A pilot program of “private beat cops” aims to supplement the presence of sworn officers. Business owners say it’s making a difference

By Steven Mayer
The Bakersfield Californian

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — It happened at a consignment shop in downtown Bakersfield called The She Shed by The Peachy Pig.

The shop keeps some products outside its glass front door and the young employee in the store that day watched as an apparently homeless man laid down on a small padded sofa and decided to take a little nap in the shade.

Had owner Kalae Paxon been there, the former Kern County Sheriff’s Office detentions employee would likely have had the man on his feet — and quickly on his way.

But the clerk on duty was understandably reluctant to confront the man.

Instead, they called O & A Security Services, a private security company whose officers are “walking the beat” in a limited area of downtown seven days a week as a means of supplementing the waning presence of Bakersfield Police Department officers.

“A young lady (in uniform) showed up, and told him he had to leave,” Paxon said.

The man left with no further incident.

The contract — negotiated by the Downtown Business Association, 25 downtown business owners and O & A — has been in place for less than three weeks, but some downtown business owners say they are already seeing a positive difference.

“People were leaving their garbage, using us as their bathroom,” said Trisha Reed-Fike, who operates Guthrie’s Alley Cat.

“I know they are making a difference,” she said of the private beat cops. “The neighborhood looks more peaceful.

[RELATED: Foot patrol works. More of it will reduce violence.]

“Yes, I know it’s a work in progress,” she added, “and that it’s not going to be fixed overnight.”https://www.youtube.com/embed/d0Kg9DiDXeI?rel=0

Tina Brown, the owner of Tina Marie’s restaurant at 19th and Eye streets, said getting 25 business owners to come together as a group to spend money on additional security is worth celebrating.

“Downtown needs this,” she said. “If we want the heart of our city to be successful, we need to work together.”

The effort is a pilot project. It’s designed to keep what works and chuck what doesn’t, to work the bugs out and zero in on effective strategies.

“This is just a beginning,” Brown said. “But you might be seeing the start of something here.”

On a recent weekday, Sasha Owens, supervising officer and partner in O & A Security, walks east on 20th Street, then turns south on Chester Avenue. She says hello to people she passes on the sidewalk. And when she sees someone digging through trash, sleeping on a bench or a sidewalk, she starts a conversation.

She is armed with a Taser, but doesn’t carry a firearm. Her husband and business partner, JW Owens, does carry when he works the streets after dark on Friday and Saturday nights.

As she reaches the corner where Wall Street Alley meets Eye Street, she spots a man going through the huge dumpster across the street. Her pace quickens.

“You can’t be in the trash can,” she says in an assertive, no-nonsense tone. “We’ve had this conversation before.”

She pauses to see where it goes. She’s spoken with this man on another occasion.

“You already know where I’m at,” she says, establishing a kind of command presence. “Put the box back in the trash can. I can’t allow you to be in the dumpster.”

The man doesn’t say a word. He just gathers up his bags, climbs on his bicycle and rides away down the alley.

Then a voice comes from across the alley.

“Thank you!”

The voice belongs to Blackboard Barbershop owner Shaun Perdue, who is taking a smoke break. He had watched the whole thing.

“We run them off, too,” he said of the vagrants. “But I think it’s more effective when they do it.”

Maybe it’s the uniform and badge. Maybe it’s the training.

Perdue said he’s happy with what he’s seeing so far, but he has yet to be completely convinced of the value of the pilot program, and remains one of several business owners in the area who has not signed onto the contract to help spread the cost.

Mario Alvarez, who has been doing business downtown since the early 1970s, owns and operates Pacific Jewelry Co. on Chester Avenue. He also has not signed on.

“The best time we ever had with security downtown was when we had a beat cop,” he said of the days of old when the BPD had walking patrols downtown.

“There’s a difference between a beat cop and a security guard,” he said. “It’s not just psychological. It’s real.”

Alvarez said he works on a lean and mean overhead, and needs to be careful about spending.

“They could be doing a good job,” he allows of the security guards. “But a police officer would be better.”

Asked if he might be benefiting from the pilot project paid for by his fellow business owners, Alvarez doesn’t hesitate.

“I’d be lying to you if I said no.

“Bottom line, it costs money,” he said. “We already have the police department.”

(c)2022 The Bakersfield Californian (Bakersfield, Calif.)McClatchy-Tribune News Service