Wednesday, February 19, 2014
Private Patrols used to supplement Police presence
"Private patrols not the answer for Oakland crime"
2013-10-16 By Sarah Pritchard from "Oakland Local" (Community Voices) [http://oaklandlocal.com/2013/10/private-patrols-not-the-answer-for-oakland-crime-community-voices/]:
Editor’s Note: This piece reflects an individual opinion and is not a reported story from Oakland Local. Oakland Local invites community residents to share their views about events and issues in Oakland.
I am a young, white freelance dancer and nonprofit communications professional. I have lived in the same apartment in Rockridge for three years. I am part of gentrification in Oakland, and I am extremely disturbed by the recent crowdfunding campaigns to introduce private security patrols in my neighborhood.
Rockridge is known for its tree-lined streets and craftsman style homes, tech professionals who commute to San Francisco and beyond, and moms pushing their designer strollers down College Avenue. But I know that my neighborhood is much more than that. In my neighborhood, there are also public housing residents. There are people experiencing homelessness, and there are working families. In my neighborhood, there are young artists like me—holding tight to the rental rates we locked in a few years ago. In short, Rockridge is just as complex as the city it belongs to. That’s why I like living here, and that’s why I am concerned about the implications of the success of these crowdfunding campaigns.
Private security companies aren’t subject to the same oversight and accountability as publically funded police departments. Their officers aren’t required to receive the same level of training, nor are they required to hold transparent policies on things like racial profiling. In fact, it is common for officers who have been fired from multiple police force jobs to seek employment as private security guards. In 2009, Lori Pixley won a wrongful death lawsuit against a San Diego security company after learning that the guard who shot and killed her son hadn’t provided any professional references.
A private security force that isn’t accountable or transparent in its policies doesn’t make me feel safer in my neighborhood. It makes me feel threatened, because I know that my neighbors of color are more likely to be profiled than I am. Because I know the impact that increased policing has on marginalized communities, and I don’t want to be part of a neighborhood that turns teenagers on their way home from the corner store into suspects.
The private security firm isn’t the only thing that lacks transparency in this process. It seems profoundly undemocratic that a few people who can afford to contribute to a crowdfunding campaign are able to decide for the rest of us who live here that private security will make us all safer. Unlike the gang injunctions imposed by the Oakland Police Department, there will never be a public hearing on the issue, no research conducted to determine if private security firms actually decrease crime. Although I don’t want a private security patrol on my street, I’ll never have the opportunity to voice my opinion or enter a dialogue with my neighbors. Money has done its talking, and the matter has already been decided.
Ultimately, increased police presence is not the solution to crime in Oakland. According to an article published in the East Bay Express this week, violent crime is down in Oakland, while robberies remain a big problem. This points to the larger problem behind Oakland’s crime rate—persistent income inequality is on the rise with the most recent tech boom, while a fraying safety net leaves more people with fewer options.
The solutions to these problems will not be funded on Crowdtilt. They take real engagement and commitment from policymakers and community members alike. They involve building alternatives to the criminal justice system and supporting the basic services like affordable housing, access to healthy food, healthcare, and quality public education that allow people the opportunity to survive and thrive.
Luckily, there are organizations in Oakland already engaged in re-envisioning our collective future. Organizations like Forward Together, Youth UpRising, Brown Boi Project, Justice for Families, and many others provide Oaklanders with opportunities to build safer communities for everyone—not just those who can afford it.
"Why Private Security Patrols Are Not the Answer: They’re divisive, and they undermine our ability to work together to solve our city’s problems"
2014-02-19 by Joel Tena from "EastBay Express"
We all want what's best for our families, friends, and neighborhoods. We struggle, work, and sacrifice to make the lives of those we love better. It pains us when we see folks we know in trouble, and it is easy to be disturbed and frightened when that trouble hits too close to home. Such is life in Oakland, a place that we "hella" love, yet know has its challenges.
The question for all Oakland residents in dealing with these challenges is how do we find solutions that are forward thinking and have positive outcomes for all, instead of adopting reactionary efforts that give up long-term sustainability for short-term gain for a few? This is the crux of the public safety debate going on right now concerning the rapid growth of private security patrols in the city.
