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As cities lay off police, frustrated neighborhoods turn to private cops

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Revenue into cities has drooped every year since 2007, according to the National League of Cities. Oakland, already struggling with one of the highest murder rates in the nation, laid off 80 police officers in 2010, though some have been rehired, says Sgt. Arturo Bautista, a department spokesman.

That has cut down on the amount of time patrol officers can spend watching over neighborhoods, Sergeant Bautista says. “Because of the short staff and the calls for service, officers are pretty much going from call to call to call.”

Meanwhile, the private security industry is projected to grow by about 19 percent – from 1 million to 1.2 million guards – between 2010 and 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Most of that growth will come because private firms are doing jobs once held by law enforcement, according to the bureau.

Doug Mosher, a resident of Oakland’s Montclair neighborhood who helps coordinate a local security council, says many residents were miffed by what they felt was a lack of response by the police to crimes in their neighborhoods.

“Over the past few years there’s been an uptick of crime break-ins in our area,” Mr. Mosher says. “At its current staffing level, [the police] are just unable to provide regular patrols up in the neighborhoods.”

In his neighborhood, burglars have broken into houses and stolen whatever they can get, Mr. Mosher says. Neighbors have struck back; take a drive through Oakland’s hilly neighborhoods and every other block seems to have a sign warning off criminals, sometimes adorned with a photo of a burglar taken from a homeowner’s personal security camera.

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