Many opting for security guards, not cops E-mail
Written by Mark Nichols   

Here’s how disaster capitalism works. First you say something like “government is not a solution. It can only be a problem.” You repeat that for several decades until even government employees buy into the idea. Then you cut funding for government functions like local law enforcement. When the cuts create entirely predictable problems, you then use those problems as evidence that “the system is broken.” Enter “private sector solutions.” According to a recent article in the Christian Science Monitor, budget cuts in Oakland have led to a shortage of cops on the beat.

And now that residents are aware of the reductions in manpower and coverage, the ones who have the means are going the non-government route. Some of the city’s more affluent neighborhoods have turned to unarmed security guards to take the place of the sworn, trained personnel who used to patrol their neighborhoods.

Just after residents of neighborhoods like Oakmore or Piedmont Pines leave for work in the morning, security companies send their employees to ward off burglars looking to take advantage of unattended homes.

“With less law enforcement on the streets and more home crime or perception of home crime, people are wanting something to replace that need,” says Chris de Guzman, chief operating officer of First Alarm, a company that provides security to about 100 homes in Oakland. “That’s why they’re calling us and bringing companies like us aboard to provide that deterrent.”

Oakland is hardly a unique situation.

Across the country the security guards that were once seen only in shopping malls and gated communities are now increasingly present on city streets, doing the work once handled by certified cops.

But although private security guards have been used by homeowners associations and commercial districts for years, the trend of groups of neighbors pooling money to contract private security for their streets is something new.

Besides Oakland, neighborhoods in Atlanta and Detroit have hired firms to patrol their neighborhoods, says Steve Amitay, executive director of the National Association of Security Contractors.

Mr. Amitay is a very busy man these days.

“It’s happening everywhere,” Mr. Amitay told reporters.

“Municipal governments and cities are really getting strapped in terms of their resources, and when a police department cuts 100 officers obviously they are going to respond to less crimes.”

And this is just the tip of the iceberg, both in terms of impending police layoffs and the subsequent markets those lost jobs open up for private interests

Revenue into cities has drooped every year since 2007, according to the National League of Cities.

Oakland, despite struggling with one of the highest murder rates in the nation and monitors from the Department of Justice, laid off 80 police officers in 2010.

Sgt. Arturo Bautista, a department spokesman says the change in the level of service has not gone unnoticed.

“Because of the short staff and the calls for service, officers are pretty much going from call to call to call,” he said.

In other words, there’s very little time for a two-man unit to baby sit a wealthy neighborhood that recently had one break in.  

The growth in the private security industry is expected to mirror the explosive growth in recent years in the for-profit prison industry. Analysts project that the private security industry is projected to grow by about 19 percent in coming years. Most of that growth will come because private firms are doing jobs once held by law enforcement.

If you ask residents which they would prefer —cops or guards — they invariably choose trained police officers. But agreeing to a tax hike that would raise the money to pay for them is another story.

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