While it's unclear exactly how many areas of Oakland are covered by private patrols right now, an October forum at the Dimond library revealed that upwards of several thousand households were or were about patrolled by private security in the neighborhoods of Maxwell Park, Laurel, Dimond, Oakmore, Rockridge, and Temescal. Given the explosive growth of private security patrols, it's not hard to imagine large parts of Oakland being under their watch in the near future.
It's also easy to understand why some folks might react and turn to something unproven to solve the city's crime problems. Most of us know one or more residents who have been touched by crime in Oakland. In my neighborhood, in the span of one month, there were several burglaries and two home-invasion robberies. A day doesn't go by where I don't think about the safety of my family and community. I want policies that will be efficient and effective at bringing peace, health, and vibrancy to where I live. I also want those policies to be just, forward thinking, and sustainable, which is why I am against these private patrols.
There are no long-term, independent studies on the effectiveness of these patrols. But even if there were evidence that they reduce crime in the areas they serve, I would still be against them — for several reasons.
First, is the issue of the training and protocols of private patrol employees. We live in a diverse urban community, and youth and people of color in our city are often disproportionately targeted and profiled for criminal activity by police. How will this be any different for private security patrols? How is a private patrol guard going to know who is legitimately in a particular neighborhood? Who bestows legitimacy? The patrol guards might become familiar with some residents in the neighborhood, but what if a cousin or friend of my family stops by and decides, as anyone has the right, to go on a walk or pick something up from the corner store? It was poor neighborhood watch training, along with racist sentiments altogether too prevalent in our society, that led to the murder of Trayvon Martin. Even rigorous police training has not prevented many instances of racial profiling and officer abuse, leading up to and including the deaths of innocent, unarmed individuals like Oscar Grant.
Just this past Thursday, a significant and almost deadly occurrence took place that sounds like the result of procedures not being followed and protocols not being adhered to. A private patrol officer in the upper Dimond area stumbled upon a burglary in progress, and then proceeded to chase (against the best practices of other private security firms) a fleeing suspect and, when allegedly threatened, shot and wounded the eighteen-year-old.
While some community members are praising this private security company's actions, others are alarmed that a private patrol officer would use deadly force to apprehend an individual suspected of, among other things, stealing a telescope. Does this theft justify almost killing the young man? Are we ready to take justice out of the courts and into our streets?
This shooting also has led to even more concerns about how to hold these security companies accountable for their training and their actions. What happens if a fellow neighbor or, God forbid, a child just passing through the neighborhood, gets hit by a stray bullet fired by a private patrol officer? Who is responsible? The security company? Many security companies insist on contracts that limit their liability. Are Oakland homeowners willing to risk litigation and large financial judgments against them because of a tragedy they indirectly funded?
Security patrols also threaten our ability to work collectively to solve our problems and represent yet another expansion of privatization. From private school vouchers to the burgeoning for-profit prison industry, the plague of privatization is reducing the amount of resources available to effectively build a safe, healthy, more just society for all residents regardless of wealth.
Private patrols are not free. Folks pay up to $40 a month or $475 a year for these services. But, as residents are paying for these private services, the city desperately needs more funds to meet the many challenges of public safety: More after-school programs; more library hours; more jobs and job training programs, especially for ex-offenders and folks with limited formal education; more violence prevention outreach workers; and more police officers to investigate crimes.
Traditionally, it has been a hard sell for Oakland to raise taxes to pay for more policing. This is because, in many communities, the police are seen as much as part of the problem as they are the solution. How eager will people who pay for private security be to vote in favor of taxes for violence prevention when they are already paying hundreds of extra dollars a year?
For example, Measure Y, a parcel tax, currently funds 63 Oakland police officers, fire prevention services, and violence prevention programs. It sunsets at the end of 2014 unless the city council puts forward a renewal or replacement measure and voters approve it this November. But, with the growth of private patrols in the city, will residents who pay nearly $500 a year for their own security guards vote to continue paying the Measure Y parcel tax, too?
