Private Security Takes on Many Roles Downtown

Amid a nationwide increase in homelessness and addiction, many downtowns are struggling to present an image of cleanliness and safety. Meanwhile, some cities have been unable to fill open positions on their police forces.

To meet a growing need, downtown leaders are increasingly turning to private security firms.

For many cities, private security is a cost effective option — third-party guards don’t require the same investment in training, salaries, overtime, equipment, health insurance, and pensions. But there are also potential downsides.

“Most major U.S. cities now have at least three times as many security guards on the street as sworn police officers, even though guards typically operate with minimal oversight, less training, and little power to enforce the law,” the New York Times wrote recently.

Four examples illustrate the role of private security in city centers:

In Raleigh, NC, the city council recently extended the contract for a security firm whose armed officers patrol near a downtown transit hub.

In Los Angeles, the city council authorized private security for two long-abandoned buildings downtown.

In Oakland, CA, major employers are hiring off-duty police officers and ambassadors to make downtown feel safer for their workers.

And in Long Beach, CA, the Long Beach Downtown Alliance hired private security officers who began patrolling downtown streets in December.

More on the expanding role of private security teams appears in the May issue of Downtown Idea Exchange newsletter. Click below to learn more about Downtown Idea Exchange and other resources for revitalizing downtowns and commercial corridors.

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