By Sara Hossaini
Lifelong Oaklander Karen Flynn lives on a charming street in the affluent Upper Rockridge neighborhood with her husband and two giant enthusiastic dogs.
She’s part of a three-person neighborhood subcommittee looking into hiring private security patrols. That’s despite the big dogs and the fact she already has a Bay Alarm home security system. She says they used to make her feel safe.
“I felt that way before, until all this started happening,” Flynn says.
By “all this,” she means stories circulated on neighborhood listservs, like the one about a woman on her street who was tied up in her home and robbed.
She’s convinced that a nearby neighborhood’s new private security patrols are driving criminals into her area. Flynn says considering private security for her own community is not just about personal safety. She says she’s also concerned about property values.
“It’s really expensive to live here,” she says, “and you don’t want to your investment to get messed with by people who want to just steal loose change from your car. It just seems ridiculous. But you know it could start there and then it can escalate into people tying you up in your house.”
Concerns like those expressed by Flynn — about safety, home values and the impact of a growing number of private security firms monitoring Oakland’s more affluent neighborhoods — could play a prominent role as Oakland city official ask voters to renew Measure Y, a property assessment that funds more than 60 police officers and a wide array of community crime-prevention programs.
Ariel Bierbaum lives in the Lower Rockridge area, one of the neighborhoods that has contracted for security patrols. She says she supports Measure Y and fears that residents who have started paying for their own security won’t support it any longer.
“I worry that people are going to not be interested in funding Measure Y because they feel like they’re already paying out of pocket for something that they feel like is providing a better service,” Bierbaum says.
North Oakland police Capt. Anthony Toribio says no one should mistake private security as a replacement for city police. He says they have distinctly different roles. “It’s important to remember that the job of security is to observe and report,” Toribio says. “The job of police is to investigate and arrest. And those are two different things.”
Randy Price, a retired Piedmont police officer, is president of Premiere Protective Services, one of the many private firms monitoring Oakland streets. While I accompanied him on a tour of the Rockridge neighborhood, we encountered a situation he said highlights the difference between how his staffers and police officers might respond to an incident on the street.
On a busy thoroughfare, a man passed by shouting profanities. He was so erratic that people crossed the street to avoid him. I asked Price: What would your security patrol officer do?
“That’s a perfect question,” Price said, adding that the officer would probably just keep an eye on the man. “Kind of follow him in the car,” Price said. “He’s not gonna get out on foot, we don’t do that. But if he does something aggressive, he’s going to call OPD.”
In fact, the working relationship between the private security operatives and the police is becoming more formal. Security firms are now meeting with Oakland police on a regular basis to share crime statistics and compare notes.
Franklin Zimring, a UC Berkeley Law School professor and expert on criminal justice trends, says he believes Oaklanders who pay for private security may also support extending Measure Y.
“You cannot assume that it’s a zero sum game between private security and public security,” Zimring says. “It may be that the people who care about community safety are willing to invest in both directions.”
A recent city-commissioned poll suggests a large majority of Oakland voters are willing to extend Measure Y — up to a point.
The poll found that 82 percent of those surveyed would vote for continuing the existing $98 a year parcel tax that pays for Measure Y programs. But faced with a continuing siege of violent crime — mostly far away from affluent neighborhoods like Rockridge — and an epidemic of property crime that has beset the entire city — some have called for doubling the tax to $196 a year. The poll finds that just 53 percent of voters support that idea, far short of the two-thirds support the tax measure will need to pass.
The City Council is expected to decide on the specifics of the tax measure this summer.
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