Fundraiser for private security in Canton called off

A Canton man who raised thousands of dollars for private security in the neighborhood said Friday he is issuing refunds to donors after the company he planned to work with pulled out.

Austin Rooney, organizer of the online fundraiser, said he heard from the owner of the company early Friday and quickly moved to shut down the fundraising drive.

“Myself and a lot of people who donated are pretty disappointed that it came to be this way,” he said.

The idea set off fresh debate about crime in Baltimore — robberies have surged in Canton and there have been two killings in the area this year — and how racial politics play into grass-roots efforts to boost public safety.

Some residents chipped in sizable donations to support the plan, while others raised concern that it would lead to racial profiling in an overwhelmingly white part of the city.

Rooney, who says he has little experience in activism, said he was caught off guard by the strength of some of the negative responses to the plan.

“There were people who assumed I had some sort of ulterior motive,” he said. “I’m literally just a concerned citizen thinking this would be a good way to help out.”

Rooney aimed to hire a single off-duty police officer to carry out an armed patrol a few days a week and quickly met a $3,200 funding goal after launching the campaign Thursday. But on the fundraising page Friday, Rooney wrote that the owner of Hire Police, the security firm that would have provided the guard, had concerns about the amount of attention and criticism the idea had attracted, and was pulling out.

Rooney named the company specifically when he solicited donations and said he didn’t want to try to switch contractors without the consent of people who had already given money.

Sean Lewis, the owner of Hire Police, disputed Rooney’s characterization of the situation, saying his company was simply too busy working on jobs in Washington, D.C., and would find it difficult to provide good service to an entire neighborhood.

“We’re more of a business-to-business company,” he said. “Neighborhood patrols are very difficult by their nature.”

Lewis, who said he used to live in Canton, said he would continue consulting with Rooney.

Other neighborhoods in Baltimore have long had private security to supplement the coverage provided by the Police Department. Rooney said he had hoped a private patrol might act as an additional deterrent at a time when public resources are stretched thin.

But the Canton proposal, which did not have the backing of the Canton Community Association or any other formal group, triggered a debate over whether a private security force would lead to racial profiling.

Rooney said he plans to go back to the drawing board, potentially find a new contractor and talk with people who criticized the plan.

“It wasn’t a complete failure, in the sense that it did get conversation going,” he said.

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