By Erin Sherbert
By Rachel Swan
By Erin Sherbert
By Erin Sherbert
By Howard Cole
By Erin Sherbert
By Erin Sherbert
By Leif Haven
The question from TV's Judge Judy to San Francisco Patrol Special Police Officer Hanley Chan was straightforward enough.
"You are a San Francisco police officer — is that correct?"
Fulfilling his bit role on the show as a plaintiff's witness, Chan replied, "Yes, working in the San Francisco special police patrol division."
The remark may have seemed innocuous to merchants and other clients of the little-known armed security force that has patrolled San Francisco's streets in uniform since the Gold Rush and enjoys unique status under the City Charter.
But for members of the San Francisco Police Department, the notion of Chan and his "patrol special" colleagues being mistaken for one of their own — on television or elsewhere — is sacrilege.
And Chan says he's paid a price. After the TV appearance last year, his car was vandalized; he was threatened and forced off a firing range; hauled up on administrative charges for impersonating a police officer; and became the target of nasty comments posted on an Internet message board frequented by Bay Area law enforcement personnel.
The episode and its aftermath is the tip of the iceberg in a long-chilly relationship between the SFPD and the San Francisco Patrol Special Police, who by statute are uniquely allowed to "own" geographic territories, or beats, within which they charge clients for an array of patrol services.
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.
Since then, the ranks of the specials and their assistants — some 250 strong at the time — have plummeted. Only 18 patrol specials, employing fewer than two dozen assistants, survive. Adding insult to injury, the patrol specials accuse the SFPD, which gets the last say in the hiring of the assistants, of sabotaging applications as a further way of squeezing the specials out of existence.
"They're killing us by attrition," says Jane Warner, 56, the feisty president of the association that represents the specials, and a former Honolulu cop. She points a finger squarely at the SFPD and the union. "They managed to downgrade us to take away our clients; now they'd like to put us out of our misery entirely."
But that may not happen.
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.
Warner has been working in the Castro since 1993, after giving up her job in Hawaii to follow a then–significant other to San Francisco. She signed on as a patrol special assistant part-time while pursuing a business degree at the University of San Francisco, but soon dropped out to patrol full-time after becoming enamored of the community policing aspect of the work, she 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.
But as their detractors will also tell you, with few exceptions (including Warner) the specials have received nowhere near the hundreds of hours of training required of entry-level cops through the San Francisco Police Academy. Rather, they're required to pass a minimum of 56 hours of entry-level coursework, consisting of what the state requires of security guards (who aren't authorized to carry weapons) plus firearms training. Although entry-level requirements are much lower than for regular cops, several patrol specials have used the work as a stepping stone to careers with the SFPD and other police agencies.
On paper, at least, the SFPD is supposed to provide (at the specials' expense) periodic refresher courses at the academy, but Warner says that hasn't happened in four years. "More training has never been an issue with us; we welcome it," she says. "The reality is that they [the Police Department] don't want us to have it."
The strain between the police and the specials precedes 1994, but those familiar with the matter say that it has become palpable since then mainly for one reason: the 10B program.
Patrol specials say the '94 changes made their businesses easy prey for the Police Department, which persuaded former and would-be clients that they would be better off hiring moonlighting cops under 10B than using the specials whose capabilities were reduced to a level barely above those of security guards.
The result: Patrol specials can no longer compete with the cops, despite charging less than half the $100 or more per hour the SFPD typically commands (including a 14 percent administrative fee) for a cop's services under 10B, they say.
Unlike overtime incurred during the course of ordinary duty, which is paid by taxpayers as part of the Police Department's $406 million budget, the 10B program — by tapping businesses and institutions willing to pay for the extra services — hits the patrol specials where it hurts. The SFPD doesn't advertise how much the program rakes in. But documents the department provided to SF Weekly in response to a public records request show that 10B garnered $9.5 million during the 2006-2007 fiscal year alone, up from $6.6 million five years ago.
For rank-and-file cops, who earn time and a half for such work, the program can be lucrative.
Up to half of the 2,300-member police force participates in the 10B program in a given year, records show. Rules restrict officers from working more than 20 hours of voluntary overtime within seven days, but some cops still manage to rack up huge sums. For example, in a sex discrimination lawsuit against the SFPD, one officer, Susan Rolovich, who claims the department unfairly punished her in part by taking away her 10B work, earned more than $185,000 — $100,000 of it overtime — in a single year, records show.
"The 10B program has killed us," says Sam Reyes, who has been a patrol special beat owner since the 1960s. He insists that the SFPD's antipathy toward the specials is owing to "the 10B pie."
Gary Delagnes, the police union head, vehemently disagrees. "That's bullshit," he says. "10B is a $10 million industry in this town. So they've got, what, 30 people vying for 10B work? How much can they [do]? It's not even an issue."
But some current and former patrol special clients paint a different picture. Gloria Dixon, a bank employee, recalls SFPD representatives persuading the board of the 250-unit residential cooperative on which she served to jettison its security arrangement with the specials in favor of police working out of Ingleside station in the mid-'90s. "Their pitch was, 'You don't need them; they're only security guards now,'" she says.
Jeannette Oliver, who manages the Diamond Heights Shopping Center, which has long contracted with patrol specials, says she has rebuffed similar approaches by the SFPD over the years.
"There's definitely hostility there," she says. "The police seem to believe that the patrol specials have taken something that really belongs to them."
After four decades as a patrol special officer, Serge White owns three beats and employs more assistants — six — than any of his colleagues. The assistants are essentially patrol specials who don't own beats themselves. They perform the same functions and meet the same training requirements as their beat-owning cohorts. White says he could put five more to work immediately if he had them, which is to say if SFPD didn't throw up barriers.
"You can't get them approved," grumbles the 65-year-old White, ticking off the names of "quality" people he has sponsored and whose applications were either rejected or — more often — allowed to languish until the person finally gave up. "They [SFPD] find some little problem [in the application]. They delay. And then they find some other problem and delay some more. It's a predictable cycle."
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.
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.
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."