NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


April 22, 2009

Facing pressure to crack down on crime amid a record budget deficit, Oakland is joining other U.S. cities that are turning over more law-enforcement duties to private armed guards, says the Wall Street Journal.

The City Council recently voted to hire International Services Inc., a private security agency, to patrol crime-plagued districts.  While a few Oakland retail districts have pooled cash to pay for unarmed security services, using public funds to pay for armed guards would mark a first for the city. 

Yet, hiring private guards is less expensive than hiring new officers, says the Journal:

  • Oakland -- facing an $80 million budget shortfall -- spends 65 percent of its budget for police and fire services, including benefits and salary, on each police officer.
  • In contrast, for about $200,000 a year the city can contract to hire 4 private guards to patrol the troubled East Oakland district where 4 on-duty police officers were killed in March.

Oakland police say they consider unarmed guards acceptable, but don't support armed guards.  However, some local leaders say that they have few other options to reduce the city's violence.  And they are not alone in seeking to improve public safety while reining in spending, says the Journal:

  • Districts in downtown Los Angeles with guards register significantly less crime than areas without them; from 1994-2005, violent crime dropped an average 8 percent more compared with the rest of the city during that period.
  • Some areas of New Orleans have used armed private patrols since 1997 and neighborhood committees are seeking to expand special tax incentives to pay for private security for neighborhood patrols.
  • The Chicago City Council, facing a possible $200 million budget deficit, proposed expanding the responsibilities of private armed security forces by authorizing them to write traffic citations.

Source: Bobby White, "Cash-Strapped Cities Try Private Guards Over Police," Wall Street Journal, April 21, 2009.

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