Thursday, October 17, 2013

Private patrols in the Temescal

They are coming.  The people involved made it very clear that they plan to recruit enough subscribers to start private patrols no matter what the rest of us think about it.  They considered the other concerns a "different meeting".  

This Thursday night a meeting was called in the the same church where we hold our Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) on the subject of private security patrols.  

The room had over 100 people in it and only 4 of us were African American.  A couple of us were Asians, including the woman who led the meeting, and a couple of us South Asians.  

As you might suspect, the meeting started with an intro from the private patrol proponent and a presentation from our 2nd police district police lieutenant that both focused on getting the bad guys.  

As the  conversation opened up we learned a lot of things including that a lot of the people in the room had serious misgivings against private police patrolling our streets.  

Those in favor of the patrols kept talking about "criminals" and crime abatement.  The word "youth" was never used, nor was the word "black".  Neither group spoke to the fact that most of those arrested for burglary and robbery in Oakland are black and brown youth.  Seemed sort of like talking about sex without discussing gender or genitals.  

The first thing I learned was about the services themselves.  Bay Alarm offers a service that does not cost much, and offers at least one patrol to pass by your home each day.  Others cost more and offer more.  Some services are armed and some are not.  

Hiring private patrols is a private affair.  The subscribers do it and then their homes are patrolled.  This requires no approval from anyone.  

That includes hiring armed private patrol officers.  If you get enough subscribers together, you can put an armed guard on our Oakland streets patrolling from subscriber home to subscriber home.  Somebody out there certifies and regulates these private security companies, not our city.

As people spoke some other things came out.  

First and foremost, that there is no evidence that private patrols reduce crime.  I thought of this as a very important point.  Does it even reduce crime for the subscribers?  Sounds like something I would like to know before shelling out a monthly subscriber fee.  But we did not get to discus that much.  This meeting was to talk about doing it, not to talk about if it should be done.  

In discussion circles I made the point that we would not even be holding this meeting if the Oakland Police and Oakland programs were not such an obvious failure.  People pro and con  agreed with that.  

A few people made the point that we are inviting the conditions that lead to racial profiling.  Some questions were asked about what happens when someone gets hurt or killed.  On my post-it I wrote "ANOTHER TRAYVON MARTIN" and placed it on one of the comment boards under "concerns".  I was not the only one with that concern.  

I really doubt that some private home patrols of unarmed security will matter much one way or another.  The top crimes in our area are muggings and breaking into cars.  I have a Bay Alarm account for my business, and I know how little that can do.  

I think that the bigger picture is the disintegration of another part of government.  We have this in the schools with the rush to private schools and charter schools.  The public schools will get left behind.  

Are we headed this way for our police and social services?  If they fail at crime will the rush to private security take away interest in fixing our police and their relationship to the community?  How long before homeowners start to ask for security vouchers?  

At the very best, it will mean better security for those that pay for it and less for those who can not or will not buy in.  Don't we already have a system by which we all pitch in and hire people to keep us all safe?  

Finally the meeting broke down to some hard words between those who would like to do something about our social problems versus those who want to do something about crime RIGHT NOW.  The concerns about profiling were sharp and sharply played down by others.  

The organizer then declared that they have 50 people so far, and as soon as they have 100 subscribers they will move forward.  This meeting for her was mostly to take in community concerns with the aim of choosing a private security firm.  

The four African Americans in the room, (other than the two in uniform carrying guns) were middle aged women.  They never spoke.    

On my way out I chatted with an OPD officer who declared that he only had one more year to go and planned to retire.  He was younger than I am, and I am 55. Besides letting us know that he lives outside of Oakland, he told us how he plans to get out of California after he retires.  His idea of a good place to go was Idaho because there one is allowed to have all the weapons one would wish.  

I left the meeting stunned again by how much is wrong here in Oakland around how we deal with our at risk youth and our community as a whole.  

P.S. Many of the people who spoke at the meeting about their fear of being singled out and treated like they do not belong by these private security guards were telling us that they are trans gender.  Normally I tend to think about black and brown youth when I think of who gets profiled, but these folk spoke to another truth.  From what I understand, the numbers back up what they say. 



