Cash-Strapped Cities Try Private Guards Over Police

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

The Oakland City Council recently voted to hire International Services Inc., a private security agency, to patrol crime-plagued districts:

Hiring private guards is less expensive than hiring new officers. Oakland — facing a record $80 million budget shortfall — spends about 65% of its budget for police and fire services, including about $250,000 annually, including benefits and salary, on each police officer.

In contrast, for about $200,000 a year the city can contract to hire four private guards to patrol the troubled East Oakland district where four on-duty police officers were killed in March. And the company, not the city, is responsible for insurance for the guards.

This immediately raises a question: Why are private guards so much cheaper? The article doesn’t say. John Robb notes that Oakland’s mistake is trying this on a city wide level — where the unions can shut it down.

Research shows that private guards work:

In the 1990s, retailers in crime-plagued locales began to organize business improvement districts, which collected fees for area enhancements, including hiring armed guards who functioned as backups to local police.

A February study of the 30 improvement districts in the downtown Los Angeles region said districts with the guards register significantly less crime than areas without them. Conducted by the Rand Corp., a policy research organization based in Santa Monica, Calif., the study found that from 1994 to 2005, violent crime dropped on average 8% more compared with the rest of the city during that period.

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