By Sara Hossaini

Oakland police near the department's downtown headquarters. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Oakland police near the department’s downtown headquarters. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images) (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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.

Listen to the story below.

  • Your Mirror Image

    I suppose some of those affluent types might not want to pay an additional tax, that is, if they NEVER plan on leaving their home and neighborhood.

    But normal people (even the affluent) have to occasionally go to the store, go to the park or get to work and it would seem foolish for them to not support anti-crime tax money.

    • Someguy

      I’ve also heard rumors that some affluent people have a heart.

      • Your Mirror Image

        I’ve heard rumors that many of those people stole that heart to replace their defective one.

    • lenraphael

      The City has been it’s own worst enemy on Measure Y. It abused the trust of the voters when the City won a lawsuit several years ago affirming that all it had to was budget for 60 police, not actually hire the cops. The judge pointed out that there is no truth in lending law for politicians and ballot propositions.

      Residents who contribute to the private patrols understand very well that patrols cannot replace an effective police department and that patrol do nothing to fix the underlying causes of extraordinarily high personal and property crime in many parts of Oakland compared to ether cities of similar demographics.

      Residents will continue to organize private patrols as we are in Temescal, as long as city politicians ignore the well earned mistrust by residents that Measure Y on how the existing tax money is spent.

      Look at the very recent KPIX poll where only 10% s agreed with the statement “tax dollars you pay for police protection are well spent.” e tax dollars you pay for police protection are well spent? Or not well spent

      • OhSay CanuSee

        An interesting argument, if I were in a high school debate class.

        But what you overlook is that those who hire their own “private patrols” better be fiscally ready to handle any lawsuits once one of those patrol people shoot a kid in the back like Mehserle did or do a Zimmerman on a hooded teen.

        Now that I think about it, private patrols might be the way to go for you. That way, you are on the hook for millions in jury cases, not me and the Oakland residents.


  • Justin Horner

    Two thoughts here: 1) the city commissioned poll above showed stronger support for the ballot measure from “hills” voter than from “flats” voters. This seems to run counter to the message Im inferring from the title of this piece. 2) Even if every household paying for private security voted against any measure, I doubt that would be enough to tip the balance, either way, in an actual election. I think it would be possible to do a rough estimate of the number of likely voters who are paying for security. Id guess the number is under 600, but Im just grabbing that out of the sky. No poll shows win/loss depending on such a slim margin (again, assuming they all vote No).

  • OhSay CanuSee

    It’s hilariously sad that the above article about Mayor Quan has ‘comments closed’. Just goes to show you how bad politicians and lame news outlets work together to thwart democracy and public opinion.


    And Quan has to go like “yesterday”.

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