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Guardian Angels for Oakland

With the murder rate in Oakland, Calif., reportedly 3.5 times the national average and violent crime overall 2.31 times the national rate, the citizenry has become increasingly outraged as Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums and the city’s political establishment have appeared incapable of even understanding the issue.

Similar problems have plagued other major cities as municipal (i.e., socialist) police departments demonstrate recurring examples of government failure in being burdened by short staffing, waste, corruption, bureaucracy, and diversions away from violent crimes into minor offenses, leaving the average person largely defenseless.

In response, the Oakland Police recently initiated a pointless but politically correct gun buyback program, costing $250,000, only to see violent crime rates skyrocket in the aftermath.

However, the citizenry in many cities have increasingly realized that government policing will not protect them and have instead taken the initiative to organize themselves into private security systems. And Oakland is now the latest to step forward with the establishment of an active Guardian Angels operation (also see here and here). Founded in 1979 in New York by Curtis Silwa, who at the time worked as a manager at a McDonald’s in a crime-ridden area of the Bronx, the Guardian Angels were at first strongly opposed by then Mayor Edward Koch. But as the success of the Angels’ patrolling became increasingly clear and public support spread, Koch was compelled to change his tune. Today, the Angels operate in dozens of cities worldwide including Chicago, Philadelphia, Toronto, Orlando, Boston, London, Dallas, Tokyo, Vancouver, Houston, Cape Town and Auckland. Trained in basic first aid, law, conflict resolution, communication, and basic martial arts, the multi-ethnic Angels employ the simple but proven techniques of neighborhood patrolling, first aid, conflict resolution, educational programs and citizen arrests.

For Oakland, the Angels’ arrival is none too soon, and Mayor Dellums may now have seen the light in calling for the Angels arrival. But why have we seen such effective results from the Angels and why should we expect any improvement in safety to result in Oakland? The answer is as old as is civilization in which people cooperate and voluntarily take responsibility for securing their streets, neighborhoods and communities against predators, signaling both the fact that such behavior is not tolerated and that attempts to harm the innocent will be met swiftly and decisively to stop such criminality. One example of the diverse range of private organizations increasingly involved in crime prevention and control, the Guardian Angels being private (assuming they are funded independently) enables them to be accountable, flexible, credible, and knowledgeable of circumstances in ways that government bureaucracies are not.

Independent Senior Fellow Bruce Benson has chronicled the enormous superiority of private, community-based security in policing and all aspects of criminal justice in his award-winning Institute book, To Serve and Protect: Privatization and Community in Criminal Justice (New York University Press). (Articles by Professor Benson can also be found here, here, and here.) And in our book, The Voluntary City (University of Michigan Press), contributing authors Benson and Stephen Davies examine the powerful historical precedent for private security, adjudication, and other legal services in contrast to government failure.

David J. Theroux is Founder, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Independent Institute.
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