Downtown Arcata businesses mull use of private security force

Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union

ARCATA – Downtown businesspeople heard a proposal last week to hire private security to help protect them. The idea was proposed by Aaron Ostrom of Pacific Outfitters during a monthly business meeting organized by Arcata Main Street. Previous meetings have discussed ways to promote Arcata business, organize business watch groups and other ideas.

Ostrom’s store, like others downtown, is plagued by shoplifters, with police generally responding after the loss has taken place.

Ostrom suggested the use of SVT Gruppe, Inc., a Napa-based company that provides a range of private security services, which he said works with various government agencies and is a “pretty reputable company.” 

Its services and hours of operation can be tailored to meet local business’s needs, and the company can be hired and dismissed at will. “We have complete control over what we want,” Ostrom said. “They wouldn’t be flashlight cops. They’d be a step above that.”

SVT personnel are armed, use their own vehicles and maintain logs that may be reviewed. “It’s extremely transparent,” Ostrom said. He said the service could help alleviate pressure on APD.

SVT personnel work at the rate of $32 per hour. If 40 businesses bought in, Ostrom estimated that each participating business would pay $120 per month. 

He said he sees their vehicles at prominent businesses in Eureka such as the Bayshore Mall.

Businesspeople in attendance related instances of shoplifters who were caught retaliating against them by breaking windows, and other individuals behaving in appropriately in the business, discouraging customers. 

“We don’t know how to talk to people,” one merchant said of misbehaving or intoxicated individuals.

The service wouldn’t conduct general patrols of the Plaza, but would check in at client businesses. A schedule of check-ins can be arranged for participating businesses, and verified by RFID tags. 

The personnel have no powers of arrest, but can “keep the bad apples uncomfortable,” and can direct trespassers to move on.

“We deal with a lot of theft, and any time you make the area a little more uncomfortable for that kind of person, it may help reduce that,” Ostrom said. The security personnel could also harsh the mellow of those emboldened by drugs and alcohol.

APD Chief Brian Ahearn said private security service are used in municipalities “throughout the country” as “force multipliers,” and can be effective. While police and security companies have “different roles,” he said, their common goal is “the safety and security of the community.”

Were SVT Gruppe or something similar hired by Arcata merchants, Ahearn said, “We’d work with them and share information as much as is appropriate. We’d offer support and be good team players, if that’s in fact what the community wants.”

Ahearn said use of a private security force wouldn’t mean any rollback of APD’s presence. “We would base our deployments on a number of different factors,” he said. “Where the data directs us, what citizens want, community expectations, officer expertise and pre-planned operations. We would still do our nominal patrols.” 

The Main Street business group will further discuss the security proposal at its next meeting.




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