By Anna Pulley
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Several would-be patrol special assistants interviewed for this article describe having their applications returned — sometimes repeatedly — and hearing nothing for months from the office within the police Field Operations Bureau assigned to process them.
"It's frustrating," says Reggie Hyun, 24, one of the few applicants willing to go on the record. As White's nephew, he says he expected the process might not be easy. An office assistant and former store clerk, Hyun applied as a patrol special assistant more than a year ago, he says, after completing the training.
Several months later, Hyun got a letter from Sergeant Craig Tom, the Police Department's liaison to the specials, telling him that the waiver he had submitted to permit SFPD to check his background needed to be notarized.
Hyun returned the notarized form within days, he says, and assumed the police had what they needed. That was six months ago. "I can't tell you what's happening because they haven't told me anything," he says. "It's like everything just fell into a hole."
But his efforts constitute a walk in the park compared to those of Antjuan Taswell.
A security guard at California Pacific Medical Center who grew up in the neighborhood near the former Sunshine High School, where he played basketball, Taswell, 39, has been trying to become a patrol special assistant for 14 years. He is currently on what he describes as his fourth round.
"Here's a guy who has a spotless record and meets all of the training requirements and they just won't let him get through the door," says longtime patrol special beat owner Calvin Wiley (the brother-in-law of former San Francisco Police Chief Earl Sanders), who has known Taswell since the early '90s.
Taswell's first application was rejected by SFPD in 1994. He says he was never provided specifics. He and Wiley, his sponsor, say there was nothing in his background that should have given investigators pause. He had attended City College of San Francisco for a year. As a teenager, he once interned as a guide at the Exploratorium. "I was never in trouble as a youth, and I've never been cited for anything other than maybe a parking ticket," he says.
With Wiley's encouragement, Taswell tried again in 1997, but the application languished and he took a job with a security firm while moonlighting as a bodyguard for former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo.
Taswell, who is African-American, assumed his inability to pass muster with the SFPD was racially motivated until 2005, when, over lunch with a retired police captain at Stonestown Mall, he says the ex-cop told him "the real issue was that the Police Department wanted to squeeze out the patrol specials and they were making it hard for everybody." Taswell turned in a fourth application last year, which is still pending. "It's a question of justice," he says. "At some point they're going to have to at least acknowledge me."
Yet rarely have those who allege that SFPD has strung them along pursued legal action.
One who did — and with little to show for it — is Willie Adams.
Adams, who is African-American and gay, sued the Police Department in 2006 claiming racial and sexual discrimination after he was rejected. But he may not have been the perfect candidate. A Police Department background check turned up a sex offense with a 17-year-old in 1991, when Adams was in his early 20s, and which was later expunged from his record.
Nonetheless, the police did not cite the offense as the basis for his rejection. Adams insists that, as the process dragged on, he was told by SFPD liaison Craig Tom, whom he says he informed about his past, to be patient and that he would likely be approved.
"He was qualified in every way," contends Waukeen McCoy, Adams' attorney.
Without addressing the merits, a judge last month tossed out the lawsuit on a technicality, saying that since patrol special assistants are private employees, Adams had no standing to sue the Police Department. (Adams has appealed.)
Craig Tom, who has exercised day-to-day oversight of the patrol special program since 2005, declined to be interviewed for this article, as did Police Chief Heather Fong. Tom's boss, Deputy Chief Kevin Cashman, installed in February as the new head of field operations, declined to discuss individual cases, citing confidentiality constraints.
However, Cashman vigorously defends the department's vetting of would-be patrol specials and assistants. "Anecdotally, I've heard some complaints, but I can assure you that each background investigation is worked up thoroughly," he says. "Some people don't pass the background check, even though they think that they should."
Those assurances do not impress the patrol specials. "After years of the same treatment, we don't need a scorecard to know what's going on," Wiley says. "The Police Department has us in a stranglehold and they won't let go."
The SFPD's ability to control the personnel spigot of an entity with which it has long been at odds — and, as patrol specials contend, competes against — is a direct consequence of the 1994 changes.
The Police Department, with the backing of then-Mayor Dianne Feinstein, tried to strip the patrol specials of their authority in the mid-1980s. In the early '90s, the police backed efforts to move the specials out from under the protection of the City Charter, a move blocked by the Board of Supervisors and charter reformers. In each instance, the debate highlighted the divide between those who view the patrol specials as examples of unwanted "privatization" in law enforcement and others who see them as a vital supplement to SFPD.