Patrol Specials Under Fire

John Fitzinger negotiates his police interceptor into a space on 23rd Street, pulls on his hat, a silver shield set squarely above the brim, and lumbers toward Mission Street to begin walking his beat.

Nearing the corner of 24th, the star on his chest sends a loitering cluster of teenagers in baggy pants shuffling to the opposite side of the street.

“Gang members,” Fitzinger explains. “They’ll come back when I am gone.”

Fitzinger, despite appearances, is not a cop. He is a Patrol Special.

Patrol Specials have been a part of San Francisco’s law enforcement team since before the Gold Rush. They began in 1832, before the police department was established; the city charter allowed certain private companies to enforce public laws.

Those companies were called Patrol Specials, and 13 are still operating in San Francisco today, down from roughly six dozen in 1994, just before the Police Commission voted to strip away their power to arrest suspects, according to SF Weekly. Now, a year-long study presented to the commission last month recommends ending their relationship with the city entirely.

“During the course of our study, we discovered that while they publicly call themselves San Francisco Patrol Special Police, they are in fact not police, or peace officers. They’re not sworn officers at all,” said Kym Craven, director of the Public Safety Strategies Group, the consulting firm that produced the report.

The only way to be become a Patrol Special is through a lengthy process of applications and background checks that can take years. Once approved, the city of San Francisco also trains and oversees Patrol Specials.

The city, however, does not recruit them, pay them or direct their day-to-day activities.

Patrol Specials are hired by private clients such as businesses, individuals or landlords who believe their needs are not met by the police department alone.

The clients typically do not require or cannot afford private security guards. An armed guard posted at a retail store would cost the business owner between $25 and $30 per hour and earn roughly $20 per hour, according to Kim King, president and CEO of King Security in San Francisco.

Also, security guards are prohibited by law from patrolling the streets and must remain in a fixed position on private property. So businesses will join forces and contribute to the cost of having a neighborhood Patrol Special.

Patrol Special clients contribute on a monthly basis for the services they receive, ranging from under $50 to several hundred per month, depending on their needs. The clients’ contributions are pooled to pay the Patrol Specials the roughly $25 per hour they take home.

Ann Grogan, who lives in Glen Park and runs a business from her home, has been a Patrol Special client for two years. She said her neighborhood needs supplemental private police on the streets, not a stationary guard, and she has joined with other businesses to contribute to a fund that pays the guard.

“There aren’t any huge stores in my neighborhood for a guard to stand [by],” she said. “Crime was occurring on the sidewalks, not in stores. People were snatching iPods right out of people’s ears coming off BART, and robbing ATM machines. We need that visible presence that Patrol Specials provide to help deter crime.”

The 40-page report by the Public Safety Strategies Group concluded with the suggestion that Patrol Specials be given a transition period, after which they would have no more privileges than a private security firm.

“We’re not saying they shouldn’t be allowed to work or that their clients don’t need additional security, but they should be hired as private security with no connection to the city,” Craven said.

The year-long study also concluded that too often Patrol Specials overstep the bounds of their authority, present a financial liability to the city and can be a source of confusion to citizens.

“They present themselves in a way that most citizens would not know they’re not police, and [the city] can’t be everywhere to monitor them,” Craven said.

“We learned of Patrol Specials who actually went out to an underpass to move along homeless folks, when there are no Patrol Special clients in that area. This becomes a major liability for the city.”

Fitzinger, who works the Mission District beat, disagreed that Patrol Specials are anything less than an asset to citizens and law enforcement agencies.

“We don’t go out and look for things to do. Our function is to service our clients, but if I see someone being assaulted during a major crime, I am going to let dispatch know. We get involved as concerned citizens, which is something anyone would do.”

Prior to 1994, Patrol Specials were able to make arrests and file police reports, but today their role is primarily to check in on their clients and provide a uniformed presence on the streets they patrol. They can, however, make a citizen’s arrest if they witness a felony.

But the line between police and Patrol Specials is still a blurry one for most people.

Patrol Specials begin their shifts by checking in at the local police station, and have access to the latest police information that would be denied to a private citizen or security guard, including the ability to transmit on police radio frequencies.

They wear the same dark blue as SFPD, with a patch and star that both feature the word “police” prominently. To the average observer, only a thin, light-blue stripe down the side of their uniforms distinguishes a Patrol Special from a police officer.

