Armed guards to walk the downtown area
The R-Town Downtown Coalition, a collection of downtown Chico business owners, has announced it is hiring a private security company “to patrol downtown along with volunteers in selected locations. The security company will coordinate with Chico police to maximize exposure and street presence.”
The coalition, which will be headquartered at 325 Main St., in an office next to the now-closed Towne Lounge, has hired a firm called Armed Guard Private Protection. The idea is that private guards will protect the private property downtown, which amounts to the parking lots and storefront alcoves that currently offer shelter to the homeless. Operations are set to begin sometime in early November, run through the holidays, and then be evaluated for effectiveness.
Chico Police Capt. Ford Porter said the private guards will be at the command of the store owners, the same way private security protects an apartment complex. “They don’t have any more ability to make arrests than a private citizen,” Porter said, “but obviously they are armed. They will also serve as an extra set of eyes out there, and if they see something, they will give us a call.”
He said the police department has been in touch with a representative from Armed Guard Private Protection.
“They have a good understanding of what they can and can’t do,” Porter said. “They are going to be walking from private property to private property, which is not patrolling. Say they check out a spot at Main, between Second and Third streets, and then walk over to Broadway, between Fourth and Fifth—if they come across something, they would call us, just as a citizen would. They won’t take enforcement action.”
Porter said if a guard comes across someone sleeping in an alcove, which is private property, that person can be moved along.
“But once they walk out onto the sidewalk, it becomes city property,” he said, and there is little the guard can do. “The business owners are upset about the fact [that] people are hanging out in front of their stores. If the person moves to a park bench, that’s legal, and there is nothing the guard can do.”
Porter said he is personally “not necessarily in favor of it, but then again, I’m not against it, either. Our best option is to work with this the best we can. We’ll see how it goes for the first month or so, and then evaluate it.”
The Armed Guard Private Protection website says it is based in Yuba City and has a branch office in Chico.
“More and more clients are choosing the armed officer approach versus the traditional un-armed guard approach,” the website says. “We strongly believe this is because of the rapid release of thousands of low-level state prisoners coupled with the local massive public-safety budget reductions, coupled with our philosophies and beliefs implemented into the new age of the private security industry.”
Not every downtown business owner necessarily welcomes having the services of a private security force, though.
“I’m really not too hip to that,” said Preston Powers, longtime owner of Preston’s Shoe Repair on Third Street, between Main and Wall streets. “I think it’s going to open tremendous liability issues. I understand why they want it, but still …”
He said he was never contacted by anyone in the R-Town Coalition.
Scott Schulman, owner of Brooklyn Bridge Bagel Works on Second Street, between Broadway and Main streets, recalled that years ago the owners of the now-defunct business next to his, Perchè No, complained about the skateboarding noncustomers who sat on the bench in front of the stores.
“I’d just play classical music on the outside speakers,” he said. “They’d go away.”