Questions on licensing and management structure to be considered by Peralta Trustees
December 14, 2020
By David Rowe, Copy Editor/Staff Writer and Pam Rudd, Opinion Editor
Community Ready Corps
Affect Real Change, (AFC), doing business as Community Ready Corps (CRC), is slated to begin as the new security and safety team at Laney College beginning January 1, 2021, marking the end of Peralta Community College District’s long relationship and contract with the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO). This move reflects Peralta’s community values and intention to align with those inherent in the Black Lives Matter movement.
Although it is fair to say that the Peralta community is ready for big bold changes — the board’s choice to cut ties with ACSO came after students and staff alike began advocating for the change — questions remain about how prepared the district is for a new security plan.
The quest for “community-based safety service” began with a request for proposal (RFP) — part of the district’s purchasing procedures — which was issued the week of June 9 and due by June 23, according to Peralta’s RFP website. The RFP was subsequently reissued with a due date of August 26. Companies vying to become one of the new security companies for the four campuses and district site had to submit a proposal that included a questionnaire and a signed affidavit of “no collusion” — among other documents.
An October 27 board presentation by former Vice Chancellor of General Services Leigh Sata identified the companies who seemed to have been selected by the district based on the RFP process, although contracts had yet to be finalized.
Beginning in early November, The Citizen tried to obtain information about the RFP process, who was on the selection committee, how vendors were chosen, and specific information about CRC. The Citizen reached out to Mark Johnson, Peralta’s executive director department of marketing communications and public relations, Atheria Smith, acting vice chancellor of general services and Interim Chancellor Carla Walter for this information. None were forthcoming.
Smith responded to an email on November 9 about a request for information from The Citizen about the RFP process and CRC specifically by writing that she had been “trying to resolve water leaks at Merritt,” and would respond later to any questions. She didn’t.
A formal public information request submitted to the district on November 19th did not yield any information about this RFP process even though, by law, the district is required to respond to public information requests within 10 business days.
Only when the Peralta contract was released on December 11– as part of the public agenda for a December 14 special board meeting — was The Citizen able to learn more about CRC. Most information about CRC, who will provide “community-based security services” to Laney College at the cost of 2.1 million dollars, has been gleaned from CRC websites and public records. CRC’s main website is also associated with getreadystayready.org, a Black-owned business support fund, and the Black Solidarity Fund, blacksolidarity.org created by CRC to create alternatives to traditional philanthropy. Each website solicits donations.
In an attempt to interview CRC, The Citizen visited the address listed on the Peralta contract — 2501 International Boulevard, Suite A, in Oakland. The building, a large commercial space, had a “for lease” sign and is listed with the Synergy Real Estate Group.
Although CRC’s mission to support and protect communities from racist intimidation, harassment and violence through a variety of community-based solutions for community safety is clear, their business structure is unclear.
According to their Peralta contract released with the public agenda on December 11, Affect Real Change is the company that will DBA, or “do business as” CRC. According to Legal Zoom, an online service that aims to make legal advice accessible, a “fictitious business” or “trade” name is needed when a business is using a name other than their official name. On the Peralta contract, Affect Real Change is the company who is doing business as the secondary name CRC.
With a DBA status, a business can open bank accounts, write checks and enter contracts. However, that name must be approved and registered with the county every five years. Without a DBA registration, a business could possibly face fines, penalties and lawsuits. CRC is not currently registered in Alameda County, according to a search on Alameda County’s DBA website.
A search on the City of Oakland’s business search website shows that the most recent business license for Affect Real Change expired on December 31, 2019.
In the state of California, the Bureau of Security and Investigative Services (BSIS) regulates private security companies. According to the BSIS website any person or business that employs security guards and contracts them out to another person or business must hold a private patrol operator license. Security guards cannot be independent contractors and must be employees of the company and carry liability insurance. All individuals must undergo background checks and be at least 18 years of age. Companies are required to have commercial general liability insurance with minimum limits of $1,000,000.
Neither Earl Harper, who is president of CRC, or CRC, are registered with the state of California as a Private Patrol Operator. According to BSIS, it is illegal to work as an unlicensed security guard and any company or individual who provides unlicensed security guard services risks severe consequences. The qualified manager who will oversee the security guards must also be clearly identified. The CRC contract with the district omitted the PPO requirement while it was included in the contracts for Zulu and Marina, two other security companies the district plans to work with. The Citizen reached out to Johnson to learn why this is the case, who said he would check with Smith. The Citizen did not hear back by publication.
