As burglaries, home invasions, carjackings and assaults creep into Oakland neighborhoods less accustomed to crime, residents have built fences, armed alarms and installed security cameras.
Oakland has been dealing with a resurgence of crime, particularly in the rapidly-gentrifying areas of the city, including Temescal. Some neighborhoods have also hired private security firms (some of which use armed guards) to patrol their communities, and one of the most rapidly-gentrifying neighborhoods in the city, Temescal, has been exploring doing the same. In addition to rising crime (and specifically rising crime in wealthier neighborhoods), Oakland has suffered from deep budget cuts to its police department, resulting in
Oakland police appreciate the help, said Officer Johnna Watson, a police spokeswoman.
“We are all striving for the same goal, and that is reducing crime,” she said. “The security companies are an extra set of eyes that allow the community to be empowered.”
Putting more police on the streets is the city’s top priority, said Sean Maher, a spokesman for Quan. There are now 615 officers patrolling the city of roughly 400,000 people – down from a peak of 830 officers in January 2009, according to police records.
“When communities get organized and rally around a cause like public safety, it is incredibly effective,” Maher said. “It is unfortunate that people feel forced to do this. We want a fully staffed Police Department.”
“Cities are cash-strapped, and they are finding it difficult to keep up with the costs of a municipal police force,” Wexler said. “And if you want more police, you really have to ask yourself this question: What are cities prepared to do?”
Still, Wexler said, private security companies are no substitute for a competent police force.
“When you are talking about municipal police, you are talking about public officials and holding them to a high standard,” he said. “If private security is involved, they should be held to an equally high standard.
When residents pay for services to be provided privately, what happens to their demand for the government to fully fund those services? Does having private security in wealthier neighborhoods in Oakland deprive other communities of the collective effort (and willingness to pay) for public policing throughout the city? The most crime-plagued areas of Oakland don’t have residents who can afford to replace necessary policing with private officers. What are the consequences of private citizens channeling their energy into private services? K-12 schools are perhaps the most obvious comparison, but perhaps education is a more divisible product than policing. You never know when you’ll be in a neighborhood that doesn’t have private security, but you can control whether your kids ever go to the public schools.
“Oaklanders deserve more safety, and to the extent that citizens can generate it for themselves and their neighborhood, I applaud that effort,” said Councilwoman Libby Schaaf. “But it does not excuse the city for failing to provide the most basic element of government. It is not a substitute.”
In the community meetings held to discuss the possibility of private security in Temescal, many residents pointed out the other obvious dangers: racial profiling and the lower standard of accountability private actors have then public police officers.
Several residents spoke about their concerns over racial profiling, especially after the death of Trayvon Martin, a Florida teenager gunned down by a neighborhood watch volunteer.
During the meeting, a Latino resident and a transgender resident questioned the safety of those that do not fit the description of an “average citizen.” Both spoke to the idea that they could be considered outsiders in their own neighborhood and would actually feel less safe with private security.
“I believe that increasing police presence in a neighborhood only increases safety for some people,” said Kane.