  1. Thank you for going to this meeting, for speaking out and for writing this.

  2. I also look at private patrols, like private schools, as the result of government failure. Not for me to tell people they have to use public schools no matter how bad if they can figure out how to get into private schools that are actually better. Nor would I tell people they can't install burglar alarms or video cameras on their premises.

    Don't agree with what you see as the best and worst case outcomes of this. At best, street crime and burglaries decrease for everyone: renters, homeowners, kids walking to school. At worst, a security patrol person is shot by one of the plentiful gun waving teenagers and crime doesn't drop at all. And 100 households wasted say 30/month for 12 months.

    Yes, I could see how initially an unarmed private patrol would result in the hassling of innocent black teenage boys. But that would happen with neighborhood voluntary patrols as well, maybe even more so because most of the residents here are white or asian or latino and middlish class who'd be paranoid of any black teenager they didn't know. I'd expect a private patrol employee who most likely comes from poor background and most likely is a poc to be a much better judge of black teenagers than residents are.

    But I don't see the jump from that to saying that innocent black teenagers will be shot or arrested. That's an OPD problem that we have all failed to get our so called progressive public officials to deal with for over three decades.

    We've also failed so far to convince people in Oakland to organize to demand safe effective policing and programs from the City except on very limited issues. If this does reduce crime here, it just might give residents a sense of their own power, which they can apply to City officials on a range areas that Oakland fails at compared to similar cities in California such as Richmond.

    1. Len, I tend to agree with you on these points. I was not trying to write an analysis of the issue, just impressions of the meeting along with the questions it left me thinking about.

      I have no doubt that the danger of a private security guard getting hurt or killed is higher than the danger of someone being profiled or shot by a security guard. Neither should ever happen.

      Of course we should compare it to what is happening now. Kids get profiled by the Oakland Police now. At the same time, crime does not get prevented, stopped in the act or caught after the getaway. For the few we do arrest we fail to rehabilitate many.

      And yes we have failed to convince people to vote for people who would make the kind of changes Richmond has the courage to make and instead they voted for a guy who mailed them a sponge.

  3. Thanks Don for going to this meeting and reporting on it. We have much more to discuss about both making the neighborhood safe and about supporting teens and families of color in Oakland

    1. Thank YOU for organizing our neighbors walking nights and our National Night Out. My gut feeling is that more community and more relations with our neighbors is a good step for a healthier community in many ways.

  4. as pointed out by a couple of good natured people:

    Hey Don,
    I enjoyed reading your blog post re the Thursday meeting, but I think maybe you swapped "gentiles" for "genitals". Though I enjoy sex with Gentiles as much as the next guy.

    I'll fix it, but it seems a shame.

  5. As a Latina and long-term resident (15 yrs +) of Long Fellow, I am alarmed at the segregated nature of neighborhood organizing efforts. Knowing that folks turn to increase "policing" as a way to deal with issues of inequity only leads us down the path of feeding the fear. I would be interested in working to build alternatives to youth - getting schools to be open for midnight basket ball and having local residents volunteer to run those games. Or how about building alternative employment opportunities for youth - a worker co-op? Kids could be taught to garden, do other community projects, and outreach for community events. I would be down to commit to giving $$ to these efforts. I imagine that if instead of paying for short term – security, we could invest in the long term health of our neighborhood.

    poor folks were here before many of us got here, some poor folks are african american and latino, some are white - combating poverty and lack of opportunity, the root cause of property crime with increasing policing only leads to incarceration and death. Instead we can focus on building our community to be inclusive and innovative!

    1. When I was campaigning as candidate for city council last year I walked a lot of precincts in your area. You learn a lot about a place when you go down the streets and knock at most doors.

      I too came away convinced that we are very segregated in our neighborhood community organizing. In Longfellow I attended both a "community association" with no black people in the room and also went to a Basketball for Peace / backpacks for kids event organized by my fellow Green Theresa Anderson where almost no one was not African American.

      It was not that people were unwelcomed at either event, but each event was almost entirely composed of people of the same race. We see a lot of this in our day to day life. As a Spanish speaker myself, I often find myself the only white person at social events and meetings.

      We have a lot of bridges to build yet.