The much-touted revitalization of downtown Los Angeles has brought luxury lofts and trendy restaurants to the city center along with a growing cadre of private security guards who do everything from patrol the streets to clean up trash. Riding on bikes and in SUVs and armed with pepper spray, batons and sometimes handguns, the guards downtown now number about 100. Business and property owners who hired them consider the security force to be a key factor to downtown’s success by keeping a lid on shoplifting, littering and other once-common petty crimes.
But although businesses and many new residents praise the security officers, their tactics have come under fire from advocates for the homeless and illegal street vendors, who say the guards are taking the law into their own hands. Several homeless people have filed suits, claiming that the guards harassed them. And the Los Angeles Police Department is investigating allegations that security officers in the Fashion District extorted money from illegal street vendors. Critics say the downtown improvement districts should get greater government oversight.