San Francisco should cut ties with its 150-year-old private police force because it has become a constant disciplinary headache and a drain on city resources, according to a report released today.
While clients value the services of Patrol Special Police, they are both a financial burden and a liability to The City, according to a critical report managed by the City Controller’s Office to be discussed at the Police Commission tonight. The audit says there is confusion about what the security force has the power to do and how officers routinely ignore the rules and procedures created by the body that oversees it.
Patrol Specials are an only-in-San Francisco phenomenon dating back to the Gold Rush era. They were originally created to provide protection for merchants and citizens during a time when The City was experiencing “tremendous growth and significant crime,” the report said. In 1935, the “private” police were added to the City Charter, to be overseen by the Police Commission.
Businesses and neighborhood groups pay the wages of Patrol Specials to walk a foot beat through the streets, uniformed and armed with guns.
Patrol Special clients enthusiastically endorse their use, but the new report conducted by the Police Safety Strategies Group says the special police serve private customers while consuming public dollars.
It costs San Francisco taxpayers more than $300,000 a year to maintain the 31-person security force, which includes salaries for a SFPD sergeant, a lieutenant, command staff members, academy classes and legal and commission costs, according to the city controller. Costs for defending lawsuits and dispatch duties were not included.
The special police force was also faulted for not wearing uniforms that distinguish them from SFPD officers. The special police are required to wear uniforms with a light-blue stripe along the leg, but regularly wear the same navy-blue uniform as police officers.
Patrol Specials have also been a legal and disciplinary headache for The City, according to the report. Between July 2006 and March 2010, the Police Department investigated 40 complaints. In return, Patrol Specials have sued The City at least 10 times about the rules governing them.
Advocates and clients of Patrol Specials have been organizing to save the force in anticipation of the audit.
Ann Grogan, part of a Glen Park organization that hires Patrol Specials, said the audit comes at an auspicious time. The former president of the Patrol Special police, Jane Warner, recently died of cancer. The new president, Alan Byard, was elected in June.
“Our Specials serve admirably, handling matters that the SFPD simply have no time or person-power to handle,” Grogan wrote in a letter to Supervisor Bevan Dufty.
On the beat
The role of The City’s Patrol Specials is up for debate.
13 Patrol Special officers
18 Assistant Patrol Special officers
64 Beats throughout S.F.
$303,838 City cost for administering Patrol Specials
40 Disciplinary complaints between 2006 and 2010
Source: Police Safety Strategies Group