A search on the California Secretary of State’s website shows Affect Real Change as a “foreign nonprofit” based in Monroe, Louisiana with Earl A. Harper listed as president effective December 11, 2020. Prior to that, newly elected Oakland City District 3 Councilmember Carroll Fife was listed as CEO.
On December 12, The Citizen again reached out to Johnson and Walter to see if they knew about CRC’s security license status. Johnson said he didn’t know the answer to that question and told The Citizen to contact Harper, the name on the district’s contract with CRC.
One of the phone numbers listed on the district’s contract rang through to Fife, who suggested community activist Tur-Ha Ak would be the best person to speak with regarding CRC. On Peralta’s contract with CRC, Ak is listed as “co-founder” and point of contact for services. In a May 2020 article in Vogue magazine, Ak is referred to as Fife’s husband.
During a phone call with The Citizen on December 12, Ak explained, with pride, some of CRC’s history as community activists and supporters. He said CRC had provided security services for nearly 30 years with a model based on working within the community, building relationships, making it easy for CRC to call on other community-based services to help serve when needed.
However, In an attempt to clarify Ak’s affiliation with CRC, The Citizen asked what his role was relative to Harper. Those questions “don’t really deal with the general subject of security,” Ak said.
The interview concluded swiftly with a promise to call back. He had not called by publication.
A recent statement to the Peralta community from Johnson quoted Board President Julina Bonilla. “While others have talked about defunding the police, PCCD is among the very first to take action in the reallocations of funds to create a safety program reflective of our students and community values,” she said.
On December 14th, the Board of Trustees are expected to sign the contract with Affect Real Change “doing business as” CRC at a special meeting, with only 18 days left before ACSO leaves PCCD.
Questions facing the board as it considers the CRC contract at the December 14 meeting include why the company doesn’t have a private patrol operator or business license, why the Oakland CRC address is a vacant commercial space and why a phone number listed on the Peralta contract was answered by Fife.
“We will be effective stewards of our scarce resources in response to community-wide demand for systemic change,” Bonilla stated, with the community watching and the clock ticking.
Zulu Community Protection
Zulu Community Protection (ZCP) is the Oakland firm being considered to provide security services for Merritt College and College of Alameda.
ZCP describes itself as a “safety and security company that utilizes de-escalation and restorative justice as well as standard security practices.” According to its website, ZCP provides its unarmed security personnel with “culturally based, racially aware training.”
In addition to its protective services, ZCP provides youth programs that include workshops and week-long camps.
Under the one-year contract to be reviewed by the Peralta board of trustees on December 14, ZCP will receive between $1.5 and $2.6 million per year for providing security services at the two colleges. The Citizen is seeking clarification on the amount from Mark Johnson, Peralta district spokesperson.
The contract also outlines the services to be provided by ZCP. These include: walking the campuses with two-way communication devices (the officers will not be armed), providing student escort services to the parking lots, and understanding the “holistic approach to campus safety” as articulated by the Black Minds Matter at Peralta group.
The decision to transition to alternative policing has been met with some resistance from Merritt college students, faculty, and classified professionals. Citing its secluded location in the Oakland hills and general lack of Oakland police presence in the area, the Merritt community has expressed concern that a reduced police presence will result in an escalation of crime. Classified Senate President Terrence Fisher articulated those reservations at a recent board meeting.
Four levels of ZCP personnel will provide security services, according to the contract. These include a Field Captain, a Team Lead, a Safety Guard, and administrative support. The Team lead will also be a licensed private patrol officer (PPO), based on the terms of the contract.
A PPO license is issued by the California Bureau of Security and Investigative Services (BSIS) and is required for a “person/business that employs security guard(s) and contracts them out to another person/business.” The Citizen checked the searchable database on the BSIS site but was unable to confirm that ZCP or its Owner/CEO, Robert Dabney, currently hold a PPO license.
In an email to The Citizen, Dabney wrote “all of our staff [are] well trained, carry current guard cards and we have a licensed PPO on our team that does ongoing training and assessment. This helps us ensure that the guards get detailed professional training on ‘shooter on campus,’ de-escalation and more. We are currently formalizing our PPO as a sub-contractor so that we are in alignment with Peralta’s needs. Once the agreement is formalized, I’ll be happy to share the PPO # with you.”
The local address Dabney provided to the district was 7833 Plymouth Street, a modest single family residence in the Melrose Gardens neighborhood of Oakland. This is the same address where the Oakland Police Department (OPD) conducted a pre-dawn raid on July 23, 2016 and arrested Omar Shakir Loudermilk for allegedly firing a shot at an OPD officer. Loudermilk, a security guard, was subsequently cleared of that charge but faced an unrelated firearms possession charge. It is unclear if Loudermilk and his family still live at that address and the nature of his relationship with Dabney and ZCP. Public tax records show the Plymouth Street home is owned by Kayaba Faheema, who appears in a video online about the raid.
