Public Safety

Public Safety

Industry Outlook

All areas of the protective services industry were affected by the coronavirus pandemic, which began in Wuhan, China, in late 2019. Business lockdowns, social distancing requirements, and an economic slowdown increased the challenges workers in this industry had to deal with in their daily jobs. In addition, political and social unrest that caused mass protests throughout the U.S. in 2020 also raised awareness of and concerns about various sectors of the protective services industry. The rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine and accelerated distribution in 2021 will bolster the economy and increase the need for protective services as businesses reopen and employees return to working in offices.

Careers in protective services are forecast to grow by 3 percent, slower than the average for all jobs, through 2028, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. About 95,200 new jobs will be added by then. Despite an increase in crime rates, and especially increases in public anxiety over crime and subsequently tougher laws and sentencing, all branches of the government, federal, state, and local, have experienced budget cuts and have slowed the hiring of more officers.

This slowdown follows a period of growth that began in 1990, when several incidents raised concern over domestic security, particularly the threat of terrorist attacks. The bombing at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995 and the terrorist attacks of 2001 caused an increase in both domestic and foreign intelligence and investigative operations that continues to date. The threat of terrorism continues to put all public safety officials on alert, from FBI and CIA experts to local police forces and private security companies. Domestic violence that occurred in 2020 also raised concerns about protective services for government workers. There is now increased security particularly in and around government offices, public buildings, airports, post offices, and media headquarters. The Transportation Security Administration employs about 50,000 professional screening officers, installed hundreds of body-scanning machines, and increased the explosive-detection canine teams at commercial airports. More than 50 percent of all TSA officers have five years or more experience as counterterrorism professionals. In 2019, TSA officers intercepted 4,432 firearms at airport checkpoints, nearly double the 2,653 firearms they intercepted in carry-on bags in 2015. They are now responsible for the security of nearly 440 federalized airports.

The war on drugs, which began during the 1980s, created a need for larger numbers of law enforcement officials trained and dedicated to reducing levels of drug trafficking. In the mid-1990s, President Clinton passed new tough-on-crime legislation that increased the numbers of police officers employed at the local, state, and federal levels. In 2018 there were more than 1.65 million arrests for drug law violations; this number has increased each year since 2015, whereas it had declined in the previous decade. Out of all of the arrests more than 86 percent were for possession of a controlled substance.

The corrections industry had recorded unprecedented growth in the number of prisoners from 1980, when there were 25,000 prisoners, to more than 1.5 million prisoners in 2014, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The war on drugs had an especially great impact on the number of people that were sent to prison. The prisoner population has recently decreased, however, by about 1.2 percent from 2016 to 2017, dropping from 1,508,100 prisoners to 1,489,400 prisoners. The overcrowding of many correctional facilities has stimulated pressure for more liberal probation and parole efforts, requiring a greater number of parole and probation officers. The coronavirus outbreak also took a toll on prisons, with the infection rate extremely high due to dense prison populations in tight quarters. This high rate of COVID-19 in prisons raised the public's awareness of correctional facilities and has caused more intense scrutiny of prison facility management. The correctional facilities industry was expected to have a significant decrease in revenue in 2020 due to the pandemic, according to the research group IBISWorld. The industry is expected to have a decrease in revenue through 2025, as government policy toward for-profit incarceration facilities is projected to shift from outsourcing to the private sector

People interested in a career in public safety will find more opportunities in the private, for-profit segment than at government agencies. For example, the DOL projects a growth rate of about 5 percent for the number of police officer and detective jobs through the year 2028, about as fast as the average for all occupations. The DOL says the greatest need for officers will occur at the local level, while state and federal positions will be fewer and competition for them more intense.

Firefighters will see average growth in their numbers through 2028, with the DOL citing a 5 percent increase. The DOL says most new jobs will be added in areas with growing populations or in areas with an increasing number of older residents. The DOL also says that many areas will be converting volunteer fire-fighting positions to full-time paid positions. However, the pace of hiring will be slow due to tightened budgets, and those looking for work will face a great deal of competition.

Another common job at these agencies is that of dispatchers, those who take emergency calls and let officers or firefighters know about the call and where to go. The number of dispatcher jobs in all public safety departments is expected to decrease by 6 percent through 2028, about as fast as the average for all jobs. Many job openings will occur due to the need to replace dispatchers who leave for other positions or retire from the profession.

Security guards for private companies will fare better than officers or dispatchers. The DOL says the number of these jobs will increase by 4 percent. Demand will be driven by the fact that more private companies will be taking over the work that police officers used to do, due to budget cuts.

Private detectives are expected to have good employment opportunities, with 8 percent employment growth through 2028, which is faster than the average. The DOL says the factors driving this demand include heightened security concerns and concerns about protecting confidential information.