As budget cuts hit law-enforcement agencies across the country, residents are increasingly taking matters into their own hands by either joining town watches or hiring private security firms to keep neighborhood crime down, according to an article from Philly.com.
According to Robert Stokes, an associate professor at Drexel University who has studied private security in public places, 20 neighborhoods in Atlanta and at least four in Detroit have hired private guards. News reports show that other cities, including Chicago and Boston, have also hired private security forces, the article says.
Stockton, Calif., recently filed for bankruptcy and laid off 25 percent of its police force, the article reports. As burglaries spiked last year, residents in the Stockton neighborhood of Bours Park hired an armed guard to patrol the neighborhood, which led to a decline in break-ins.
There are three times more private security guards now as there are federal, state and local law-enforcement agents, says Dr. Simon Hakim, director of Temple University’s Center for Competitive Government. He added that the estimate does not include corporate security.
For the most part, private guards are cheaper than public police. On average, private security guards earn 47 percent less than sworn officers, Hakim says in the article. Former military or police officers who serve as private guards serve 30 percent less than public police.
Residents are also volunteering for town watches to help local police combat crime. There are currently about 20,000 town watches in the country and 5 million volunteers, says Matt Peskin, executive director of the Natural Association of Town Watch, adding that this is a “time when communities play a bigger role with the cutbacks … Crime prevention is always first to get hit,” he says in the article.
“There are two things we’re taught: You don’t get physically involved and weapons should never be involved,” Peskin says. “Generally, the outcome is not good when you carry a gun.”
Town Watch groups nationwide are adopting Peskin’s sentiments after neighborhood volunteer George Zimmerman allegedly took things a step too far when he pursued, shot and killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old who was passing through a gated community in Sanford, Fla., in February, the Philly.com article says.
Peskin says that at most a 9-1-1 call should be made if a volunteer witnesses a crime or sees something suspicious, remarking that he sends volunteers home if they arrive with even legally owned weapons.
“If you have a cellphone, that’s your weapon,” says Chris Tutko, director of Neighborhood Watch for the National Sheriffs’ Association.
Philadelphia’s Town Watch Integrated Services Office has a $619,222 budget and provides training and supplies to more than 700 Town Watch groups operating within the city, staffed by 20,000 unarmed volunteers, the article says.