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.
Syracuse is one of many cities in New York State struggling to close a deficit. This local news story about Syracuse follows the pattern of pretty much every other local fiscal crisis:
SYRACUSE, N.Y. — The next mayor of Syracuse will preside over a city that will go broke unless significant changes are made, according to city budget forecasts.
Syracuse faces budget deficits averaging $23 million a year through 2016 – nearly 10 percent of what it costs to run the city. That means city government will burn through its $60 million reserve fund in less than three years, unless new revenues come in or services are scaled back.
Miner scrimped and cut to get by with less money during her first term. But the mayor has not publicly articulated a detailed plan for avoiding the fiscal crisis that she says is too big for the city to fix on its own.
The blame is put on pensions (and health care costs), and on cuts in state aid:
Here, in a nutshell, is the fiscal challenge for Syracuse: Since Miner took office, the cost of pensions and health care for city employees has increased by $22 million a year.
State-mandated pension contributions for city employees have skyrocketed since the stock market crash of 2008 depleted state retirement funds. After an employee retires, the city no longer has to make pension payments, but city health care coverage – the cost of which rises 7 percent to 8 percent a year – typically continues until the retiree hits age 65.
At the same time these expenses are rising, state aid, which represents about one-quarter of the city budget, dropped from $81.3 million in 2009 to $71.8 million this year.
Miner’s opponents in the mayoral election (which she won yesterday) perfectly embody the two responses to fiscal crisis (although the one on the left is often absent):
Long-shot mayoral contender Ian Hunter, the Conservative Party candidate, offers this solution: Let the city go bankrupt. Tear up existing contracts and start over with a leaner version of city government.
Another long-shot challenger, Green Party candidate Kevin Bott, suggests a different approach: Institute a progressive city income tax to raise more revenue, and demand that state leaders share a bigger cut of New York’s income tax receipts with Syracuse and other cities.
Although Syracuse isn’t one of the most stressed cities in New York, at least according to the Comptroller’s analysis, it fits the definition of the potentially-stressed city so important to the conservative narrative of impending municipal government apocalypse:
But stress is coming. For most municipalities, the financial crisis won’t mean a free fall into bankruptcy or a sudden shutdown of services, said E.J. McMahon, president of the Empire Center for Public Policy in Albany, a conservative think tank. Instead, many cities will suffer a slow decline.
“If you look at some of these cities, you don’t see someone who’s on their deathbed, you see somebody who’s crippled,” McMahon said. “They’re not dying, but it’s not a great situation. They can’t get up on their feet.”
After five years, the banks are starting to be held to account. Last week, JP Morgan:
The government’s attempts to hold banks accountable for their mortgage practices may finally be paying off. On Friday, JPMorgan Chase agreed to pay $5.1 billion to the regulator of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to resolve charges related to toxic mortgage securities sold before the financial crisis. That amount had been negotiated as part of a broader $13 billion settlement — yet to be finalized — between the bank and state and federal officials over the bank’s mortgage practices.
JP Morgan will pay a total of $13 billion in fines to the government, and apparently has not secured immunity against criminal prosecution. And this is just one bank: Countrywide, Bank of America, and many others were even more implicated in (and enriched by) the fraud that led to the mortgage meltdown, and subsequent collapse of property markets and local budgets.
Think of this amount in relation to the $14 billion in debt that Detroit is trying to get out from under, a number often tossed out ($14 billion!!) as if it’s catastrophic, an amount far beyond bailouts or creditor negotiations.
Read: Reparations From Banks – NYTimes.com. 10/25/13
The Detroit slide into bankruptcy is like describing an elephant: hard to know where to start. The narratives circulating about Detroit are all fascinating, sometimes irritatingly (but predictably) simplistic but I think the reporting has improved with time, as reporters are forced to look for new angles. Here’s the New York Times’ latest piece:
Detroit’s glittering sports teams operate in a different economy than does the rest of the city. Because of billionaire owners, lucrative television deals, dedicated fans and public subsidies, the city’s teams have few of the problems that have dragged their hometown into the largest municipal bankruptcy filing in the nation’s history.