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Faced With Increasing Crime, Businesses Turn to Private Security Firms

In reaction to increased crime in Philadelphia, it has been widely reported a Philadelphia gas station owner has hired security guards toting AK-47s to protect his property, customers, and employees.

With 500 murders in Philadelphia as of Dec. 19 and 562 homicides last year, the state legislature has gotten involved with the House impeaching progressive District Attorney Larry Krasner and the Senate set for an impeachment trial in January.

And the Delaware Valley suburbs are not immune to violent criminal incidents.

On Dec. 18, an armed hit-and-run suspect got into a shootout with police near the King of Prussia Mall. An attempted carjacking has occurred at the Willow Grove Mall, and a driver was gunned down in a road-rage shooting in Springfield.

Tehlair Strong, a managing member of Eyewatch Protection, said his business is growing.

“We offer armed security patrol services and armed and unarmed guards,” he said. Typical customers are businesses and apartment complexes. They monitor various sites in the greater Philadelphia area.

“Everything that requires long-term security,” he said. “We’ve done exceptionally well” for the last few years, he said. “Even during the pandemic. Most of our clients are proactive and they’d rather have security than an incident.”

The private security industry began seeing rapid growth increase in 2010. Since then, the industry has continued to grow exponentially each year, explained Joseph Ferdinando of Building Security Services. He said it is now a $350 billion market, with $282 billion spent in the private sector and another $69 billion spent by the federal government.

More than $200 billion of the $282 billion spent in the private sector is heading to non-IT (information technology) sources. More than $80 billion is being spent on IT-related sources of security.

The City of Brotherly Love is also being hit by the national surge in organized retail crime (ORC), much of it driven by gangs.

According to United to Safeguard America from Illegal Trade (USA-IT), in 2021 alone retail thefts in Pennsylvania totaled nearly $5.6 billion and cost more than $510 million in state and local taxes. In a recent DVJournal podcast, Alex Baloga with the Pennsylvania Food Merchants Association talked about how “sophisticated” retail crimes like shoplifting and smash-and-grab robberies have become.

And, Baloga said, criminals take advantage when communities decline to enforce laws against these property crimes, moving from place to place. “We have seen where laws have been relaxed, there have been more brazen acts. These are organized, sophisticated criminals, not an average person who’s just down on his luck.”

Paul Levy, president of the Center City District in Philadelphia, said his organization had taken steps to help its member businesses combat crime. They included uniformed security guards and outreach to homeless people in the area.

By mid-fall, the CCD expanded its team of unarmed, uniformed safety ambassadors, known as Community Service Representatives (CSRs), from 42 to 50. It raised salaries for the CSRs in the spring. They “provide a friendly, helpful and highly recognizable presence on downtown sidewalks for more than three decades.”

The CCD is also expanding its bicycle safety patrol that works with the CSR program and the Philadelphia Police Department. As of September, CCD increased the uniformed bike patrols manned by Allied Universal, which operate seven days per week in two shifts, to more than 45 positions.

“So far this year, Part 1 (serious crimes) in CCD are 8.7 percent below 2019 levels,” Levy said. “It may not feel that way because headlines are focused on other stories and other major challenges like retail theft and a citywide epidemic of gun violence that remains appallingly high. But these too are problems within our control — amenable to a two-handed approach that brings law enforcement together with social services and job opportunities.”

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Ballot Drop Boxes Continue to Raise Eyebrows in Delco, Bucks

Some Delaware County residents are raising the alarm about ballot boxes that cameras may not properly tape. However, county officials insist there are not any problems.

Radnor resident Liz Madden has been going to the ballot boxes to see if the camera angles line up and found some in Radnor and Haverford townships do not.

She spoke at a recent county Board of Election meeting.

“I am concerned about four drop boxes in Radnor and Haverford. These cameras don’t see the slots in the drop boxes,” said Madden. People are only allowed to deposit one ballot for themselves unless they have a signed permission form from someone in their household who is disabled.

She asked county officials to make sure the drop boxes are aligned with the cameras.

“If Delaware County is committed to fair and honest elections, (officials should) monitor how many ballots one person puts in the drop boxes,” she said. The drop boxes that are not being correctly monitored should be closed.

Joy Schwartz was also concerned about the drop boxes and referred to an article in Broad + Liberty where John McBlain, a member of the Board of Elections, discussed deficient monitoring of the drop boxes.

“The county received a $2.1 million election integrity grant,” Schwartz said, asking that “some of the money be used for surveillance” at the 40 drop boxes in Delaware County.

That many drop boxes are “more than any other county,” she said. “Most of them are in heavily Democratic areas.”

Voter Services Director Jim Allen denied the drop boxes are in majority Democratic areas, saying there is one in every municipality. And Allen also denied McBlain’s contention that there are problems with monitoring of the video feeds from the drop boxes.

A county spokesman also told Delaware Valley Journal that Madden is wrong about the issues with the drop box camera angles.

In Chester County recently, after residents sued over voters putting multiple ballots into drop boxes, the county agreed to watch its drop boxes more closely, limit the hours and locations of them, and require human monitors.

Wally Zimolong, attorney for the plaintiffs along with America First Legal, said, “The reasons stated on the record were express representations by the Board of Elections that it would institute monitors, limited drop box hours, and a policy to assure only authorized agents of disabled persons were returning ballots that did not belong to them. These were all requested in our petition. So, there was nothing left for the Court to award or enjoin.

Zimolong added, “The judge excoriated the county. He commended us for bringing suit and stated that the board would never have done what it did without our litigation. Indeed, it was five days after the lawsuit that the board decided to change course.

“In sum, it was a complete victory for election integrity. I cannot underscore the importance of the win,” said Zimolong.

In Montgomery County, after videos showed a Democratic Party committeewoman dropping multiple ballots into a drop box in Upper Dublin for the November 2021 election, the county took steps to improve security, with both cameras and human monitors. Republican Chair Liz Havey brought that video to the attention of District Attorney Kevin Steele.

The hours and number of days of dropbox operations have also been shortened from previous elections, county officials said.

Madden, who also visited the Montgomery County drop box at the Luddington Library in Lower Merion, was impressed.

“If a voter has two ballots, the watcher looks at the permission form accompanying it, stamps that ballot with a star purchased at Staples that allows them to deposit it,” said Madden. “Montco reportedly is more than twice the size of Delco yet has only 20 ballot drop boxes and each one has Montco paid Voter Services employees guarding the boxes. Initially, community members were watching boxes and Monto Voter Services processed, but now they are gone assured their boxes are properly monitored. Also, the Montco boxes are open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. not 24 hours like Delco’s,” said Madden.

And in Bucks County, there was a kerfuffle recently after Democratic County Commissioner and Election Board Member Bob Harvie people could deposit 100 ballots, with the proper paperwork.

Megan Brock, a community activist, said the law clearly states a person must have written permission to deposit a ballot for someone who is impaired and also may not deposit ballots for anyone outside their own household.

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