Oakland Neighborhoods Tire Of Police; Turn Vigilante

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If you want something done right, do it yourself.

That DIY maxim is apparently fueling some Oakland, Calif., civilians’ community-minded vigilantism. A CBS San Francisco report Tuesday featured a number of residents living in San Francisco’s less-affluent inland neighbor, all of whom revealed crime has become so commonplace that they’ve written off the cops and instead begun patrolling the streets and posting “wanted” signs for bad guys.

The majority of the ongoing lawlessness involved property crimes, and the report didn’t mention whether residents are packing guns. Some of the residents said they had been robbed at gunpoint or had witnessed armed robberies firsthand. Violence is definitely a problem in Oakland, and residents have little faith in the city’s police department to respond.

That lack of faith in law enforcement has been earned through many years of abuses, lawsuits, leadership changes and even a judge’s consent order either to reform the department or face a Federal takeover. It also doesn’t help that nearly all of the city’s police officers don’t even live there.

In neighborhoods that can afford it, residents have already begun pooling their funds to hire private security forces that patrol defined areas. The city’s police force, decimated by layoffs and scandalous resignations, simply doesn’t have sufficient manpower. The Oakmore neighborhood, home to Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, may soon deploy one such company.

But private security services aren’t comprised of sworn officers, and they can only disrupt crime as they see it happening. Thankfully, they’re not permitted by law to perform general searches or to detain suspects on a warrant. They aren’t connected to the criminal justice system except in the handing over of suspects they’ve been able to detain under the same legal authority any citizen has to make an arrest.

Oakland’s residents are used to vigilantism of many kinds in recent history, both within the police department and from the community. That activity has typically been marginal, thuggish or just plain corrupt.

Time will tell if Oakland’s neighborhoods can successfully arm themselves against armed criminals.

Ben Bullard

Reconciling the concept of individual sovereignty with conscientious participation in the modern American political process is a continuing preoccupation for staff writer Ben Bullard. A former community newspaper writer, Bullard has closely observed the manner in which well-meaning small-town politicians and policy makers often accept, unthinkingly, their increasingly marginal role in shaping the quality of their own lives, as well as those of the people whom they serve. He argues that American public policy is plagued by inscrutable and corrupt motives on a national scale, a fundamental problem which individuals, families and communities must strive to solve. This, he argues, can be achieved only as Americans rediscover the principal role each citizen plays in enriching the welfare of our Republic.