Security Patrols to Continue in 2016

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Did you know that lower Rockridge is patrolled by professionally trained private security guards in marked vehicles more than 100 hours every week? These patrols are coordinated by the nonprofit group Safer Rockridge and funded by more than 560 residents and five commercial sponsors, including Rockridge Market Hall, Cole Hardware, Daniel Stea/Stea Realty Group, Ron Kriss/Lawton Associates, and Simon & Saraya Motley/The Motley Team.

Safer Rockridge formed two years ago during the perfect storm of a major economic downturn and the evisceration of Oakland Police Department (OPD) services by budget cuts. Since the group's inception, its mission has evolved, but essential services remain the same: Safer Rockridge provides neighborhood security patrols, vacation watch services, an escort service, and a monthly newsletter to everyone in the service area, free of charge. To cover expenses, contributions in the suggested amount of $30 per month are requested from residents of the service areas willing to provide support.

The objective of the patrols is to create a visible security presence that deters crime in the neighborhood during peak crime hours. Always unarmed, patrol officers operate under a strict policy prohibiting racial profiling. Although the patrols serve primarily as passive eyes and ears, patrol officers have been responsible for a small number of arrests and have assisted residents to deter crimes in progress. Patrol officers also occasionally assist OPD with reports and information. A statistical analysis performed using public data in November 2014 suggested the patrols contribute to a notable reduction in crime.

Due partly to its use of crowdfunding to begin operations, Safer Rockridge has received international attention, including a National Public Radio (NPR) news story and a soon-to-be-released story in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Gazette. Safer Rockridge also has worked with communities across the country to help set up similar programs.

Despite many plaudits, the patrols have generated some controversy. Initial concerns were that the patrols would be armed, would use racial profiling, would cause a reduction in police attention to the neighborhood, wouldn't be accountable to the community, and would change the fabric of the neighborhood. The all-volunteer directors of Safer Rockridge have worked to minimize these concerns, and have sought opportunities to listen to and address community concerns.

As part of this ongoing campaign to be a responsible community member, Safer Rockridge polled its 900-member email list in December, its second anniversary, garnering 210 responses.

Highlights of the survey reveal:

  • 94 percent of respondents are happy/satisfied with the patrols
  • 95 percent see no negative changes in the community as a result of the patrols
  • 75 percent feel safer since the patrols started
  • 87 percent want the patrols to continue for another year; 33 percent agree that an important goal of Safer Rockridge is to establish criteria for ending the patrols
  • 78 percent find the escort service; 85 percent find the vacation watch; and 76 percent find the monthly newsletter useful.
  • Although the patrol cars travel over virtually every street in the covered area 2-3 times a day (confirmed by daily GPS tracking), 44 percent report rarely or never seeing the patrol cars on their street
  • 75 percent believe that patrol officers should make citizens' arrests for property crimes, including, if necessary, using reasonable force as permitted by law
  • 71 percent feel that the patrol officers should not be armed
  • 65 percent want patrol hours to be increased.

Among survey respondents, 83 percent are homeowners, 11 percent are renters, and 6 percent are business owners and "other."

Considering the survey results, Safer Rockridge will continue to operate at least through the end of 2016, and the patrols will continue to be unarmed.

Despite respondents' desire for more citizen's arrests, Safer Rockridge feels the patrols should emphasize passive enforcement absent immediate threat of injury to a person. That said, this policy is under review. Additional issues raised by poll data are also under consideration.

Safer Rockridge shares the goal of increased patrol hours, but hours are constrained by the amount of contributions. While most supporters pay monthly using PayPal deductions, others pay at irregular intervals by check or credit card, so total monthly contributions (and thus, patrol hours) fluctuate.