Security’s Soft Targets and Crowded Places Resources, and Australia’s Strategy for Protecting Crowded Places from Terrorism, which was launched on 20 August 2017 by then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Released without such fanfare, the timing of the New Zealand’s strategy appears to have been delayed initially by the first anniversary of the Christchurch mosque attacks and then by the disruption of the COVID pandemic and last year’s national election. It remains a little known document.

The strategy sets out a consistent approach to promote the safety of crowded places. It explains what crowded places are, the risks they pose, and how businesses, event organisers, sports clubs, charities, community and religious groups, central government agencies and local government can help to keep people safe.

It introduces guidelines and tools to help owners and operators of crowded places reduce the chance of an attack occurring, and lessen its consequences, using methods that are proportionate to the threat.

As part of the Strategy the Police has established three groups: (i) a government Crowded Places Advisory Group New Zealand (CPAGNZ); (ii) a private sector Business Advisory Group New Zealand (BAGNZ); and (ii) a Community Advisory Group New Zealand (CAGNZ). 

According to the Strategy, these advisory groups “will contribute insights and ideas gathered from the sector they represent, related to making New Zealand’s crowded places more resilient. It is expected that these groups will share appropriate information received back to the sector they represent.” 

Business Advisory Group involvement?

During the 23 February meeting, Police’s comment that they had formed the view that the security industry not be represented in the Business Advisory Group (BAGNZ) because of a conflict of interest (i.e. the industry “has a product to sell”) was met with some concern. 

That this would create the somewhat ironic outcome of having representatives from various industries – except for the security industry – advising the police and sharing intel on a significant area of security, was not lost on attendees.

According to Police, its position is consistent with the approach taken by the Australian Government not to involve the security industry in its Crowded Places Business Advisory Group. 

The NZSA will likely continue to liaise with Police on this matter with the view of having the Association represented on the BAG. In the meantime, the NZSA is also establishing a Crowded Places Special Interest Group (CPSIG) of security providers to provide industry guidance to the NZSA.

Approved provider panel?

Briefly discussed at the meeting was the potential establishment of a panel of approved providers of crowded places security advice. The strategy encourages venue owners and operators to contact the police for advice on how to implement its guidance, and to consider seeking the advice of a private security provider.

Police and NZSA appear to hold a shared view that there may be value in a structured arrangement that might provide for a panel or register of security professionals credentialed to provide crowded places advice.

The NZSA has proposed a tiered panel structure that reflects the venue risk tier levels listed in the Association’s recently updated Security Industry Good Practice Guidelines, and which are derived from the marking system used in the Crowded Places Strategy’s Self-Assessment Tool. The Association has sought feedback on these.

The real challenge faced by the industry is to develop an agreed view on relevant skills/qualifications/experience for the mooted panel and its possible tiers.

At the centre of this challenge is the fact that there is no ‘go to’ security consultant qualification and no universally accepted benchmarking of skills. Existing NZQA security qualifications are loose fitting, and the NZQA New Zealand Diploma in Security (Level 6) has receded into irrelevance on the back of negligible take-up rates.

The Private Security Personnel and Private Investigators Act 2010 – the legislative basis of  New Zealand’s security licensing regime – prescribes no real professional requirements for licensing as a security consultant.

As an occupation group, security consultants evidence their expertise by pointing to one or more of any number of disparate sources, including former policing or military careers, private security experience, portfolios of previous work/clients, risk management qualifications, overseas qualifications and experience, internationally recognised security certifications, such as ASIS International Board Certifications, and/or esteem among peers. Evidencing security expertise specific to crowded places may prove tricky.

Once the above expertise maze has been navigated through, those developing the panel concept will then be faced with the further challenge of identifying who might evaluate applications for the panel and how applications might be evaluated.

As complex as they may seem, these are good challenges to be faced with. 

There is considerable talent and expertise among New Zealand’s private security consultants, and they are naturally best-placed to advise venues on how they can best secure their premises and keep their staff and visitors safe.

Conversations between Police and industry such as those had during the meeting of 23 February are a real step forward in terms of discussing the challenges and the potential answers. It is, if nothing else, a good start.