Wow! I expected my post about private security would generate a lot of interest, but not nearly this much. I wish so many people wanted to read about the candidate forums! That comments section is getting a little long, so I’m going add a few more thoughts, and give people a fresh place to be angry.
Anyway, the City Council approved the program last night, with no comment or discussion on the item.
I am very much in favor of using redevelopment funds to improve public safety, and I would like to see other redevelopment areas look at funding similar patrols. Hiring private security firms to provide the patrols doesn’t have to be a permanent solution. I know that Rebecca Kaplan has suggested previously that Oakland explore a program based on the Atlanta Ambassador Program, and I’m pretty sure I’ve heard Sean Sullivan talk about it as well, but I’m not 100% on that. Anyway, I know the suggestion has caused some confusion, with at least some people interpreting her plan as simply an expanded version of Jane Brunner’s Oakland Ambassadors plan, which involved paying at-risk youth to hang out at BART stations and walk people to their cars. They aren’t the same.
First, the Atlanta Ambassadors are adults, they are well trained, and they are full time City workers. They are unarmed foot patrols wearing distinctive (and kind of silly looking) helmets who walk downtown Atlanta. People can stop them and ask for directions and such, and they provide eyes on the street for the police, who they maintain radio contact with. During the first year of the patrols, downtown Atlanta saw a 60% reduction in crime.
I said yesterday in response to my first enraged comment that I’d be equally happy with the new patrols if they were unarmed, and I’d like to amend that now to say that I would prefer it, since it eliminates what appears to be most people’s objections to the program. Uniformed walking patrols, whether they have real power and authority or not, have proven to be an effective deterrent to crime – that’s why BIDs and neighborhood associations are hiring them. They provide eyes on the street for the police and discourage loitering, street drug dealing, and other low-level offenses that drive people away from commercial districts. There’s no reason that we couldn’t hire our own walking patrols that would work with the police (but not be staffed by sworn officers) instead of using a private security company. These positions would be more expensive than outsourced patrols, but cheaper than regular police and require less training. Philadelphia did it, and it’s been a huge success.