By Marianela Toledo | Florida Watchdog
MIAMI — Before the days of government budget cutbacks, paying your taxes helped you get a good night’s sleep.
Not anymore. If you want police protection in Florida, you’re going to have to pay extra for it, apparently.
SECURITY?: Communities, condos and apartment complex, are relying more on private security guard to protect residents against crime.
That’s because widespread budget trimming has left some areas of the state underserved.
Huffington Post wrote in 2012 that the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, one of Florida’s largest law enforcement agencies, laid off nearly 50 police officers and eliminated 23 vacant officer positions, in response to an $18 million budget cut by the Jacksonville City Council. Smaller cities, from Daytona Beach to Port St. Lucie, also have trimmed police payrolls in response to budget woes.
So did Miami and Hollywood. This year, Miami-Dade County plans to lay off 315 people.
For some, the public budget crisis is good news.
During the past few years, Evelyn Santander, scheduling coordinator at Advanced National Security and Investigations, has seen a steady growth of people signing up to take the 40-hour private security guard training course.
Growth in the sector, she said, is being driven by banks, jewelry stores, homeowners and condo communities, all looking to beef up security.
“In the past, commercial areas and businesses such as banks relied only on security cameras or on a security guard. They needed no extra personnel (for protection),” Santander said.
And becoming a trained security guard isn’t that difficult.
“People see high demand for security guard jobs and in order to get the state license, they just need to pass a 40-hour training course to become security officers,” she said.
With another 28-hour course, the guards can be certified to carry a weapon.
“Condominiums and companies are hiring more private security because it’s cheaper than hiring a police officer from the county sheriff office,” Santander said.
Since 2009, the city of Sunny Isles Beach has required condo and apartment associations to hire security guards after the city attorney, citing a rise in crime locally, sought an opinion from the state’s attorney general.
Carmen Gonzalez Caldwell, executive director of Citizens’ Crime Watch of Miami-Dade, acknowledges the trend, but said she doesn’t see it as a cure-all for crime prevention.
“You will see more communities relying on private security to make its residents feel safer, but it doesn’t mean they will,” Gonzalez Caldwell said. “It’s a good way to prevent, but it will not eliminate the crime, because sometimes crime is originated within the community itself.”
Gonzalez Caldwell’s organization works with communities to organize neighborhood watch groups.
“Quality of security is everything. The best are the ones working with police departments, because even if private security is good at preventing things, police officers will always be needed,” she said.
Heavy-handed private security
Even if you are lucky enough to afford private policing, you’re not guaranteed security. Last week, the Orlando Sentinel reported on how the burgeoning growth of cops-for-hire has led to an increase in gun incidents and confrontations.
Jan Bergemann, founder and president of Florida-based Cyber Citizens for Justice, said private security is a double-edged sword.
“It is a good thing to have private security, but you see a lot of companies popping up, and they seem like they are preparing for World War III,” he said.
That, he said, can intimidate and frighten some residents.
Last year, a growing crime problem at Castle Gardens, a 55-plus condominium complex in Lauderfill, prompted residents to hire a private security company. But soon this year, residents are complaining that the gun-toting, SWAT-team tactics were frightening them.
“These ‘wannabe’ cops are very dangerous,” Bergemann said. “Remember the George Zimmerman case? That is one case where owners were complaining about the security.”
Florida Watchdog contacted Castle Gardens, but no one was available for comment.