However, a search at the City of Oakland’s website shows the business address for ZCP on a license that expires on December 31 as 201 13th Street in Oakland, which is the address for the US Post Office.
The Citizen found a recent ZCP job posting for a security guard position on the Indeed.com site. The position shows a start date of January 1 and specifies that it will be for a “local educational institution” in the East Bay. It requires a security guard license and two years of experience. The salary for the security guard position starts at $20 per hour. On the district contract, ZCP will charge the district $30 an hour for the “safety guard” position.
In a follow-up email, The Citizen asked Dabney how many employees ZCP plans to hire to fulfill the Peralta contract and what, if any, relationship his company has with Loudermilk. No response was received before this story was published.
A1 Protective Services
Of the four security companies under consideration by the district, A1 Protective Services is the only incumbent. A1 has provided security services for Berkeley City College (BCC) since 2019 and is currently in the first year of a three-year contract approved by the district in December 2019.
Brajah Norris, the Director of Quality Assurance for A1, recently spoke with The Citizen about his company’s engagement with the Peralta District. Norris explained that A1’s security services extend beyond BCC to include other Peralta colleges including Laney and College of Alameda. A1 officers patrol the other colleges primarily on nights and weekends, Norris explained, and he expects this arrangement to continue in 2021.
A1 is headquartered in San Francisco and has branch offices in Oakland, Sacramento, and San Diego. The company was founded in 1995 by Paula Jones, a retired San Francisco police officer with military experience. According to the company’s website, A1 is “an economically disadvantaged woman-owned enterprise.” Norris estimates the company currently has 250 employees, but says that figure fluctuates depending on how many security officers are required at any given time.
A1 prominently features its California Private Patrol Operator License number (15122) on its website.
The district is paying A1 $1,073,309 for the first year of the contract, less than what the other security vendors receive. Over the course of the three-year contract, however, A1 will receive a total of $3,399,502, according to an agreement approved by the board on December 10, 2019.
Since Peralta’s transition to online instruction in March, the number of security officers required at BCC has dropped, according to Norris. Prior to the pandemic, A1 had three officers on the morning shift and two officers on the swing shift. Currently, there is just one officer on each shift. The A1 officers do not carry handguns and currently call either the Berkeley Police Department or the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) when faced with potentially violent situations. The district’s relationship with ACSO ends on December 31.
When it comes to “community safety services,” one of the main objectives of the new Peralta security plan, A1 officers receive minimal training. A1 provides recruits with just two hours of online instruction on de-escalation, according to Norris, who describes it as “video module training” followed by a multiple choice exam. On-site training with a supervisor and quarterly refresher courses are also provided by the company.
Norris says A1 officers have never had an opportunity to use de-escalation techniques at a Peralta college but they “definitely use them at some of our city and county buildings.”
Marina Security Services
The role of Marina Security Services (MSS) in the new security plan is unique. Rather than providing coverage for one of the Peralta campuses, MSS will handle dispatch services for all the colleges and on-the-ground security services for the district administrative center located at 333 East 8th Street in Oakland.
Under the proposed contract with the Peralta district, MSS will receive $1.6 million annually for its services. The company clearly shows its PPO license number (15655) on its website. While dispatch may sound like a mundane function, it could play a critical role in the new Peralta security plan. Security guards at the colleges will not be armed. Therefore, MSS will be the crucial link to local law enforcement for situations the unarmed guards are not able to handle.
MSS is based in San Francisco. It was recently recognized by the San Francisco Business Times as both one of the Bay Area’s fastest-growing private companies and one of the largest local Black-owned businesses. The company currently has 105 employees and achieved an impressive 64% growth in revenue from 2017-2019, according to the SF Business Times.
The company was founded in 1997 by Sam Tadasse, who still serves as its CEO. According to its website, MSS began by providing security services for parking garages but has since expanded to office buildings, retail, banks, and schools. Tadasse told the SF Business Times he has a “bold goal” of doubling his business by the end of 2021. The contract with Peralta will put him closer to that objective.
The MSS website emphasizes the company’s commitment to “rigorous training and continuous professional development.” In its contract with Peralta, MSS commits to “onboarding and training of personnel…including safety training, gender sensitivity, and cultural competency training.”
Emiliano Villa contributed reporting.