Many folks contend that the solution to Oakland's crime problems is to hire more police officers. And whether or not you agree with this argument, most folks would acknowledge that the loss of 63 officers and vast funding for violence prevention programs would have an enormous impact on public safety overall in the city.
In addition, even if crime does go down in a neighborhood with private patrols, crime itself might not go away. During my years working on public safety issues at Oakland City Hall, I explained this to residents as the "water balloon effect." You squeeze the balloon on one end, and the water just rushes to the other end, and so crime doesn't go really decline through enforcement alone. The private security companies readily admit this fact. When asked by the San Francisco Chronicle, Richard McDiarmid of Security Code 3 said, "We're a deterrent. Hopefully the people that are committing crimes, they see that there's security in the area and they go to a different area, quite frankly."
If enforcement were really the solution, we would have the safest streets on Earth. After all, we have the largest prison population of any nation. But our streets aren't the safest, because we can't arrest our way out of our problems.
In the end, private patrols are nothing more than a stopgap measure for those with means, and they jeopardize long-term peace and safety of the city, while doing nothing to address or resolve the deep systemic issues that are the root of crime in Oakland. We need jobs, housing, and opportunities for our young people. For those who have been caught up in crime and the underground economy, we need to look at restorative justice as a way to rebuild lives and bring these members back into our community. We need to end the War on Drugs. We need serious gun control to take these instruments of murder and mayhem off our streets.
Rather than spend time debating the wrongheadedness of these private patrols, we should focus our time, energy — and yes, our money — toward building a more safe and equitable Oakland for all. Imagine if we spent our money on violence prevention instead. Or if, rather than spending ours debating this fractious issue, we spent that time mentoring and volunteering?
As we move towards those goals, in the short-term there are commonsense things we can do to keep our families safe from crime. Here are a few suggestions:
1. Build community! Walk outside, talk with your neighbors, go to the park, say "hi" to folks on the street.
2. Secure your property. While burglar alarms aren't foolproof, they've stopped break-ins in my neighborhood. The two home invasions took place in houses without alarms. Get (several) vehicle theft devices: car alarm, club, etc. Minimize the visibility of valuables in your home and car. There might be nothing in that bag on your front seat, but if someone is looking to steal valuables they may not know that until they've already broken your car window. Get motion lights for your home that turn off during the day. Secure your doors and windows. Clear brush and trees from around your house, so if you are not home, your neighbors can easily see suspicious behavior. Adopt a dog from Oakland Animal Services! Dogs make excellent sentries and provide loving companionship.
3. Become engaged. Attend neighborhood meetings. Investigate when you hear an alarm going off. If a tragedy occurs nearby, lend physical and emotional support to the victim(s). Mark and mourn the loss of all life, of victims, and of folks who are caught up in illegal activity to the point where death is the only way out. All life is precious.
I live in Oakland because I want to live among folks who look out for each other, and not just watch with paranoia. The debate around private security patrols has exposed a clear rift in our town, one that ends up pitting the hills against the flatlands, and even among neighbors above I-580 who disagree about this issue — armed versus unarmed guards versus none at all.
But we need to build unity on a macro level throughout the city as well as block by block. That's especially true for our young people: We should be uplifting their lives through arts programs, sports, after-school workshops, open libraries, recreation centers, youth centers — and not destroying them through increased surveillance, suspicion, unnecessary calls for service, and unwarranted profilings and arrests.
The road is long and the challenges are many, but Oaklanders have come through in the past, and we need to come through now in order to build a more just, healthy, and peaceful city for us all.
comment posted 2014-02-20 by Justin Horner:
Id like to offer my comments in response to my dear dear friend, Joel’s, opinion piece above. Like him, Im a former (or is it “recovering?”) Oakland City Council aide, husband and father. Im also a supporter of looking into whether private patrols work, and I helped (a bit) in organizing the Rockridge effort.
First, to concede: indeed, there are no long term studies that can demonstrate the effectiveness of private patrols. There are one or two small, limited ones, but not super duper science. All of the organizers in Rockridge, and most of the people who signed up, Id argue, are not necessarily convinced that the patrols will make a difference. What we are interested in is exploring the notion and seeing if it can. Some initial analysis suggests some benefit in Rockridge; this does not make me unhappy. At the same time, I join many of my neighbors in not being interested in paying for something that doesn’t make a difference, and, in fact, am eager to stop paying if there’s no result.
