By Katie Nielsen

OAKLAND (KPIX) — Some stores in Oakland are paying upwards of $100 per hour for off-duty police officers to provide security after crime rates spiked in the past few months.

The East Bay Times reported Thursday that Walgreens and Target are the latest stores in Oakland to hire off-duty officers.

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Often stores have a squad car parked out front but it’s not an officer that should be on patrol. It’s an officer that is working overtime — off-duty — as private security who is paid for by the store itself.

“Hire an officer at $100-per-hour overtime to protect and patrol their businesses,” said Oakland city councilmember Noel Gallo, as he described the program.

Councilmember Gallo says this was a last resort for these businesses as they were tired of dealing with shoplifting and attacks on employees almost daily.

Gallo says the program started a few years ago after conversations with Home Depot leadership where they said they needed the city’s help dealing with the issues at the store near Fruitvale Avenue or they would leave.

“When they say we’re leaving, that means they would take 325 jobs — of entry level people that live in the neighborhood,” Gallo said.

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The store worked out a deal with the city where it could hire off-duty officers to help. Shoppers say it has made a difference.

“In the past week, I’ve gone to San Leandro Home Depot probably five times,” said Richele Middlebrooks. She has lived in Oakland for almost eight years and is now getting her house ready to sell. She said she was willing to drive farther to go to Home Depot in San Leandro because she didn’t feel safe coming to the store nearest her house.

She said she finally gave in on Wednesday and returned to the Oakland store for the first time in more than a year. She said she did feel safer and was willing to come back again — especially after seeing there were officers always at the store.

“They have that training to be able to deal with different types of situations,” she said.

Councilmember Gallo says public safety has to be a top priority for Oakland and acknowledges that, typically, only big-box stores can afford to pay $100 an hour to hire off-duty police officers as private security.

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Gallo says he is setting up a Zoom meeting next week to meet with business owners and the police department to try to come up with solutions.