Oakland Local

By Sarah Pritchard

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.

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. See our guidelines.

25 thoughts on “Private patrols not the answer for Oakland crime (Community Voices)

  1. Private patrols are not the answer to Oakland’s crime problems. The answers are many, including reforming the police department, instituting real community policing and taking control of police away from the mayor and the City Council.

    Income inequality is not the cause of violent crime. Violence is the cause of violence. Oakland has had a very violent street culture for a generation. To reduce violence in Oakland the cycle of violence needs to be interrupted. It’s the same with all kinds of violence, most of which are self-perpetuating because violence traumatizes people and traumatized people cannot control their behavior adequately. It’s the same in domestic violence and in war.

    Violence can be reduced only by doing things that actually reduce violence, not by focusing on any other factor.

  2. Hello Sarah,

    Sorry you are extremely disturbed by Rockridge families hiring private security. Mine is one of those families. In fact, I contributed more than triple the recommended amount. You are the first person I know who is disturbed by this. Most of my neighbors are “extremely disturbed” by armed robberies, burglaries, and car break-ins. They are also disturbed that our district rep, Dan Kalb, was mugged himself while campaigning here. And I think the straw that broke the camel’s back was the mass robbery of casual carpoolers a few weeks ago. (Hopefully you are up on the news.) Robberies in Oakland are up 40-50% over last year. THAT is extremely disturbing. OPD is not in a position to protect Oakland residents. THAT is disturbing. Most of these crimes involve loaded guns. THAT is disturbing. My friend was walking with his girlfriend and her family when they were mugged and PISTOL WHIPPED. On College Ave, at a reasonable hour. THAT is disturbing. So frankly, teenagers feeling as though they may be “profiled” might disturb me by inches, but the crime problem disturbs me by miles. If there was a way I could contribute to the OPD directly and get more police on the street, I’d do it. But that’s not an option. Waiting years for the situation to change is also not an option. Not when you have to look over both shoulders for the next mugging that’s coming. Not when you have to worry about your wife getting home safely.

    I get it, that the perpitrators are victims themselves. Honestly, I want to help these poor lost souls, but that is also not an option when you have a gun in your face.

    Bottom line is that I respect your liberal sensibilities, but as a husband and a homeowner, all of those considerations are vastly outweighed by my need to protect my house and my family from danger. I didn’t move here to live under constant threat of violence. I didn’t invest in a house and happily pay my taxes to see my needs (not preferences, but needs) be neglected. I expect the city to do their job, and if they can’t do it then the job still needs to get done.

    You can’t be ignorant to the fact that Oakland families are frightened for their safety. Instead of complaining, I think you should be grateful that we are doing something about it. If not, hey, you could always put a sign in your window that says you don’t endorse or have any security for your home, and that OPD won’t be along to help you any time soon. Maybe that will help you sleep better at night.

  3. Kudos to SJ for the best, most succinct response. I cannot compete with such precision. Only if you did it with a haiku could you improve. But I digress…

    I was fascinated by Sarah’s expertise in deploying such an impressive checklist of political correctness in her declarations, one might wonder if it might earn a Poseur Alert. Although she admits to the humiliation of being white (with deference to SJ)… She chose to live in Rockridge and yet– and yet! she most enjoys being in the midst of public housing projects, the homeless, people of color, poor people (or should I say People of Poverty? Not sure), and proclaims to being a gentrifier in our neighborhood.

    A gentrifier? In Rockridge? Oh, please.

    Loves to live among people of color? the homeless? poor people? Oh, please.

    One wonders why, oh why, would you pick Rockridge out of all the neighborhoods of Oakland? The least diverse part of our city with the fewest poor, fewest homeless people and fewest public housing project.

    Right. Like what I expect is the REAL reason most people list among the top five reasons for living in Rockridge….. It’s historically had the lowest crime rate (relatively speaking, of course) of any non-hills neighborhood within the city limits of Oakland.

    That’s right, we like to walk up and down College Ave with our designer stroller holding our precious children because it’s still in a very diverse, culturally vibrant city but relatively safe.

    So when the crime in our neighborhood becomes intolerable, people here take action. I say great.

    Surely if you really wanted to live in an Oakland neighborhood that more fully meets your checklist and with vastly lower rents to boot and that will never choose to organize engaging security patrols, there is a long long list of alternatives to choose from. Most notably some of those neighborhoods also have a preponderance of residents who live by the No Snitch credo, and would, like you, convict any security personnel of Profiling without waiting for any evidence of it. Have you checked out 98th and Bancroft for vacant and cheap rentals? I doubt any security patrols would agree to go anywhere near there for the kind of pay we’re offering in Rockridge, so you’d be safe from that awful feeling of being “extremely disturbed.” Just a thought…..

