Crime scene tape at the site of a stabbing n Balboa Park in September. Photo via OnScene.TV.

With crime on the raise, San Diego neighborhoods should consider hiring private security.

Many communities throughout San Diego already have private security companies patrolling their neighborhoods. The San Diego Police Department now takes hours to respond to non-emergency calls due to an officer staffing shortage and citizens are getting frustrated.

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Hiring private security is not a new concept. In Oakland, California, several neighborhoods have hired private security to patrol their neighborhoods in response to escalating crime rates and reductions in police staffing. More than 600 Oakland households pay $20 a month for unarmed patrols in clearly marked cars to run 12 hours a day, Monday through Saturday.   

Local law enforcement agencies across the country are struggling to provide basic service to their communities due to a reduction in personnel. Some feel the cutback in police is due to the “defund police” movement.

That is not the case in San Diego, where the police budget increased in 2021. But the increase was for pension funding that supports retired police officers and to cover other non-discretionary expenses like rising insurance rates and utility bills. There was not a boost in the ratio of police officers to civilians which is already low in San Diego.

San Diego is the 8th largest city in the nation and has roughly 13 police officers for every 10,000 residents, Los Angles by contrast maintains 24 officers per 10,000 residents, and New York City has over 42 officers per 10,000 residents.

Even with relatively few officers on the street, the San Diego Police Department does an outstanding job keeping our city safe. However, with resources spread thin local police could use additional support and private neighborhood security may be the solution. 

Violent crimes — defined as homicide, rape, robbery and aggravated assault — were 9% higher in San Diego in the first half of 2021 compared to the same period in 2019 before the pandemic. Although San Diego remains to be one of the safest large cities in the nation, recent TV images of smash and grab burglaries are creating fear and anxiety.

The acceleration in crime in San Diego is also related to the unintended consequences of Proposition 47, a failed experiment in criminal justice reform. Named the “Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act,” Prop. 47 did little to keep neighborhoods or schools safe. Instead, this legislation increased property crimes throughout the state.

Prop. 47 was intended to keep non-violent criminals out of crowded prisons and treat low-level criminals with more compassion, but it also emboldens criminals. Many thefts are sparked by drug-addicted thieves who need to steal to support their addiction. Even if they are caught with a few stolen goods or small amounts of narcotics including heroin, crystal methamphetamine and fentanyl, they do not fear arrest because their crime falls under Prop. 47. 

Not every community has the resources to hire private security, but there is another cost-effective solution. To increase the ratio of police to citizens, local government must encourage and subsidize the hiring of reserve police officers, because these officers serve voluntarily with no pay. Similar to a full-time police officer, a reserve officer performs general law enforcement duties, including street patrol, investigations, report writing and traffic control.

Because they do not require the costly benefits and pay that come with full-time police service, departments can hire hundreds of reserves to handle the so-called low-level crimes, freeing up regular police officers to deal with more serious crimes. The additional officers would do a lot to help manage the increase in crime throughout San Diego County. 

Until our elected leaders take the bold steps needed to repeal or amend Prop. 47, employ more fulltime police officers and subsidize the training of reserve police officers, neighborhoods should seriously consider hiring their own private security.

Mark Powell is a former reserve police officer with the San Diego Police Department and has a degree in criminal justice administration. Powell also served as a trustee on the San Diego County Board of Education.