Oakland Neighborhoods Crowd-Fund Private Police


Credit: Rennett-Stowe-CC-BY-NC

Residents in a wealthier part of Oakland, California have turned to private security forces to their neighborhoods safe.

Oakland, already a perennial candidate for the most dangerous city in the US, has seen an uptick in robberies over the last year. Complementing this problem is the fact that the Oakland Police Department is short 200 officers.

Residents of the Rockridge neighborhoods took the matter into their own hands, set up three crowd-sourcing campaigns, and hired VMA Security Group to conduct 12-hour, 6-day-a-week patrols.

NPR reports that one resident, Dakin Ferris, was inspired to take action after a string of robberies hit close to his home, making his family feel vulnerable. He brought 600 households together, each of them paying $20 a month for the private patrols.

Private security in businesses and college campuses is common enough, but the idea of private patrols in public areas can be hazier and can raise questions, since different jurisdictions have different laws and regulations about what a private security personnel are allowed to do. For example, some community patrols are armed; Lower Rockridge's is not.

Some neighborhood residents have voiced concerns about accountability. Nicole Aruda, another Rockridge resident, told NPR that "if there are problems with patrols in the neighborhood, we have no one to go to because we're not contractees," and that the decision-making process undemocratically "left out hundreds, if not thousands, of neighbors who were not part of the discussion." Understandably, VMA Security is only obligated to protect the members of the community who pay for the service, and presumably Aruda could still call the police if she saw problems with the private security.

Similar experiments in other cities have not always lasted. For example, a similar arrangement in Philadelphia recently fell apart after less than a month of patrolling. Tensions arose between police and private security. There were also allegations that the private security overstepping their authority and driving unregistered vehicles while on duty.

But the private patrols in Lower Rockridge have the support of the police. "We welcome the extra set of eyes and ears," Oakland Police Department spokeswoman Johnna Watson tells NPR. "Any help that we can receive to reduce crime in our city is good for all of us."