Oakland Residents Are Crowdfunding a Private Police Force

How does a technologically savvy city respond to rising crime rates? By crowd-funding itself a private security detail.

Oakland residents have launched three separate campaigns for a security force on Crowdtilt, a crowdfunding platform that promises to "makes it dead simple to pool funds for any purpose." The residents all hail from Rockridge—not the tony side of town, with its high "creative class" density, but Lower Rockridge, a middle class neighborhood north of Highway 24.

Andy Lutz, a spokesperson for Crowdtilt, told TechPresident, a "crosspartisan" blog about the intersection of tech and politics, that the campaigns were not a disavowal of government:

“They know the government means the best, and will help when they can,” he says, “but in the meantime, they're taking matters into their own hands.”

In addition to the dangers of vigilantism, civic crowdfunding can also exacerbate inequalities in infrastructure investment, as Internet activist Ethan Zuckerman wrote last year. He told TechPresident:

“Crowdfunding a solution for one neighborhood without working on the larger, underlying issues is concerning to me,” says internet scholar Ethan Zuckerman. [...]

Still, he believes that there is potential for the program to benefit all of Oakland, assuming “hiring private security guards is part of a larger strategy to work with Oakland PD to increase funding for officers.”

None of the campaigns indicate that there is any such arrangement in place. An admin for the most recent Crowdtilt campaign explicitly referenced an early morning robbery at the "Casual Carpool" line at the Rockridge BART station as the impetus behind the fundraising.

All three campaigns want to use a company called VMA Security Group, whose patrol officers are certified to carry a firearm. One of the campaigns says "I will request they be unarmed unless they feel they cannot accomplish their duties otherwise." The other two make no reference to whether the private officers will be armed.

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