Patrol Specials also acknowledge that they may be indistinguishable from police officers when on the road.

“A lot of us buy used police cars,” Fitzinger said. “They’re conveniently suitable for the job we do, even if we can’t have red and blue lights in them.”

Patrol Specials use police shooting ranges to train and qualify with their firearms, and receive additional training by the city before they are hired — perks that Craven says are unnecessarily paid for by the city.

The report estimates the city’s expenses for training, oversight and other administrative costs associated with Patrol Specials at $300,000 annually. More than half of this budget goes to pay the salaries of one full-time sergeant and one part-time lieutenant who oversee the Patrol Special Program.

With only 13 active Patrol Specials operating in San Francisco, the city’s $300,000 a year comes to just over $23,000 per year for each guard.

“What other private companies receive that kind of special treatment from the city?” Craven asked. “You can’t have it both ways. You can’t be a private business and work for the city. It makes no sense in terms of governance, because the city has no control over how they’re spending their time.”

Fitzinger and others who work for or employ Patrol Specials expressed serious doubts about the report’s legitimacy. He and several citizens at the meeting last month wanted to know why the report was entirely negative and offered no suggestions for compromises that would not require a change in the city charter.

Craven said her firm was hired to conduct a study of how Patrol Specials fit into the mission, vision and values of the San Francisco Police Department, but the report concludes with a strong recommendation to eliminate the program altogether — a conclusion that came as a surprise to Patrol Specials, who were expecting suggestions for improved training or more oversight.

“Their job was to figure out how we can best be utilized, and that’s not what happened,” Fitzinger said.

Ken Craig serves on the board of directors for Castro Community on Patrol, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting safety in the Castro District, and works closely with both Patrol Specials and the police department. He said part of the problem is that Patrol Specials usually provide security at sporting events, street fairs and nightclubs — venues where police officers have been able to work overtime hours under what is called the 10B program.

Police officers can volunteer to work up to 20 overtime hours a week at non-city-sponsored events, such as the annual Bay to Breakers 12K Run. Event organizers pay for the extra police presence, and the police department in turn pays the officers from the $87 per hour it charges for their time, according to the San Francisco Examiner.

From 2007 to 2009, officers in San Francisco were paid $114.8 million in 10B overtime hours by the city, according to a report released by the City Controller’s office in August 2010.

The report also said the city is not properly regulating how many overtime hours officers can work per week, which is supposed to be limited to 20 per officer.

Prior to the 1970s, those hours may have been worked by a Patrol Special, Craig said.

“This market was very lucrative, and one in which the Patrol Special Police had been very successful for over 150 years,” Craig wrote.

Craven, a former police officer, denied any conflict between the report and the police department’s overtime program.

“We work for the Controller’s Office, one of the most unbiased organizations in the city,” Craven said.

The Police Commission will consider the report’s findings in a meeting in which commissioners hope to hear from citizens on all sides of the issue before deciding whether or not to recommend that San Franciscans vote on amending the city charter. The date for this hearing has not yet been set.

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7 Comments

  1. doggz

    Of course Ms. Craven of the “Public Safety Strategies Group” would want the Patrol Specials to be disbanded; they would make her former cop buddies look bad.

    Craven, a former police officer, denied any conflict between the report and the police department’s overtime program.

    “We work for the Controller’s Office, one of the most unbiased organizations in the city,” Craven said.

    Hello, conflict of interest, anyone? The Police Commission and the City should be ashamed and embarrassed that they bungled up farming out a study like this. People know that consulting firms are mostly purveyors of high-priced recycled B.S.

    This is one of many reasons why I think the Patrol Specials should be allowed to stay:

    “Lawon Marshawn Hall, 19, of Richmond, died after two men opened fire outside the Suede nightclub near Fisherman’s Wharf. Hall was shot several times; three other men were also hit and survived.

    One of the suspected gunmen, 20-year-old Keandre Davis, also of Richmond, was arrested after being shot by a patrol special officer assigned to help provide security for the club.”

    Would you expect some crummy security guard to do the same thing? I think not. Off duty cops would be great, but their overtime charges are beyond highway robbery now.

    Here’s a great unbiased article from Time Magazine about the patrol specials, from the 70s: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,945720,00.html

    In a time when it feels almost as lawless as the Gold Rush days of the 1850s, it would be incredibly short-sighted and asinine to disband a long-standing uniformed deterrent to crime, namely the Patrol Specials.

