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.

The keepsakes include a .45-caliber bullet on which his name is now engraved. Doctors removed it from his brain after he was shot while responding to a clothing store robbery in the Mission in 1962. He served another 33 years. But in 1994, after the Police Commission's action, Candido sold his beats and quit in protest.

"There was your power grab," he declares. "SFPD wanted us shoved out, and the commission went along."

For the mostly aging corps of beat owners who constitute a majority of the specials, the action was a watershed moment, marking the steady decline of a storied institution. "We were the original community police," says Sam Reyes, the special who broke into the ranks in the Haight during 1967's Summer of Love. He still owns three beats, although he mostly has others work them.

Indeed, the specials trace their origins to the Gold Rush era, when merchants turned to "vigilante committees" to help keep the peace. Old photographs show them patrolling muddy streets in horse-drawn carriages as early as 1847. Their longevity is owing to a provision added to the City Charter in 1932. It gave the specials unique status as an armed, quasipolice entity with the right to patrol their beats, unlike unarmed — and stationary — private security guards.

Every inch of the city is in somebody's beat. There are 69 beats, down from a peak of 140 a half-century ago, before the patrol specials began buying each other out and consolidating their turf. But the numbers are deceptive. For example, Wiley, the veteran patrol special, technically owns 11 beats, but because he can't find an assistant who will pass muster with the SFPD, he provides only token service in all the beats except one. "I've had about three days off in the last two years, and one of those was to go to a funeral," he says.

Before the specials' powers were restricted, some of the beats were apparently quite lucrative. There are no reliable statistics, and veteran owners are hesitant to reveal details. But in 1992, two years before the momentous changes were approved, a lawsuit listed two of the patrol specials' beats as having an estimated worth of $1 million apiece.

As a rule, the specials say, beats have traditionally sold for 10 times their monthly revenue. If that's the case, Hanley Chan's purchase last year of two contiguous beats connected to one he already owns on either side of Polk Street downtown — for a combined sum of $5,000 — may speak volumes about the specials' current economic reality. "If they [the SFPD] won't let you hire anyone, you can't expand your business," he says.

But that's not the worst of it, he says. Although Chan bought the dormant beats from a retired owner more than a year ago, the Police Department, which must approve the sale, has yet to do so. "It's a bureaucratic runaround, nothing more," says Milton Hum, Chan's attorney.

Candido, the elder statesman among the specials, calls it something else. "It's B.S.," he says. "That's why the Police Commission has got to intervene."

Meanwhile, Warner, the patrol specials' leader, faces disciplinary action she attributes to her high-profile role before the Police Commission pushing for change.

She was brought up on administrative charges by SFPD earlier this year for unlawfully undermining the authority of the Police Department by hiring Willie Adams as a patrol special assistant despite the department's never having approved him.

Warner says the accusation is untrue, and that Adams was hired merely to do public relations work for the association. "It's just another attempt to put a black mark on [the patrol specials] by disparaging me," she says. The Police Commission is slated to hear the matter later this month.

And then there's Hanley Chan, the group's vice president. He says he's been the target of steady abuse since the appearance on Judge Judy. Someone keyed his car with the words "Fake Cop" after his appearance. Chan suspects a police officer is responsible, although he can't prove it.

Adding to Chan's suspicions, numerous message board posters purporting to be cops have directed threats and verbal abuse at him. "Know anyone at the Hall [of Justice] that would back me up if I hauled Hanley's ass into booking?" one poster wrote at the SF Bay Area Cops Forum. "If I ever see his butt on Lombard or Van Ness, I'm turning on my steady red and blue," another wrote.

The worst, he says, was being hauled before SFPD's internal affairs after a South San Francisco police officer who confronted him on the firing range lodged the complaint about his impersonating an officer "and being made to feel like a criminal, when you know it's all a game."

"There's no reason why harassment should be part of a patrol special's job description," Chan says. "Something's got to change."

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