Santiago and some rangers close to him began discussing what they viewed as the next logical step: becoming full-blown cops. "We don't even have the authority to stop [serious lawbreakers]," explains Ranger Jayme Ramon, who says he used to be an agent with the U.S. Border Patrol. "That's the problem. We're not peace officers. Our hands are tied."

Santiago and Ramon put together a presentation to make their case to Blumenfeld. Afterward, Blumenfeld, an environmental lawyer who has been interim parks director for three months, became convinced that the rangers needed more police power. In the parks, "we have felony hit and run, sexual battery, theft, lewd conduct, burglary, indecent exposure," he says. "When you see what's happening in the parks, we need people who can respond efficiently and effectively, and respond quickly."

Regardless of whether some members of his staff deserve a reputation for aggressiveness, Santiago's proposal suffers from poor timing, given the city's $570 million budget shortfall. But he seems unfazed. He and Blumenfeld both say the rangers won't receive raises if they become full-sworn officers. Besides, Santiago's grand vision of bureaucratic expansion reaches beyond mere creation of a new law-enforcement agency. He sees a world where San Francisco's vast parklands are bastions of safety, order, quiet — and revenue generation.

Together, these ideas could lead to thousands more hours of work for the rangers. Their new law-enforcement powers, meanwhile, could mean investigations, pursuits, arrests, and writing incident reports — which will require more manpower still.

Santiago tells me he's lobbying to have his staff take on the enforcement of proposed metered parking at lots in the Marina, at the Legion of Honor, in Golden Gate Park, and elsewhere. He describes how he's created a policy banishing most of the dozens of impromptu musical performances that traditionally line the edges of the annual Bay to Breakers footrace through the Panhandle and Golden Gate Park. He surmises that a crackdown he instituted against concert permit violations has forced numerous promoters to stop holding events in Golden Gate Park. He says he's working on a proposal to require commercial dog walkers to purchase city-issued licenses, "which they'd have to wear around their necks while they're walking the dogs."

If they don't, Santiago will be back — he hopes — with a large, armed posse.

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