OAKLAND -- Residents of lower Rockridge have pledged money to support a plan for private security in the neighborhood using a crowdfunding website.
This marks a first for the lower Rockridge area, although there are patrols in other neighborhoods of Oakland, in particular in the hills areas. It's also the first time a crowdfunding campaign has been used to get a project like this going -- and it's already spawned imitators in other parts of North Oakland.
"I think any time the community gets involved in a public security strategy, that's a good thing," said police Capt. Anthony Toribio, commander for the area that includes Rockridge.
The patrol crowdfunding campaign was set up by Paul Liu, a resident of Rockridge.
"If we can do something to assist Oakland and OPD in their efforts to prevent crime, that's a good thing," he said.
The project funds a patrol for the area bounded by the Berkeley border at Woolsey Street in the north, Highway 24 to the south, College Avenue to the east and Telegraph Avenue to the west.
This area will be patrolled by a car made to look similar to a police car 12 hours a day on weekdays. Households that pledge money toward the campaign have the option to enter into contract with VMA Security Group, which is providing the service, so that the guard may come on to their property to investigate suspicious behavior. Guards will call Oakland police if they see a crime occurring, as they're not authorized to make arrests or detain suspects.
Liu said he chose VMA Security Group because it also provides security for the Rockridge merchants' group and other Oakland business and residential districts.
"That made me pretty comfortable," he said.
Rather than a community meeting or door-to-door canvassing, Liu is using crowdfunding to get households on board.
He used a website called Crowdtilt, where contributions can be solicited to a defined goal. People can pledge money, but no money will be taken unless the project meets a predefined level of funding.
For the patrol, it was $8,200 -- which was raised in two days, a surprise for Liu even though he knew his neighbors were concerned about crime.
"Frustrations don't always translate to actions," he said.
The amount covers a trial period, offered at a discount by VMA, from Nov. 1 through Feb. 28. For the four-month trial, VMA asked that 100 households sign up at $20 per month.
"This seems like a really workable way for people to take action," Liu said.
Other people have jumped on the crowdfunding idea. Justin Horner lives just outside Liu's proposed boundaries, so he and others set up their own Crowdtilt page.
Their area goes from south of Highway 24 to 51st Street, and from Telegraph Avenue to Broadway.
"Lots of people have been talking about the idea of hiring private security, and when we saw the success of Paul Liu's effort, we thought it was worth considering for our part of Rockridge," he said.
They have raised about $19,700 as of Wednesday in a little more than a week. "I think people are willing to look at new ideas and see whether they can make a difference," Horner said.
A third Crowdtilt campaign, just started, will cover an area north of Highway 24, from College Avenue to the Uplands.
The sudden success of the crowdfunding plans comes after another uptick in crime in an already high-crime year, including an incident in which around 10 people waiting for rides to San Francisco at the casual carpool pickup on Claremont Avenue and Hudson Street were held up at gunpoint. A few days before, the architecture firm next door to Liu's house was held up at midmorning.
"It really started coming to a head last week," Liu said.
Liu, an economist at Google, has lived in the neighborhood for more than a decade, and doesn't want to leave despite the crime.
"It's a sweet spot in terms of livability," he said.
But not all the locals are for the patrols. Lively and sometimes emotional discussions have been spreading across email lists and between neighbors.
Attorney Nicole Aruda, who lives in Liu's proposed zone, said the patrol makes her uncomfortable. She is particularly concerned about the chance that students walking to the various schools in the area may be profiled as "suspicious" by the guard.
"To me, the crux of the issue is whether these patrols actually deter crime and at what cost," she wrote in an email to a neighborhood group.
According to Toribio, they do act as a deterrent, but only if the security company is proactive and engages with locals.
He said it's a matter of matching the right security company to the neighborhood.
"They've really got to do their homework," he said.
District 1 council member Dan Kalb said he has no objection to the plan, especially as a temporary measure, and that private citizens have the right to hire private security.
"It's not news to anyone we have an understaffed police department in Oakland," he said.
But he said he preferred that guards be unarmed, to avoid a confrontation between an armed guard and armed suspect.
"That's a recipe for disaster," he said.
Toribio agreed that armed guards make a chance of something dangerous happening more likely but said it's up to the neighborhood to figure out its needs.
"That's a choice the community needs to make," he said.
Crowdtilt organizer Liu also said he'd push for the guards to be unarmed.
"I want people to be comfortable with this," he said.
Liu is continuing to raise money throughout the 30-day duration of the Crowdtilt campaign, which closes Oct. 23. Liu hopes to get to $20,500, which would extend the service longer. As of Wednesday, he had raised $13,400 toward that goal.
He's pleased with the response, even though he knows it's not a long-term solution to crime in the city.
"It's really still a Band-Aid," he said.
Paul Liu's patrol crowdfunding campaign is at: https://www.crowdtilt.com/campaigns/security-patrol-for-lower-rockridge-northwest
Justin Horner's campaign is at: https://www.crowdtilt.com/campaigns/security-patrol-for-lower-rockridge-southwest
A third campaign is at: https://www.crowdtilt.com/campaigns/security-patrol-3-for-lower-rockridge-including-the-hills-above-roanoke-street
The website providing the service is: https://www.crowdtilt.com/