New York City Bodyguards Are in Demand as Election Stokes Safety Concern - WSJ

Pasquale Cosenzo, a 48-year-old computer programmer who works in Midtown Manhattan, has become more anxious about his safety on his daily commute. To help ease his concerns, he recently hired a personal security guard to escort him on the 15-minute walk between Penn Station and his office, or stand with him outside when he needs to hail a cab.

“It’s been peace of mind, which is all we’re asking for pretty much,” said Mr. Cosenzo, who commutes from Lindenhurst on Long Island and splits the security with two of his co-workers.

Patrick McCall, who provides security for Mr. Cosenzo through his private investigation and security firm, McCall Risk Group, said his clients are typically operators of retail and office buildings, as well as some corporate executives and celebrities. As inquiries increased leading up to the election, Mr. McCall said, most were from individuals.

“We’ve gotten a significant amount of calls in the past week,” he said. “Seventy percent of those calls now are from regular, average citizens.”

Mr. Cosenzo said he pays about $50 an hour for the service and will generally give McCall Risk Group a half-hour’s notice before he requires their discreet presence. With uncertainty surrounding the presidential election and elevated crime rates in the city, he said, he currently doesn’t have any plans to stop using personal security.

“This is something that might have to factor into the cost of doing business,” Mr. Cosenzo said. “They’re great guys. I hope we never have to use them again in a couple weeks.”

Mr. McCall said that as Democratic candidate Joe Biden took the lead in electoral votes, fears of turbulence are easing, though some clients have retained his company’s services through the weekend or even into the following week.

According to the New York Police Department, which has been preparing for weeks to deal with the possibility of unrest during the election, at least 85 people have been arrested at demonstrations since Tuesday. NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea, however, said that protests so far have been overwhelmingly peaceful.

During the summer there were large-scale protests against police brutality in the city, with violence and looting sometimes following the demonstrations. NYPD officers arrested hundreds of protesters, and hundreds of businesses were damaged and looted during the unrest.

David Yorio, co-owner of Citadel Security Agency, said his firm has fielded more requests from high-net-worth individuals and business travelers who believe their safety may be at risk.

“We’ve seen an uptick in calls from people saying, ‘I’m flying to New York for a meeting, and I want to get picked up at the airport and escorted to the meeting and back,’ ” Mr. Yorio said.

Others are seeking protection in the execution of their daily routines, he said.

“Some of it has been as simple as, ‘I want someone to escort me to the grocery store and back,’ ” Mr. Yorio said.

The city saw a surge in violent crime over the summer as it eased lockdown restrictions.

According to the NYPD, homicides in the city during the first 10 months of the year were up 30% compared with the same period in 2019. Shooting incidents in October more than doubled year over year, and burglaries increased 32%, according to the NYPD.

“I don’t feel safe being in the city,” said JoAnn Rivera, a licensed real-estate associate broker who lives in Staten Island and hires security whenever she goes into Midtown for work or leisure. “We’ve paid quite a penny, but it’s worth it because security means a lot.”

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has acknowledged that rising crime rates pose a challenge in the city, but pointed to progress such as a large number of gun arrests and an overall year-over-year decline in homicides in October.

Transit officials in New York have said the subway is safe despite major crimes not falling in proportion to ridership declines during the pandemic and last month called on the NYPD to deploy more officers throughout the system.

Christopher Herrmann, an assistant professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said that while crime rates have risen significantly, instances of random assault are still rare. Other areas of concern, such as homicides or homelessness or protest violence, tend to be confined to specific locations around the city, he added.

“The numbers are going up, obviously, so people have that on their mind,” Mr. Herrmann said, adding that hiring personal security was an unconventional solution. “To me, it just doesn’t make sense. I guess if you have money to spend and it makes you feel better, then do it to it.”

Kristian Murphy, a music executive who lives in Miami, said he often hires security when he visits New York City, both for the artists that he works with and for himself.

“With everything else going on, unfortunately, with all the looting, it’s not safe anymore,” Mr. Murphy said. “I want to know that if I’m coming to New York, I’m going to be able to get to where I need to be.”

Mr. Murphy, 36, said he plans to use McCall Risk Group when he visits the city later this month to get around.

“It’s scary these days,” said Mr. Murphy, who grew up in the New York City area. “I’ve seen where it’s come and where it’s gone, and it’s not fun anymore.”

Write to Stephanie Yang at stephanie.yang@wsj.com and Ben Chapman at Ben.Chapman@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/amp/articles/new-york-city-bodyguards-are-in-demand-as-election-stokes-safety-concern-11604754000?st=521qhdh73uizedv&reflink=article_email_share