Actually, Patrol Specials PAY for their own SFPD-Academy training and ammunition, and that has long been the practice. Apparently the SFPD will soon be raising that fee.
Thus taxpayers benefit because the Specials pay for their own training, uniforms, weapons, patrol cars, police-frequency radios, and all expenses of running a small business such as payroll tax for assistants, marketing costs, and operational costs. They have no city-paid office space in which to meet and cannot use the SFPD office except to checkin right before they take up their private policing posts or assignments.
Marcy's point is spot on: who among us in the private sector work for free? Don't security guard companies provide private safety services? Don't off=duty SFPD officers also work private security assignments as Swan states? Should therefore off-duty SFPD officers work for free in areas that can't afford their services? Should security guard firms donate their services for free?
Yet the Specials have one added benefit over a security guard company of not only operating a quasi-private public safety business, but also being quasi-public.
That is, just like for SFPD officers, Patrol Special clients have the theoretical "protection" of local oversight. Sadly enough, commission oversight has been almost nil, or at odd times involves itself in micromanaging operational matters that are not their concern nor that of their clients.
In North Carolina the state attorney general oversees their private police program, and he told me that he has "no time to deal with operational matters" but cares only about private police compliance with the law. Why then does the San Francisco commission care and have time enough to propose recently that Patrol Special business owners (called "beat owners") physically patrol one day per week, rather than simply hire qualified and commission-regulated assistants--when clients are not complaining? Isn't the issue really effective patrolling pursuant to a contract? And indeed, who has been complaining? This proposed regulation is nonsensical micromanaging at best and harassment at worst.