Denizens of many of Oakland’s hillier neighborhoods had spent much of 2012 talking with each other about rising crime rates, robberies and home invasions. But when security cameras at two homes in the Oakmore and Upper Dimond districts showed a mysterious figure lurking in the shadows, and two teenage boys, left home alone, were surprised by an unwanted guest, their talk quickly turned into action.
“People were just traumatized,” Doug Drummond, an Oakmore resident and retired financial service executive said. “Do we want to wait for the next one to happen or do we want to be empowered to do something about it?”
Immediately, Drummond went to work trying to find a solution to deter the rising tide of crime in his neighborhood, organizing neighbors and developing a strict methodology to regain a sense of security. Within eight weeks, he and his neighbors had put in place a plan that brought a single uniformed, unarmed private security guard, complete with backup and a marked car, to patrol their streets.
Drummond targeted an area of 63 homes to create a district that could share the costs of hiring their own private security, which can run close to $45,000 a year. Private patrol officers are dedicated to their areas, walking and driving trough the neighborhood at unspecified times, and residents share personal information such as vacation schedules, work routines and specifics about their households with their patrolman.
“He becomes a part of the fabric of neighborhood,” Drummond said.
According to Drummond, crime in the area has dropped significantly since the patrols began. “The success is evident,” he said. “In the 26 months prior to going live with the patrol, there were 30 burglaries. In the four-and-a-half months since, there has only been one burglary and one attempt.”
With such success, others in the area are following suit, and Drummond has a plan to provide 1,000 homes in the area with private patrols by mid-September.
Kamorudeen Animashaun, owner of ANI Security in Oakland since 1992, and the provider of several of the private patrols, says he’s had upwards of 13 calls for the service since February.
“This is new for me in the years I’ve been here,” he said. “Crime is kind of high, and people want someone at their house when no one is home. There’s a real demand.”
Carole Klein, the project coordinator for a patrol district of 150 homes, says the patrols work because they force would-be burglars to think twice about getting caught.
“Potential criminals don’t want to be seen,” she said, “so they just go somewhere else. Unfortunately to a neighborhood without security guard.”
But while crime may be down in these select neighborhoods, other city residents are concerned about what private patrols in the hills may mean for the rest of Oakland.
“It sets a dangerous precedent,” Joe Tuman, a professor of political and legal communications at San Francisco State and Oakland mayoral candidate said. “When people with means can afford security, what happens to people without means?”
“I understand why they want to do this,” he said, “but they’re letting public officials off the hook. They should be demanding public officials devote resources to safety so that everyone gets it.”
Residents of Oakmore and Upper Dimond agree.
“At this point, the city doesn’t have resources to hire officers to keep us safe,” Klein said. “I hope this changes by next year and we don’t need to do this, but the number of officers is so reduced, there just isn’t the option of feeling safe”
Drummond hopes the city can learn something from the private patrols he’s helped initiate and consider creating an ambassador program to foster safety regardless of where citizens live, but isn’t holding his breath.
“That would take out the issue of why do they get a patrol and we don’t, since not everyone can afford it,” he said. “Could we and would we get to the point were we can protect all our citizens? Really it all comes down to money.”
But according to Tuman, public money isn’t the only component of the private patrols.
“It’s also about socio-economic class,” he said. “Goes back to the responsibility of government. They must be able to guarantee the safety of everyone who lives here regardless of class. If you live here you deserve the same kind of protection that everyone else gets. We shouldn’t put people in a situation where they go without police protection.”