  4. Sooner not later someone is going to get killed in Lower Rockridge or Temescal. There was that one person wounded by his mugger coming home from a restaurant on Telegraph and at least three people pistol whipped that I’ve heard, one young and two middle aged in the last year. Sure, nothing compared to a day in West O, but most of us don’t put human lives on a balancing scale.

    If the private patrols deter a few incidents that otherwise could have lead to serious injury, they’re worth the price of admission.

    If private patrols give upper middle class residents the security to stay in Oakland and keep paying the taxes for the services that poor residents need, that’s an additional plus.

  5. I was robbed at gunpoint and pistol whipped a few weeks ago, at a nice area (ayala & mcauley). When I looked it up there is one or more armed robberies in a 3 block radius around there a week. I knew about Rockridge’s robbery troubles, but that was kind of a disturbing wake-up call.

    For some reason I’m not disturbed at the crowdsourced patrols. Maybe it’s because their function is mainly to drive around and be a visible deterrent to crime as opposed to something like a stop-and-frisk (which they can’t legally do).

    I also think there is something flawed in your logic by cherry picking a single event. You can do that with the police too, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have police because of the Oscar Grant shooting. It means we should try to have good police. By the same token, if Rockridge wants private security, it should strive to have good private security. The crowdsourcing community around the patrols seems to be pretty concerned about this, as far as I can tell.

  6. Thank you for this calm and sensible column. As awful as our Police Department is – and it is thoroughly awful – the arrival of hired guns on our streets does not make me feel any safer. I hope this fever will break before someone is hurt or killed by one of these ‘security guards’.

  7. Welcome to the neighborhood, Sarah! In three more years, you’ll have lived here as long as my 6 year old already has! And please dont worry, you’re not part of gentrification here in Rockridge. As a college educated white woman, you’re living exactly where you’re supposed to live. Since this is North Oakland, you should know that your kneejerk liberalism is perfectly typical. We love having such a diverse community–you help make sure that our neighborhood includes the widest spectrum of white liberalism you’re likely to find anywhere.

    I dont mean to rain on anyone’s parade, but Rockridge is yuppie, not hipster. We have families to take care of, jobs to go to, and need to get to bed at a reasonable hour. It’s not a huge community priority for everyone to feel free to wander around the neighborhood aimlessly or suspiciously without even the merest concern about being approached or engaged with. Our kids (and this includes the OHA properties on Colby and Canning) are not hanging out on the streets and corners, or slinking around in the shadows with hoodies on late in the evening. That’s just not what we do around here. Neighborhoods throughout the city have cultures and norms–those are some of ours. Other places are more concerned with maximizing individual freedom and avoiding contact with the police. We understand that security is something we need, and its something we want.

    Fortunately, unlike the OPD, you dont have to pay for security if you dont want to. While I find it entertaining that the best way to get so-called progressives to love cops is to mention private security, know that we all wish we had a formidable enough deterrent in our publicly funded and controlled police force to avoid paying extra.

    But we dont, So we’re getting together with our neighbors and pooling our resources to try new things. Most creative type folks love that stuff. I mean, if mutual aid is good enough for Occupy, isnt it good enough for Rockridge?

  8. Oakie: you made me laugh. Sarah, my partner and I would LOVE to trade our place in a much more dangerous and run-down neighborhood – with no security patrols but plenty of drug dealing, littering, reckless driving, public screaming matches, and being afraid to leave the house after dark – for your sweet rent-controlled Rockridge oasis. Any time, just say the word, and your guilt can vanish. Win-win!

    To me, it seems “profoundly undemocratic” that a few people who want to rob and gang-bang are able to decide for the rest of us who live here that our neighborhood should be a war zone. The thugs don’t hold any public hearings or conduct research – they simply impose their reign of terror through force. And because of our understaffed police force they are encouraged to keep robbing and assaulting with no consequences. Why no outrage about that?

  9. What right do you have to determine whether a properly licensed and bonded security guard can protect other people – in essence, telling them when and how they can be safe?

    If there are issues (and they appear to be isolated) – tort lawsuits provide the answer. Not shaming people over their efforts to improve their neighborhood. It’s no different than if people quit their jobs and patrolled their neighborhood themselves to make it safer, except this means that professionals are doing it with a licensing and insurance regime.

    You state “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.”