  2. In May, 2009 when the study was initiated, I was appointed a “client representative” by the SFPD to serve on a small Work Group to advise Ms. Craven and the research group. We met only twice but curiously, there was never any ‘work’ assigned, and she abandoned the group. However, I had the opportunity to learn the study goals and initially work with the researchers. The goal specified in the published Scope of Study was to recommend ways to improve operations and programs of the Patrol Specials — yet the research group recommended termination of the entire program. Their final report was one year overdue when released on Sept. 1, and it was based on data collected more than six months ago. Thus, the report is out of date and non-responsive to the City’s continuing random and violent crime problems during the past months, as well as non-responsive to the stated goal. It’s an evident waste of $50,000 in taxpayer monies that could have gone to defray the City’s $300,000 nominal administrative cost to administer the Patrol Special program, or could have gone to hire about two more full-time Patrol Special Police Officers to prevent crime in a San Francisco neighborhood.

    No one in San Francisco is so naive as to believe – as Ms. Craven suggests – that the sponsoring government agency is automatically “unbiased,” especially without looking below the surface at the evidence. For example, the report unjustifiably criticized the Patrol Specials for saying that they provide “community policing.” In fact, three of our Supervisors say exactly the same thing, and two said it as recently as Oct. 5 when they approved the naming of the Castro public plaza in honor of deceased Patrol Special Police Officer Jane Warner.

    Second, the group criticized the Patrol Specials for calling themselves ‘police’ — yet as permitted by Commission Rules, the official uniform badge says “Patrol Special Police,” the Rules call them “Patrol Special Police,” the City Charter calls them “Patrol Special Police,” and once again three Supervisors recently called them “police.” How can this then constitute an ‘offense,’ as Ms. Craven nonsensically claims?

    One final example will suffice to demonstrate the group’s most absurd reason to justify their draconian recommendation to disband the Patrol Special Police and take this valuable option away from those of us who desire to help out the SFPD and pay for rapid, responsive supplemental policing in local neighborhoods (remember that SFPD officers take over an hour to respond to disturbances and quality-of-life neighborhood crimes). Ms. Craven showed a slide of Glen Park’s mom-and-pop market where the owner was nearly killed two years ago. She said that even if a Patrol Special Police Officer was standing outside the market, a criminal could ‘act out’ in his presence, thus proving that his services are not all that effective. However, it takes only an instant for any thinking person to realize that her same argument applies as well to the SFPD! In fact, not only do criminals act out in front of police stations, they also attack SFPD officers and Patrol Specials as well. Therefore, should we disband the SFPD as well as the Patrol Special Police?

    One final comment: Ms. Craven reported that six months ago there were 29 active officers City wide, not 13 as stated incorrectly. Thus the per-officer cost for the City to administer their program is only $10,000 per year. It’s hard to see how 1.5 well-paid command level officers are needed and what they do that requires over three weeks per officer to ‘administer’ the program? They provide no day-to-day supervision, and Patrol Specials don’t focus on or engage in high-speed chases, shoot-outs, undercover work, or other law enforcement activities to begin with. How much will it cost the City to replace 29 Patrol Special Police Officers with 29 SFPD officers (not $300,000, but about $3 million is the answer). But wait! The Chief can’t do that now, can he? He just told us that he will have to reduce our total 1971 police officers by some 500 officers in five years or less, so he just doesn’t have the money . What he does have but has been ignoring, is a real treasure in the Patrol Special Police. Their authority should be enhanced, their peace officer powers restored while on duty (as has been done recently in other forward-thinking urban cities now working with private police), their training made more stringent, and the entire force embraced as an asset to improve neighborhood safety that the force is and always has been for over 162 years.

  3. luke

    i loved the movie kuffs

  4. I would like to respond specifically to several non-sensical statements that Director Kym Craven made to your reporter.

    “What other private companies receive that kind of special treatment from the city?” Craven asked. “You can’t have it both ways. You can’t be a private business and work for the city. It makes no sense in terms of governance, because the city has no control over how they’re spending their time.”

    First, other cities besides San Francisco, in fact “have it both ways.” In the two programs the report references, North Carolina and Cincinnati, private police have peace officer powers while on duty, yet hourly rates are paid by the private businesses who hire them, and they entail some taxpayer cost for the Attorney General or the local Police Chief/department to regulate and administer them. Craven misses the point that these programs, as well as the Patrol Special Police, are both quasi-private and quasi-public, not just private businesses. It appears that Craven made a mistake when she said in her reort that ‘no’ cost to the taxpayer is involved in administering the above two programs.

