Police-Line-Tape-Do-Not-Cross-psd6657.pngA new report says the city of San Francisco should abandon its Patrol Special officers, a quasi-official security force of un-sworn officers that has been operating in the city since the Gold Rush.

The report, prepared for the city by the Public Safety Strategies Group, a Massachusetts-based consulting firm, and released today, recommends “that the city discontinue the Patrol Specials program.”

The report cited the program’s privacy, violations of rules and procedures, lack of legal oversight and cost to the city.

Though Patrol Special police are not sworn San Francisco police officers, they wear similar uniforms and stars and receive training from the Police Department. Local businesses and residents hire them to provide extra security.

The report, based on a study conducted between April 2009 and March of this year, said Patrol Special officers could continue to operate as private security guards, outside of the city charter. It recommended that the city and the Police Department explore other programs to supplement police services in the community.

The San Francisco Police Commission is discussing the findings at its meeting tonight.
Alan Byard, president of the Patrol Special Police Officers Association, condemned the study today as outdated and “full of mistakes.”

“I welcome the chance to sit down with the Police Commission, and to go over every single point that was made, and to rebuke every single one of them,” Byard said, referring to the report and not the commissioners.

Byard acknowledged with a chuckle, however, that tonight he would likely only receive the official three minutes allotted during the commission’s public comment period.

According to Byard, there are currently between 45 and 47 Patrol Special officers working throughout the city.

With recent budget cuts, and reductions in the number of Police Department officers and in police overtime, “There is a very big need for our services in this city,” said Byard.

Byard said local residents and businesses have established a close relationship with the Patrol Specials.

“They trust us because they always see us,” he said.

The report, however, found it problematic the Patrol Special officers are providing private security services and are not “under the direction and control” of the city while performing their duties.

Additionally, Patrol Special officers receive benefits that other security guards do not, such as the exclusive right, outside of the Police Department, to patrol streets and sidewalks. They also are allowed to operate on restricted police radio channels.

While the Police Commission has legal oversight over the Patrol Specials, it does not have the ability to direct and control their services, creating liability issues for the city, the report said.

Excluding litigation, the city spends more than $300,000 per year on the program, and assigns a full-time police officer to oversee it, according to the report.

The study’s authors said that Patrol Special officers have been seen violating “uniform, accountability and operational rules and procedures” as well as parking and traffic laws.

Other violations included responding to Police Department calls for service, and announcing themselves as “police,” they said.

But Byard claimed that the real beneficiary, should the Patrol Special program be eliminated, would be the Police Department itself.

“With us gone, they will be able to work more off-duty security,” he said. “That’s the whole thing behind all of this.”

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  • oldboy

    I guess the Public Safety Strategies Group doesn’t have an office in the Tenderloin where the only way to get uniformed assistance within 12 hours of someone fighting/shooting up/dealing drugs in the entrance way of your business is to pay the Patrol Special.

  • Marcy

    The good news is that the Commissioners voluntarily acknowledged that the Public Safety Strategies Group report dealt mainly with the interests of the SFPD, and was not focused on those of the general public. They asked a lot of intelligent questions, and pushed for a subsequent meeting when the Patrol Specials would have a chance to respond for the first time with full details how their services are of benefit to the City. The bad news is that Oldby in comment #1 is absolutely right, the detractors have not been to the Tenderloin or other challenged areas of The City.

  • Starchild

    I agree with Patrol Specials officer Byard — the motivation behind trying to get rid of the Patrol Specials is to allow already overpaid SFPD officers(see http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/g/a/2010/04/13/SFPay2009.DTL&appSession=700172373130805) to make yet more money working off-duty overtime in the 10b program.

    Instead of harassing the Specials about piddling uniform violations, city officials might want to investigate some of the violations and irregularities in SFPD overtime recently reported by Bay Citizen (see http://www.baycitizen.org/policing/story/auditor-sfpd-failed-control-overtime/).

    As that story notes, “The city?s general fund, the report says, paid for the majority of the department?s overtime ? $46 million.” The slightly over $300,000 a year that the biased report presented to the Police Commission complains about the Patrol Specials costing pales by comparison. And even that amount is mostly thanks to costs the SFPD claims it incurs in overseeing the Patrol Specials, who pay for their own uniforms and equipment!

    From this observer’s point of view the solution is obvious. The Patrol Specials should be taken out of the hands of the SFPD, which has a blatant conflict of interest, and instead should be made directly accountable to the Police Commission. They should also be subject to having complaints against them investigated by the Office of Citizen Complaints as SFPD officers are — without the delays that allow SFPD officers charged with violations to keep doing their jobs for years while the cases against them are dragged out.

    I think a study looking at the quality of policing delivered by the Patrol Specials versus that delivered by the SFPD is in order. Specifically it would be instructive to see statistics on the cost to taxpayers per officer, the popularity and perceived effectiveness of each force among the public, the number of complaints per officer, and the number of violations for things like excessive force and unjustified shootings.

    If San Franciscans are told the truth and given some basis for comparison, I think they will conclude the Patrol Specials are providing a valuable and appreciated service, and that it is in fact the SFPD which shows more room for improvement.