As cities are forced to lay off police officers for budgetary reasons, some residents are responding by hiring private security guards.
Doug Mosher, an Oakland resident says “At its current staffing level, [the police] are just unable to provide regular patrols up in the neighborhoods.” The result has been an increase in break ins and crime. But residents–primarily those in upscale neighborhoods who are frequent targets–are fighting back. Hiring private security is one way to fill in the gaps left behind by city layoffs.
Oakland, for instance, has a high murder rate but “laid off 80 police officers in 2010.” Upscale neighborhoods in Atalanta and Detroit are also part of the growing trend toward private cops. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the number of people employed in private security will “grow by about 19 percent – from 1 million to 1.2 million guards” by 2020.
There is evidence that private security works. A study published in 2011 demonstrated that deploying private security guards cut crime in a Los Angeles business district where they were deployed. However there are also some unresolved issues to be worked out. For instance, are private guards allowed to carry guns and if so under what circumstances would they be allowed to use them?
A professor from Western Illinois University suggests that one negative outcome of the new trend will be a potential increase in civil lawsuits. Professor Seugmug Lee believes “Legal issues [are] the major challenges to private security companies and security patrol. We don’t have a universal guideline or … lawunlike the public police.”