    Second, neither the city nor citizens need what Craven’s promotes, that is, the city’s or Police Chief’s day-to-day control over Patrol Special Police Officers and what they do (they appropriately regulate how they do their job, however). Let’s say that Craven’s solution comes about and the City assumes day-to-day control over the Patrol Specials, obviating input from the private clients who pay for them. That doubly taxes us private clients. We would then pay taxpayer dollars for the SFPD, then we turn around and pay the City to hire Patrol Specials to be directed by the Police Chief and not by us? That would be nonsensical to promote or support, but it seems to be what Craven absurdly suggests.

  5. AAA

    One thing that everybody always forget to mention is that all that OVERTIME THAT THE CITY PAYS TO SFPD DOES NOT COME FROM TAXES. ALL THAT MONEY IS PAID TO THE CITY BY COMPANIES LIKE THE 49’ERS, SF GIANTS, PG&E ETC FOR THE SERVICES. SO THAT MONEY DOES NOT COME FROM TAXES OR ANY OTHER CITY FUND!!!!!!!!!!
    People open your eyes an ask your supervisor what hes pet project for the year for example will spend this coming year. You know what he/she will answer NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS!!!!!!! because thats not info they want you to know. The San Francisco Supervisors pet projects for 2010 budget was 1.5 BILLION DOLLARS !!!!!!!!!!!! So when the city turned around and asked the majority of the unions to give back to the city in negotiated contracts, A major mess ensued because the chicken Union reps and instead of asking the City to open their books chicken out and requested the union to give back. Using major lies and then saying that they didn’t understand the request by the City, this after the vote had happened. Like what Delagnes did to the SFPD Union.

    So like everything in this City this study is a mess overdue and wrong. Meanwhile you suckers are out of money that this group should never received

  6. Ken Craig

    There is one important point that always seems to get missed in the discussion of the Patrol Special Police. That is quite simply the fact that they are needed and wanted by the private clients who pay for their services.

    I have the greatest respect for the SFPD and what they do, but they are overworked, understaffed and according to the Chief himself, they are shrinking in numbers over the next five years. It typically takes an hour or more, depending on the location and time of day, to get an SFPD response to a “quality of life” issue, while the Patrol Special Police can typically respond within 15 minutes or less.

    As we face increasing violent crime in the Castro, South Beach and other neighborhoods, and at the same time face the prospect of SFPD reducing in size – we need to be creative and supportive of ALL resources that are willing to take up the challenge of safety and security.

    We need more neighborhood watch schemes. We need to develop and deploy Community On Patrol groups such as CCOP in the Castro. We need to leverage private security companies and we need to support and enhance the abilities of the Patrol Special Police and the SFPD where and when it makes sense to do so.

    Getting rid of the Patrol Special Police; a safety resource that has been around as long as the SFPD has, that is paid for freely and willingly by clients to want it, and that makes a real diffrence every single day to the quality of life in San Francisco would be utter madness in my opinion.

    Salaries, benefits, 10b, and all aside – the city NEEDS every safety and security resource we can muster and deploy right now. The problems that the questionable report highlighted can all be resolved. Filling the gap that would be left if the Patrol Special Police are forced to disband would be impossible.

  7. The $300,000 cost that Kym Craven’s report misleadingly attributes to the Patrol Specials is in fact imposed on the Patrol Specials by the police department. This money does not go to the Patrol Specials — unlike the SFPD, they pay for their own uniforms and equipment. As noted, more than half of that $300,000 actually goes to a sergeant and a lieutenant in the SFPD. What if anything these two officers are actually doing to earn that money is a good question.

    The fact is that the Specials are providing a valuable service at a far more reasonable cost than the regular police. By doing so, they are standing in the way of SFPD cops racking up more costly overtime bills — and because of this, some people are maneuvering to get rid of them.

    Compared with the SFPD, the Patrol Specials’ approach to policing is more community-oriented and a better fit with the priorities of San Francisco residents. They don’t waste money and resources with sting operations going after victimless crimes like prostitution and drug use, and are more focused on real crimes against people and property.

    If you want to see a safer, more tolerant city with a lower cost of government, support the Patrol Specials being given back their peace officer powers, not shut down.

    -Starchild, candidate for School Board

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