As crime rates soar in Oakland, a growing number of city residents are turning to private security guards to protect their neighborhoods.
The San Francisco Chronicle reports that neighbors are banding together to hire security guards to patrol streets, scare off criminals or report suspicious activity to police.
In recent years, the city of about 400,000 residents has seen sharp increases in assaults, robberies, carjackings and home invasions that coincided with reductions in its police force.
Police records show that since 2011 auto thefts in Oakland have increased 33 percent, burglaries have risen nearly 40 percent and robberies have jumped 54 percent.
Oakland officials say putting more officers on the streets is a top priority. Since January 2009, the cash-strapped city has cut the size of its police force from 830 to 615 officers.
"It is unfortunate that people feel forced to do this. We want a fully staffed police department," said Sean Maher, a spokesman for Mayor Jean Quan.
In the Sequoyah Hills neighborhood, about 45 residents spend $20 a month each to have private security officers patrol the streets.
"They have this type of security in buildings. I don't see why we shouldn't have it in our neighborhood," said Mary Graham, a retired Oakland high school teacher.
Elizabeth Caprini, general manager of VMA Security Group, estimates her firm will be guarding 500 homes in Oakland by November.
"Homes are getting broken into, drug dealing and prostitution are taking place," Caprini said. "All that people want is to be able to use our services to be their eyes and ears for them."
Councilwoman Libby Schaaf said residents shouldn't have to hire security guards to have peace of mind.
"Oaklanders deserve more safety, and to the extent that citizens can generate it for themselves and their neighborhood, I applaud that effort," Schaaf said. "But it does not excuse the city for failing to provide the most basic element of government. It is not a substitute."
Watchdogs are questioning an exclusive agreement between the City of Oakland and a non-profit group, tapped to lead a multi-million dollar project to redevelop the area around the Coliseum BART station.