The quiet but vibrant Telegraph Avenue in the northwest side of Temescal is lined with busy coffee shops, small candlelit restaurants and thrift shops. It is a prime location for mugging — mostly cell phone snatching — in a neighborhood that is seeing robberies go up. The response to these crimes is dividing the neighborhood.
Some residents have banded together in an effort to hire private security patrols, like the neighborhoods of Rockridge and Maxwell Park. Supporters of private security, like business owner Ellen Kim, claim that patrols are only one component in an effort to make some residents feel safe again. Emi Kane, an opponent of private security, wants neighbors to come together and address the social and economic issues fueling the increase in crime.
At a community meeting in mid-October the two camps clashed.
Kim is a longtime resident of the area and owns a flower shop in Temescal. She first got involved after reading several articles about other neighborhoods that were bringing in private security patrols to prevent crime. She contacted Scott Vermeire, another local businessman who at the time coordinated efforts. She reached out to him, wanting to investigate the issue further.
“I don’t think security patrols are a solution to all of Oakland’s crime problems,” Kim said, but she added she wants “to try something. I feel like our neighborhood needs to try something.”
Kane has lived in Temescal for only two years, but she has been living in the East Bay on and off since 1999. She works with various Oakland schools and wants to discuss alternatives to private security, like more streetlights and supporting local community-based organizations.
“This neighborhood is changing rapidly,” said Kane. “You can’t talk about that without connecting the dots with poverty and displacement and the accelerated gentrification of the neighborhood.”
Before the October meeting, the contentious issue of private security had been discussed in Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council meetings, online neighborhood forums, and chat groups. After a lightly attended NCPC meeting in September that touched on private security, co-chair Lee Edwards helped set up another meeting in October that expressly addressed the issue.
Edwards explained that the NCPC is not heading the private security efforts; it is only facilitating the discussion.
About 200 flyers were posted throughout the neighborhood that read, “Join the discussion to bring into Temescal Private Security Patrols.”
“I think they thought it would be a recruitment event,” said Kane, who was at the meeting.
Kim, one of the meeting organizers, did expect a more approving crowd. “In our minds it wasn’t going to be a debate,” said Kim.
The goal of the meeting, attended by 70 to 80 people, was a point of confusion for some. Kim was looking forward to getting community input in deciding next steps in the implementation of security.
But Kane said that many other attendees thought the meeting was only to discuss the prospect of security patrols. When opponents found out the meeting organizers were going to move forward, despite their concerns, some expressed frustration.
Several residents spoke about their concerns over racial profiling, especially after the death of Trayvon Martin, a Florida teenager gunned down by a neighborhood watch volunteer.
During the meeting, a Latino resident and a transgender resident questioned the safety of those that do not fit the description of an “average citizen.” Both spoke to the idea that they could be considered outsiders in their own neighborhood and would actually feel less safe with private security.
“I believe that increasing police presence in a neighborhood only increases safety for some people,” said Kane.
A major bone of contention, is whether to have armed guards or un-armed.
But whether guards are armed or unarmed, Kane said she is worried about the potential “militarization” of her neighborhood.
Proponents view things differently.
“I personally don’t think it’s detrimental to the neighborhood,” said Kim. She added that “people are going to want to do it, and those people are going to pay for the service and move forward.”
Oakland Police Lieutenant Chris Bolton was at the meeting and shared crime statistics for the area. During the meeting, Bolton acknowledged that crime displacement exists and that it affects OPD’s patrol strategies.
Some residents have organized and are planning on hosting another meeting with neighbors who are against private security patrols. They know they cannot stop residents from signing up to hire private security, but they want to start a conversation about gentrification, displacement, and education in Temescal.
“Since the meeting, I’ve stopped being involved in the process,” said Scoot Vermeire, who was one of the speakers in the October meeting. The issue has become too contentious.
With or without a neighborhood consensus, Kim said they will move forward. She has already talked to some security companies, but wants to continue doing research.
“We are going to start talking to other security companies to find out how they operate,” she said.