Residents of a large Houston neighborhood grew tired of the crime and slow police responses plaguing their subdivision and decided to find a solution.
The Oak Forest subdivision, the third largest neighborhood in Houston, has experienced a rash of car and home break-ins.
Resident Tracy Brandon and her daughter were victims in April. The crooks left them with $20,000 in damage and stolen property, and the police response was slow:
“I called 911 twice, it took about 45 minutes for H.P.D. to get there,” Brandon said. “It is scary. We didn’t come home for three days and it was really hard to explain to her what happened.”
The homeowners in the area collaborated to hire a private security company to protect their neighborhood.
The cost of a one-year security contract with S.E.A.L., a private security company that offers certified K-9 handlers who carry guns and batons and are trained to detain suspects for police, was $200,000. In six weeks’ time, the residents raised $216,000 through fundraisers, corporate donations, and homeowners’ fees to pay for the service. Residents who could not afford to pay their share of the cost for the security were covered by “angels”.
S.E.A.L. Director of Operations James Alexander told KHOU 11 News that the company currently guards 45 Houston subdivisions and business is growing.
I think over the last couple of years we’ve seen a 30-40% in providing security for homeowners’ associations.
Hiring private security firms to improve public safety is not a new concept. In the US, there are more people working in private security than in all police forces combined. Private security employment has been growing faster over the last three decades and is expected to grow by 19 percent from 2010 to 2020.
Police departments are not immune from budget cuts, and citizens are taking matters into their own hands to ensure their neighborhoods stay safe. Robert Stokes, an associate professor at Drexel University who has studied private security, said “These neighborhoods feel like they have no other choice.”
Stokes said 20 neighborhoods in Atlanta and at least four in Detroit have hired private guards. Many other cities – including Chicago and Boston – also have hired private security services.
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After Stockton, CA, filed for bankruptcy and laid off 25 percent of its police force in 2009, a sharp increase in burglaries prompted residents in the neighborhood of Bours Park to hire an armed guard to watch over their homes. The result? A decline in break-ins.
Private security guards offer a far less costly option than expanding a police force.
In 2009, Oakland, CA was facing a budget shortfall of around $80 million. About 65% of its budget was used for police and fire services. Each police officer cost the city around $250,000 annually, including benefits and salary.
Compare that to the $200,000 a year the city can contract to hire four private guards to patrol a district.
Crime in Oakland has increased dramatically in recent years. Robberies are up 54 percent from 2011, burglaries are up almost 40 percent, and vehicle thefts have increased by 33 percent, according to police records.
Residents of some Oakland neighborhoods have been hiring private security companies to watch over their homes. Some have found a creative way to gather the funds needed to pay for the services:
A subset of Oakland, California residents have decided to “crowdfund” security services for their neighborhoods, via a trio of campaigns on a crowdfunding website named Crowdtilt. The three patrols, if adequately funded, will cover Lower Rockridge North/West, Lower Rockridge South/West, and Lower Rockridge “including part of the Uplands.” Each campaign has a different sponsor, and wants between $20,000 and $25,000 to make the dream of private patrols a reality. (source)
A small town in Minnesota was paying about $23,000 a month for police services from a neighboring city. To save money, the town hired General Security Services Corporation, a private security provider, to take over police work. This resulted in a savings of about $7,000 per month.
The Rand Corp., a policy research organization, conducted a study of the 30 improvement districts in the downtown Los Angeles region. The study showed that districts with private security guards experienced significantly less crime than areas without them. From 1994 to 2005, violent crime dropped on average 8% more compared with the rest of the city during that period.
Chuck Wexler, head of the Police Executive Research Forum, a police think tank in Washington, D.C., said private security patrols are “a sign of the times.”
“Cities are cash-strapped, and they are finding it difficult to keep up with the costs of a municipal police force,” Wexler said. “And if you want more police, you really have to ask yourself this question: What are cities prepared to do?”
Perhaps a privately-funded police force would be less expensive and more effective for every city:
As Margaret Mead, the American cultural anthropologist, famously said:
Never depend upon institutions or government to solve any problem. All social movements are founded by, guided by, motivated and seen through by the passion of individuals.
Lily Dane is a staff writer for The Daily Sheeple, where this first appeared. Her goal is to help people to “Wake the Flock Up!”