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Oakland Residents Hold Fundraiser To Hire Security Guards

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Police at the intersection of Ivanhoe and Chabot roads in Oakland’s Rockridge neighborhood, July 14, 2011. (CBS)

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OAKLAND (CBS SF) — A fundraiser to hire private security guards in Oakland’s Rockridge neighborhood has raised thousands of dollars as a short-term solution to rising crime in the area.

Resident Paul Liu, an economist at Google, started the campaign through crowd funding website Crowdtilt after an armed robbery at a casual carpool pickup location near Claremont Avenue and Hudson Street on the morning of Sept. 23.

Oakland police arrested a male juvenile and 22-year-old Delante Johnson for the robbery.

The incident was the “last straw” for Liu, who has lived in Rockridge for more than eight years, because it happened to a large group of people during rush hour in broad daylight.

“I could sense that something needed to be done,” he said.

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So he set up the CrowdTilt campaign for residents to hire guards through VMA Security Group which he said is used by city merchants associations and businesses.

A minimum of 100 households is required to sign up to cover security guards’ fees during a four-month trial period that will start Nov. 4 through the end of February.

At least $8,200 was needed to pay VMA Security Group, which charges each household $20 per month, and the campaign required a minimum contribution of $80 for the trial period plus a $2.50 charge for Crowdtilt.

The security guards will travel in black Ford Crown Victoria sedans for 12-hour shifts on weekdays with occasional foot patrols, but can only report in-progress incidents to Oakland police.

The guards can ensure the safety of involved parties but their abilities are limited to those of a concerned citizen, Liu said.

Liu’s campaign covers areas of north and west Lower Rockridge roughly bordered by Woolsey Street, College and Telegraph avenues and state Highway 24.

The campaign ended on Wednesday and raised nearly $21,000 with 226 households signed up.

“We all hope this a short-term band aid solution to reduce crime in the area. We don’t know for sure if this will help. I think we’re going to evaluate where things are in a few months,” Liu said.

Two other Crowdtilt campaigns have been set up covering other regions of Rockridge and VMA Security Group would collectively patrol all three areas.

A second campaign by residents David Groves and Justin Horner covering south and west regions of Lower Rockridge stretches from Highway 24, Telegraph Avenue, 51st Street and a large portion of Broadway.

Groves and Horner’s fundraiser ended on Thursday and raised more than $27,000 yielding 278 households.

Residents Steve Kirsh and Nathalie Jans started a third campaign running from The Uplands, and Miles and College avenues. Kirsh and Jans’ fundraiser continues through Oct. 31.

Many people are aware of the campaign through word of mouth, door-to-door canvassing, flyers, and neighborhood email lists, Liu said.

City Councilman Dan Kalb, who has lived in Rockridge for more than eight years, isn’t advocating or objecting to the security effort because it is a matter by private citizens.

“These private security guards will help deter crime by their visibility and may be trained but they have no more authority to do anything than you or I. They’re not police officers,” Kalb said.

He has also told organizers that he would prefer the security guards to be unarmed which Liu said will be included in the contract with VMA Security Group.

Kalb’s district includes Rockridge and he held a public safety meeting for the neighborhood on Oct. 9 with Oakland police Chief Sean Whent and Capt. Anthony Toribio.

There is a shortage of officers in the police department but Kalb said he hopes the private security guards won’t become a permanent solution to neighborhood crime.

Kirsh, who works in business development for digital agencies, said, “There’s a real deficit and we’re trying to complement the police who have their hands tied up.”

More than 300 people attended the Oct. 9 meeting where the crowd funding campaign was discussed, Liu said.

Attorney Nicole Aruda said she and a group of community members are concerned that there isn’t enough dialogue between organizers and the entire neighborhood.

“I feel like the crowd funding campaign short circuited this whole democratic process in that there was no true outreach to the greater community. This was a campaign waged through social media,” she said.

The diversity in the neighborhood, such as socioeconomic differences, may prevent some people from access to the campaign’s websites, she said.

“There are some folks who are not entirely happy about the process but we’re all feeling this out. At the end of the day this is a private action by interested persons,” Liu said.

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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