    How is hiring a private security guard inconsistent with those sensible, if utopian, public policy suggestions? The only argument I can see – which you do not articulate, so let me know if I got you wrong here – is that if people can protect themselves from crime without fixing structural issues, they will not be politically interested in paying tax dollars to subsidize the NGOs you identify at the end of your article.

    If that’s the case, then this article really says: “If people can adequately defend themselves, then they won’t support measures which are designed to placate the people that are robbing us by transferring them more societal resources!”

    If you have to impose your political vision by frightening people with the threat of violence, you need to work on your messaging better.

  10. Sarah,

    You should totally leave Rockridge, and seek out a rental elsewhere. Begin to despair as you look at Craigslist rentals and notice how, for the price of your apartment now, you can now find yourself a “fully renovated gem!” at 73rd and bancroft. THEN you’ll be a gentrifier. You’ll find yourself questioning your ideals, as you decide between starting up your car behind a locked gate and driving out of your neighborhood into a nicer one to go grocery shopping, or walking/biking to the local store and getting harassed, at best. There are certain stores in my neighborhood that I will not patronize after dark, because I have been threatened, bumped or blocked from walking down the sidewalk when all I want is a bottle of hotsauce to finish cooking dinner with. I am being “disrespectful” for declining to buy beer for the group of men gathered around cars outside the store, cars I couldn’t afford to own.

    And if I hadn’t locked in my rental deal here several years ago, I’d find it hard to afford living here.

    It is a sad state of affairs that people living in Oakland have to make these choices on a daily basis. It is sad that people’s kids are gunned down on the way to school, or that absentee parents allow their kids to roam the streets and wreak havoc all day and night. In an ideal world, the safety and well being of all of Oakland’s residents would be assured. However, people need to feel safe, and as criminals have realized that Rockridge residents (and Grand Lake residents, and Dimond District residents) are walking ATM machines, that safety has evaporated. Your neighbors can choose to leave, or to live with being mugged, or to do something about it. They are choosing to stay and band together, and while it’s a short term solution, it will have immediate consequences for their safety. Long term, I would hope that they would demand political leadership that actually works effectively to address safety in Oakland.

  11. It’s funny how nobody has mentioned personal responsibility here!

    To be a gentrifier is to be part of the “gentry,” right? To have money, right? There’s nothing wrong with that, is there?

    The more block parties, concerts, art shows, and other convivial gatherings we have that are accessible and open to everyone, the more these fears will recede into the distance…

  12. Neither Lower Rockridge North and South (the only two funded ones) nor Temescal (still in discussion stage) will be using armed security people even though VMA, the company doing Rockridge, normally arms its personnel only for their own self-defense.

    NO GUNs = No George Zimmermans here.

    I don’t know what the situation is in other parts of Oakland but expect to find out and will report back.

    Was talking to an attendee at tonight’s Temescal discussion meeting re setting up private patrols. The attendee was concerned that even if the patrols were unarmed that OPD would come and shoot an innocent profiled person.

    My response is that on edge scared residents are more likely to be misjudge a bad guy from an innocent than a paid patrol employee who does this full time. Legitimate concern about OPD but that’s not an argument against private patrols but a reason to better manage and control OPD.

    Another concern was that the private patrols would be taping everything. To me that’s a good thing. OPD should be required to always video everything. Seems like during Occupy they turned off their video cameras just before doing something abusive.

  13. The biggest risk to anyone from the unarmed private patrols is that one of the patrol staff will be shot by a panicky macho kid waving a hand gun around. The mugger will assume the guard is armed and shoot first.

  14. Susan,

    When someone writes with such gross fallacies and distorted views, it’s difficult to not want to show them why they are misguided. If anything, I hope the author realizes she’s in the minority in her view and that she doesn’t speak on behalf of the residents of her area and Oakland in general.

  15. Sarah thanks for sharing your thoughts. Unfortunately, it is difficult to have a civil dialogue in Oakland. It seems that we cannot advocate for our own beliefs, without personally attacking those with whom we disagree.

    Obviously, many in the hills and other upscale neighborhoods are afraid, as they hire their own guards. Those who cannot afford to hire their own guards and live in Oakland’s truly besieged neighborhoods have even more reasons to be fearful. We need safe neighborhoods throughout Oakland.

    In addition to the private patrols that you cited, there are discussions about creating pubic safety tax districts. In August, there was a meeting at Crogan’s hosted by Councilmember Libby Schaaf that discussed the creation of a public safety tax district in the hills – a parcel tax on all residence of the area to pay for police that would be dedicated to that area.

