OAKLAND -- As police resources continue to tighten throughout the city, an increasing number of neighborhoods in the hills have begun to take security into their own hands by hiring private companies to patrol their streets.
A few weeks ago, it was reported that even Mayor Jean Quan's own Oakmore neighborhood had hired a private security firm to patrol streets after a rash of brazen daytime break-ins in the area.
However, the Oakmore neighborhood was far from the first neighborhood to hire private security. The number of Oakland communities relying on private companies to keep them safe has been snowballing in the past couple of years.
Limor Margalit, a sales manager for Bay Alarm confirmed that his company is providing private patrol services to many neighborhoods throughout the city -- including Montclair, Redwood Heights and Rockridge -- from Berkeley to the San Leandro borders. Margalit reported that their business in the area has nearly doubled in the past year alone.
While Bay Alarm is not the only company offering private patrol services, Bay Alarm is estimated to be the largest such company, employing 20 patrol professionals to service contracts in the city.
"Private patrols are a great way for neighbors to supplement police service and replace the eyes on the street that used to be home during the workday," said District 4 Councilmember Libby Schaaf. "However, they are not a substitute for police officers."
Margalit said: "We are not the police. We are not chasing down suspects. We don't pretend to be the police. We will call the police. We have a relationship with the police. We work closely with them."
"Private security is extra eyes and ears out on the street for us," said the Oakland police spokeswoman Johnna Watson. "We look at it as a partnership. Even with a couple of hundred more officers, we can't be on every block around the clock. Individuals investing private security to deter and reduce crime, that's helpful for everyone."
Residents are opting for a variety of services including random patrols, camera surveillance, vacation checks, and escorts from car-to-house, especially late at night.
Residents are tackling their needs through homeowner associations, neighborhood watch groups, on their own, or with a few neighbors. Depending on the package of services, residents are paying around $30 a month, Margalit said.
The Piedmont Pines Neighborhood Association has been a proponent of hiring private security services, said Robbie Neely, the group's administrator. Neighborhoods in the area first began looking at private patrols as the result of a number of break-ins in their community in the summer of 2011.
"Given the police department's staffing, neighbors felt they had to do something bigger and bolder," Neely said. "Break-ins compared to homicides. I get that."
There has not been a single break-in reported in these areas since subscribing to private patrol services, Neely said.
Watson confirmed that the department has seen a reduction in crime in neighborhoods with private security and have been helpful to solve cases.
"Security cameras have provided video footage of suspects," Watson said. "This has been very helpful."
Joe Tuman of Make Oakland Better Now found the situation of private security patrols "extremely troubling."
Tuman said: "The fact that people are concerned about the level of service they are getting, or not getting, that they feel they have to go out and engage the private sector says less about them, than about what the government isn't doing for them. This is a basic government responsibility.
"If you want safety, you have to pay for it," Tuman continued. "What's the message to people that can't pay? It increases the divide. Our public safety has become a political issue in Oakland. It should never be. I think this is a huge problem."
Schaaf agreed: "Citizens of Oakland deserve to feel that the city is doing a better job in ensuring their safety. I hope to develop more of shared vision about how to address crime."