Rockridge’s pilot is with VMA Security for unarmed security patrol. VMA is an Oakland owned company with an employee base that reflects Oakland’s diversity; a lot more than OPD, in fact. We considered armed security, but decided on unarmed after responding to significant, and convincing, community concerns. That was a good idea, and looks like an even better one after what happened in Oakmore. I know of no incidents of racial profiling, intimidation or just general lame behavior registered during the pilot period. This is also good. Nobody I know involved in the effort wants that type of “protection.”
Unlike vouchers, for-profit prisons and other privatization schemes, private patrols do not divert public dollars to for-profit companies. They are paid, privately and voluntarily, on top of taxes. They do not take money out of our libraries, schools, the OPD or rec centers. Nobody I know supports the idea of taking the city’s general fund and paying it to private patrols. That would be “privatization,” and that would be dumb. It is not a goal, or, frankly, a likely outcome, of private patrols in Oakland.
Oaklanders are historically very generous and are willing to pay more in taxes. I must say, however, that if Measure Y fails to pass, it will not be the patrols that made the difference. As another commenter already mentioned, the City itself has done far more to undermine the case for reupping the Measure than these patrols ever will. Yes, for some people, maybe the $40 a month will be enough to make the economic case for them not to support the measure. I think it’s more likely that people want actual cops and would just stop paying for the security, if, again, it was purely an economic issue for them.
I would also argue that private patrols will not necessarily push crime into other neighborhoods, although Im open to the possibility that they could. The “water balloon effect” Joel describes does not, however, really exist. If that were the case, crime would never go down, ever, as every effort to combat it would simply displace it elsewhere. As Joel undoubtedly knows, crime is influenced, among other things, by geography. For example, we are told that my area of Rockridge is particularly vulnerable to armed robbery because there are a) lots of pedestrians; b) lots of pedestrians with the income and preference to own easily stealable iStuff and c) we have easy freeway access. This is not true of all areas of Oakland. Deterring crime here does not mean that robbers will all of a sudden start committing crime in areas that have none of these traits. All that being said, part of the initial Rockridge analysis focused on whether crime was simply being displaced, and it didn’t appear to. A study of BID-related private patrols in LA also showed declines in crime and no displacement. In any case, I, and the people I know that are paying for the private patrols, are not interested in just displacing crime out of our neighborhood. That’s not meaningful progress on public safety for me.
While I probably shouldn’t bury it way down here, this does lead me to take issue with what is a common criticism of the private patrol effort: that, somehow, by hiring private security, neighborhoods are rejecting community, turning their backs on their neighbors, approaching all problems militaristically, peeking through their windows with suspicion and paranoia and otherwise pulling up the drawbridge to exist in some libertarian fantasyworld. This is not the case, at least not for me.
Let me tell you how I look at it, as a participant. The process of hiring private security by neighborhood residents is actually an example of community working, of people coming together, in mutual aid, to solve a problem, explore solutions, and, yes, put their resources where their mouths are. Many of us have already explored the purely individualistic ways Joel recommends we use to protect ourselves and our property (alarms, The Club, locks), and many of us also participate in our neighborhood organizations, blocks, and NCPCs. Frankly, I already know all my neighbors, take care of their kids, volunteer at my school, pick up litter, keep my bushes trimmed and, of course, say “hi” on the street to people. This is also true of many of the people paying into the pilot now. We are now looking into other strategies to see what else we can do, because, well, all the stuff the city is doing, and all the stuff we are already doing to secure our homes and neighborhoods, is not enough.
I know a big rhetorical strategy of our neighbors opposed to patrols is to paint supporters in a negative light, as somehow detached from their own communities, selfish and alienated. Id just suggest that Joel, and others, check themselves before they accuse me, and many of my neighbors, of not caring about Oakland, my community or the lives of others. I can live with the fact that communities organize and work together in different ways; I think it’s important for others to realize that as well.