Saturday, August 9, 2008

San Francisco's Patrol Special Police

Ever seen the 1992 movie Kuffs? In that movie Christian Slater plays a San Francisco Patrol Special Police officer who takes over his murdered brother's patrol district and searches for his killer. Not exactly a blockbuster, but the movie does feature the lovely Milla Jovovich. :)

Here's a trailer for the movie:

Ok, now where was I?

San Francisco is perhaps unique in having authorized, as part of the city's charter, the use of a armed, quasi-police force, known as the Patrol Special Police, who own the right to patrol particular sections of the city. The Patrol Specials are hired and paid by the businesses in the districts they patrol, and serve as sort of a private community security force for those businesses. Not surprisingly, the San Francisco Police Department and the SFPD union have vigorously opposed the existence of the Patrol Specials. In 1994, they succeeded in having the Police Commission strip the Patrol Specials of their peace officer status, and along with that the ability to issue citations and make arrests.

An article in SF Weekly discusses some of the tensions between the two sides:
The "specials" insist that the cops have long wanted to eradicate them.

At issue, they say, are millions of dollars for extra police security services funneled from businesses and institutions to regular cops in the form of privately funded overtime under the police department's 10B program, named for its place in the city's administrative code. For years, such services — provided for a fee to restaurants, schools, street festivals, and all manner of retail establishments — were largely the domain of the patrol specials.

But in 1994, with backing from the SFPD and the powerful police union, the Police Officers Association (POA), the Police Commission stripped the patrol specials of their status as peace officers with the ability to issue citations and book their own arrests.
After months of quiet deliberation, a more patrol-special-friendly Police Commission, which has shown flashes of impatience with the SFPD's handling of the patrol program, has announced plans to revamp the rules, perhaps even yanking the SFPD's gatekeeper role entirely.

The panel's engagement follows months of complaints of mistreatment by the patrol specials. It comes at a time when residents and businesses alike are demanding more community policing of the kind the specials say is their stock-in-trade, and which the SFPD, despite a mandate from the Board of Supervisors a year ago, has embraced only reluctantly.

Still, the police union is digging in its heels.

"The patrol specials aren't real cops, and we shouldn't be talking about expanding their powers," says Gary Delagnes, who heads the POA. "You can bet that we're going to be a player in opposing that."
At twilight, the clubs in the Castro have yet to rev up, but Jane Warner, who has arrived on her beat in a decidedly policelike black Ford Crown Victoria, has a backlog of calls.

On Market Street, at her first stop, a homeless man is sprawled on the sidewalk near the entrance to Home restaurant, where he's been lying in a stupor for four hours. That's also how long it's been since the restaurant's manager, Michael Robb, first called SFPD to have a squad car sent over. One never came. After a couple of minutes of gentle prompting, Warner has the man on his feet and on his way.

"For $300 a month, Jane is the best bargain in town," says Robb, who is a huge fan of the patrol specials. A few nights earlier, Warner had been Johnnie-on-the-spot after a vagabond threatened a female server in the restaurant's parking lot. "The specials fill a vital niche that SFPD, with its strapped resources and focus on serious crime, can't hope to fill," he says.
On the surface, there's little about Warner and her colleagues to distinguish them from real cops. They tote nightsticks and carry loaded guns. They wear dark-blue uniforms (although post-1994 rules say they should be light blue). To the untrained eye, specials' badges look a lot like those of the cops, featuring a seven-pointed star as opposed to the SFPD's six. Their radios (which they pay for themselves) are on police frequency. As required by statute, the specials even check in daily at local precinct stations.

Article here. Like most of these political fights, the issues involve power and money. The SFPD and its union don't want to cede any of their authority (regardless of whether they can actually perform the job of the Patrol Specials with the same level of quality or responsiveness), and they don't want to have any competitors for that big bucket of privately-paid overtime.

No comments: