To Serve & Collect

Nearly extinct and long at odds with the SFPD, the little-known San Francisco Patrol Special Police appears poised for a comeback.

Then came the 1994 move.

The commission's 4-0 vote to strip the specials of the arrest powers they had enjoyed for 60 years culminated a protracted struggle between the specials and the SFPD over control of San Francisco's security market. Denouncing the action as a power grab, Reyes and another patrol special sued the city for damages and the restoration of their former duties. After losing, they appealed all the way to the U. S. Supreme Court, which refused to hear the case.

Although the commission ostensibly preserved for itself oversight of the patrol specials, it delegated to the SFPD the authority to approve patrol special hires and regulate their beats. Not only are the specials under the thumb of a sergeant in Field Operations, but also even the point person for the specials at the Police Commission is an SFPD lieutenant who doubles as the commission's secretary.

"Imagine giving executives at Coca-Cola the right to choose who, when, and how many people the folks at Pepsi could hire," Jane Warner says. "Under the present setup, the cards are totally stacked against us."

Her argument appears to have gained traction among the current crop of police commissioners, a majority of whom increasingly have expressed skepticism about the SFPD's role. "In my opinion, there are some conflict-of-interest issues between SFPD and the patrol specials," commission president Theresa Sparks says. "Fundamentally, SFPD would love for the patrol specials to go away."

That skepticism boiled over last October, when the panel sharply questioned Deputy Chief David Shinn, Cashman's predecessor, about alleged foot-dragging involving applicants. Shinn had begun his monthly report to the commission by mentioning that there were eight outstanding applications for patrol special assistant currently before the Police Department. But when the deputy chief reeled off their status individually (although mentioning none by name) it was a different story.

None of the applicants, including some whose résumés had been in the hopper for more than a year, had been approved. In nearly every instance, the "problems" Shinn identified were paperwork deficiencies such as incomplete background information or a missing personal history statement, the kinds of things critics say could be resolved in days rather than weeks or months. Only one applicant's "problem hold" related to inadequate training, something that didn't escape Warner's notice. "It's a paper chase," she says. "It's an institutional game that they play to choke us off."

The SFPD concedes that Chief Fong has approved only five of 27 patrol special assistant candidates in the three years since Tom took over day-to-day administration of the program. That's as far back as the department's records go, police spokesman Sergeant Wilfred Williams says.

The numbers are similar to those Shinn shared with the commission in October, when several commissioners expressed frustration. Joe Marshall accused the department of "running an end-around" with the applications. Sparks told the deputy chief that she was baffled by "conflicting statements" between police and patrol specials concerning applicants' merits: "We appear to not even be talking about the same persons." Joe Veronese was more succinct: "The department has a clear conflict of interest in supervising this program."

Sparks says the panel hopes to make a formal proposal to change the rules governing the specials by year's end.

Ideas being considered include two that are certain to meet stiff resistance from the SFPD and the POA. One is to remove the department's role in approving the specials for hire, either totally or by setting up an appeals process with the commission as the final arbiter for rejected applicants. Another idea, equally significant to the patrol group's future, is to upgrade their training and perhaps even restore their pre-1994 status as full-fledged peace officers.

"My goal would be to have an individual [Police Commission] staffer oversee them," Sparks says. The commission president says that if patrol specials are provided proper training and oversight, "it's folly not to have them on the streets because it costs the city nothing. ... There's no reason they couldn't become a significant part of the equation."

It's a vision Gary Delagnes, the POA head, clearly doesn't share. "We're saying, 'Whoa. Slow down here. We're moving too fast,'" he says. "The department, the chief's office, sees a power play going on, and it doesn't have anything to do with overtime or 10B. It has everything to do with [the patrol special's] powers being expanded, and if we have anything to do with it, that's not going to happen."

The mere suggestion that the specials are wannabe cops makes John Candido bristle. "We're the Patrol Special Police," says the retired former beat owner, who worked the streets for 43 years. "It's just like it says on the badge."

Candido, 77, is a throwback to an era when patrol specials were perceived, if not as equals, at least as esteemed adjuncts of the Police Department. His home in the Marina is stuffed with memorabilia from decades on the beat. There's an antique police callbox on a shelf. There's his prized collection of "stars" — rare police and fire badges. Framed photos and newspaper articles adorn the walls alongside medals and ribbons he was awarded for his work. Among them: a Gold Medal and a Purple Heart, SFPD's highest honors.

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