5.06.2009

Oakland’s $80 million shortfall tempts city council to employ hired guns


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In an effort to mitigate crime and cut costs Oakland City Council has decided to hire a private armed security force to patrol troublesome neighborhoods. City Council member Ignacio De La Fuente is a leading advocate for this increasingly popular solution. Despite the initial savings a private law enforcement agency presents to the debt laden city this solution is not without fault.

International Services Inc. was Oakland's primary candidate. However, their questionable background forced the city to end all negotiations. The following is an excerpt from the Wall Street Journal.

Ousama Karawia, founder of the Torrance, Calif., company, and two of its vice presidents were accused last week by the Los Angeles District Attorney's office of defrauding the state of California out of more than $9 million in workers compensation. The suspects were arrested last week after a three month investigation, said Jane Robinson, a spokeswoman for the district attorney's office.

Undeterred by the ISI's public record the City Council continues to explore alternative private guard solutions. De La Fuente said, "There is still a very serious need for security in some of our more crime-plagued areas."

Oakland is en route to join numerous other cities that are tempted to use public money to pay private guards to perform public services. According to The Washington Post "The more than 1 million contract security officers, and an equal number of guards estimated to work directly for U.S. corporations, dwarf the nearly 700,000 sworn law enforcement officers in the United States."

Just as the military in Iraq was supplemented by Blackwater, and other private military firms, so US City Councils are supplementing domestic law enforcement with private security agencies. Some say this is a recent development. History would disagree. Private law enforcement solutions are a return to the Old West. It's 1881 and Sherrif Pat Garret has just deputized Wyatt Earp to catch Billy the Kid and his gang of Rustlers. The problem with this approach to crime of course is that Wyatt Earp is himself an ex-con.

Unlike rookie US soldiers Blackwater agents often have marred pasts unbeknownst to superior officers. They are not subjected to the background checks that a soldier endures. Your local police also endure an extensive background investigation prior to beginning their career as an officer. Yet George Holland Sr., lead attorney for the Oakland chapter of the NAACP might argue that even the police vetting process is not dynamic enough. He said, "Oakland, unfortunately, has had a history of treating the African-American community unfairly. The community has a great distrust for police officers because they feel they can't be punished."

If the city introduces another law enforcement entity with more lenient background requirements, less training, an equal or greater amount of bias, and fewer legal accountability tools than the OPD—the already broken relationship between citizen and law will be further exacerbated.

The violence in Oakland has been steadily declining since the fourth quarter of 2008. If the city, citizens and politicians alike, wishes to further diminish crime in this grand old city we must take a creative, cutting edge approach. Hired guns didn't work in medieval warfare and they won't work in the age of information either. Dr. Christine Gardiner of the Department of Criminology, Law and Society at University of California, Irvine would certainly agree.

"There are so many factors that affect both the economy and crime, that you can't get a causal link," Gardiner said. "It's a lot more complex than that. Crime rate is not a function of one particular thing, and the number of police per resident or population is not really related to the incidence of crime – there are neighborhood, area factors that go into it."





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