Private security divides Temescal

Poster for the community meeting

Poster of the community meeting by resident Emi Kane.

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.

11 Comments

  1. Mike Jones

    No guns, no way. Something like Downtown has that’s fine.

  2. Terry Christian

    Two year residents complaining about gentrification and displacement give me a headache. First rule is always do no harm, but if you’re a new resident who doesnt want the community to change, you have to realize you’re part of the problem, right? Moving is a good first step and something you can actually control

    At the end of the day, lefties strive to create some reality where they get to pick and choose who gets to live in a neighborhood. Thats just not the way it works; and frankly it shouldnt. The fact that one of organizers is a local business owner and woman of color wont change their POV, Im sure.

    Despite all the talk about “community,” certain lefties will only be satisfied until they get their way. They cannot imagine that actual community sentiment could be different than their own desires. They will not accept anything they do not ideologically agree with, not even as an experiment. They will keep carping about “the community” not being heard when it’s really “Im not getting my way.”

  3. Emi Kane

    Hi there -

    I am the 2 year resident of Temescal who is quoted in the article. While you don’t actually know much about me, it is quite true that I’ve only lived in this neighborhood for a few years, and it’s also true that we have lifetime and long-term residents who also have concerns about patrols. Our meeting is open to everyone, regardless of your opinion on the patrols, how long you’ve lived in the neighborhood, or where you land on the political spectrum. If you feel strongly about this issue and live here, then please join the next meeting to discuss community safety and what we can do as a neighborhood to address how we are ALL part of the changes taking place here. We’d love to have you in the conversation. Here’s language from our flyer:

    What does community safety mean to you?

    Our neighborhood is alive and changing. These changes mean different things to different people. What do they mean for you and your family? What do they mean for your neighbors? What do these changes mean for community safety? Do you feel safe where you live? Do you think it is possible to build a neighborhood and city that considers the safety of all people?

    Please join North Oakland residents at an upcoming event on November 12th to discuss these questions. Meet your neighbors, engage in dialogue around community safety, and hear diverse perspectives on the matter. ALL are welcome.

    This is our honest attempt at creating space for respectful dialogue. We hope to see you there.

    Tuesday, November 12th, 2013
    7pm-9pm
    Faith Presbyterian Church
    430 49th Street (corner of 49th and Webster)

    • Terry Christian

      “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.”

      What data do you have to back up that there is (involuntary) displacement in Temescal and that gentrification is “accelerating?” No, not a few anecdotes; no, not your ideological structural conception of how housing markets work; but, rather, actual data about neighborhood composition, relatively recent changes and the impact of these changes on those who have left. Id even take proxies, like Ellis Act evictions. What I wont abide is justifying major policy intervention based on “feelings” about “changes.” What does that even mean? When have things not been changing?

      Not everyone who leaves a neighborhood, not even poor people, are necessary unhappy when they do. I know its hard to imagine that anyone would voluntarily leave a paradise like Oakland, but it does happen.

      Also, have you “checked in” with your own complicity here? Who lived where you moved into, where did they go, were they happy they left? Are you part of the problem? If so, why remain?

      • John

        Terry, I was at that meeting and it was the pro-patrols people who were “picking and choosing who lives in the neighborhood.” I heard Ellen Kim say loud and clear, about patrols, “they see what’s not right, what doesn’t make sense, what doesn’t fit.” It was pretty obvious that she meant “who.”

        Moreover, it seems like the “major policy intervention” based on “feelings” is that people in the neighborhood “feel” they are in danger because there are muggings and robberies. These things, it must be acknowledged, are somewhat normal parts of living in a city, especially a city where there are some very rich residents moving into areas that were previously poorer. Census data show that between 2000 and 2010 the ZIP containing Temescal (but extending west of the freeway as well) lost a little over 10% of its black residents. This ZIP has an estimated Gini Coefficient (the existence of this measure at the ZIP level was news to me too) of .47, a little more unequal than Mexico, but this only measures income, while we know that African-Americans and Latinos in the US have only a tiny fraction of accumulated wealth and the housing crisis essentially destroyed the earnings of a generation.

        At the tract level, the tracts east of the Grove Shafter (the original color line, if you look at the HOLC maps from 1936), lost about 10% of their black residents and gained about 10% white residents. Again this is up to 2010, and without a doubt 2012 numbers would be greater, but ACS estimates get rough at the tract level. On the west side the numbers were actually greater, and foreclosure data from the Code for Oakland data portal show extreme concentrations of foreclosures west of the freeway. We know from qualitative research that Oakland was hit hard by predatory lending and bogus refinancing, not “buying too much house.” I would like better data to give you but I don’t have it right at hand.

        The fact is that east of the freeway is already a fairly well-established upper-middle class area, plurality and becoming majority non-Hispanic white, having gentrified some time ago, while the action is now in the Longfellow and Hoover-Foster. This doesn’t mean that Temescal residents are just a group of angels who are being invaded by bad outsiders. But they are sending a clear message about the race and class status of who belongs in the neighborhood, and backing it up with manpower. I and many people attending the meeting think this is a problem.

        • John

          Apologies, the ZIP lost a little over a quarter of its black residents, their percentage of total population decreased by roughly 10%. Nothing approaching the hemorrhage of Longfellow and West Oakland.

  4. Ciaran

    Seems pretty straightforward.

    Kim wants something short term, Kane wants long term. Surely they can complement each other….?

  5. Seamus

    It’s difficult to discuss because of statistics and people’s feelings.

    I’m seeing some worrying apologetics for violent crime. “normal parts of living in a city.”

    It would appear to be a normal part of living in the robbery capital of the US — no easy job with some pretty stiff competition from Cleveland and Detroit. I think unacceptable levels have been achieved in the robbery dept. I also don’t think private security patrols are an inordinate response, nor oppressive. BUT, …

    How do we reduce danger from muggers without turning into Walnut Creek??

    Question for the oracles, apparently.

  6. Sarg

    I own a hose in Temescal (and no, I am not white) and at the beginning of this year, two individuals jumped out of a car at 6:30pm, at the corner of Manilla and 41st, put a gun to my head, stuck their hands in my pockets and took my backpack, money, etc. No I was not on my phone and I was raised in a monstrous city so I think I know a thing or two about being safe and preventing muggings. A month later, while at dinner out for 2 hours, I came back home to a completely ransacked house with lots of belongings missing. After having to deal with my employer scratching its head and wondering how two company laptops got taken in a month – and having to worry about whether I would still have a job to pay my mortgage or not- I am left thinking that something needs to be done. I’ll be the first to admit I don’t know what, but something. It is absurd to read that 333 violent incidents have happened within a ONE block radius in 4 months and to read that some folks think this is part of “city living”. Again, born and raised at one of the most violent cities in the world and I still never saw stats like this. I’ve been to some of these meetings and I’m sorry to say it seems like folks are so polarized in their approach, neither side really sounding too common sensical. Any other toughs/options floating around? Would love to hear some short and long term ideas.

  7. I feel much safer in Rockridge now with the few patrols I see, and I’ve seen them stop someone from taking purses set to someones side. Go to most third world nations, and you’ll see security at almost every store, and often get frisked to go the mall. It does not bother the locals there…why does it bother us? You have a basic right to personal safety, and having local guards improves safety.

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