    I believe that schemes like these will only add to the divisions and inequities in Oakland. I also question their effectiveness. They may protect your property and your safety, if you never leave your home or neighborhood. I don’t know about others, but I live in all of Oakland. I am in the Fruitvale, San Antonio, North, East, West, and Downtown Oakland neighborhoods. We need a safe Oakland, not an Oakland safe for the “haves” and unsafe for the “have-nots”.

    For Oakland to be a truly safe city, we need increased police staffing, effective management of OPD, constitutional policing, and increased resources for effective, well-managed prevention and intervention programming, like the programs funded by the Oakland Fund for Children and Youth and Oakland Unite.

    This will require increased financial resources, which will need a two-thirds vote for funding measures in November 2014, in the midst of was is likely to be a politically divisive election. It will take more than fear to get that vote. That should be the focus of our advocacy in the next twelve months.

  16. Ed, I agree completely about the need for effective city wide solutions of both policing and programming, but I have never seen a Measure Y funded program that is both effective at reducing city crime rates and efficient enough to be affordable. The KTOP video of the Council committee meeting a year ago June with Dr Patricia Bennett who led the team of evaluators of MY, made it clear that MY was never designed to lower overall crime and in fact did not to any measurable extent. She didn’t volunteer that simply increasing the funding would greatly change the outcomes.

    I’m sure there are programs that are more effective than others. And programs that are more scalable to reach larger numbers of kids without requiring huge parcel tax increases. But that will require every program to be scrutinized with as much attention and hopefully more objectivity than OPD has gotten. Very difficult because at least some of the non-profits who receive funding seem to be politically intertwined with elected officials. (no, I can’t prove that)

    If you know of a specific Measure Y program that is or would be effective in lowering our overall crime without breaking the city’s finances, which would that be?

  17. Pingback: Private patrols aren’t perfect, but might still be good (Community Voices) « Oakland Local

  18. Right, Ed: please lay out how Measure Y has helped reduce crime. Id love to know the details.

    Also, people who minimize the concerns of people who live in dangerous areas just because they are not the most dangerous (not, as you note, those who are “truly besieged”) are totally out of touch not only with Oaklanders, but with reality. Talk like that loses ballot measures

  19. Hi Sarah,

    Thank you for taking the time to contribute to this important discussion. It is sad that we as a community feel the need to attack those with opposing views. I and other who have expressed concerns about having private security guards patrolling public streets have been accused of: “opting in” to Oakland’s culture of violence, of being part of a very small and vocal group, politically correct and out of touch, too sensitive and paranoid…. Of course, all these comments are meant to marginalize and minimize valid concerns, in other words they are meant to shut down the conversation.

    I do not think that the 225 people who signed on to the northwest Rockridge Crowdtilt campaign are a majority. There are over 4,000 people who live, work and go to school in this neighborhood. How 225 people translates to being characterized as “everyone in the neighborhood” leaves me scratching my head. Funny, but “everyone” (and when I say everyone, I mean everyone) I speak to about this issue are flabbergasted at how such a small number of people can make this call for entire community.

    There are a number of us who are organizing a community meeting to discuss this issue. We understand that security contracts are now being signed and that organizers and contributors have decided that regardless of the community’s concern they will move forward.

    Perhaps when organizers leave their echo chamber they will truly begin to see that those against private patrols are their friends, neighbors and school mates and not part of a lunatic fringe so easily dismissible.

    Thanks again, Sarah. In spite of what you read in this comment section you are not alone in your concerns. Stay tuned for an open, community wide discussion of this issue sometime next month.

  20. Susan, I understand that the author wants to show an alternative view, which, in general, should be welcome to the discussion. I think the sharper responses were drawn from the lack of tact the author used, regardless of the quality facts and arguments presented. Consider: “I have some concerns with the thing you want to do; let’s talk about it” vs “I am extremely disturbed by the thing you want to do”. The latter comes across as very judgmental, and suggests the matter at hand is not even worth discussing because the author is obviously right. I agree with you in the thought that the author is probably open for discussion, but the presentation of this openness needs work.

  21. I feel safer in East Oakland than rural dirt poor Merced where I was assaulted.

    I’m clean cut white, lift weights and walk miles without any problems.

    The people are respectful but do hit me up for donations.
    Rather than money I buy them a meal or coffee instead.

    The problem is a lot of young men and women don’t see the value in
    arming themselves with an education. We outsource millions of jobs yet
    abandon this nation’s greatest human resource, our youth.

    Until we see more taxpayers, our police and roads will continue to decay until
    we see a return of dirt roads and citizens armed with handguns like Marshals.

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