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City may eliminate patrol specialists

August 31, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Patrol specialists look like cops, wear uniforms, and even carry guns, but they're not cops and now there is a new call to end a 150-year-old tradition of private security in San Francisco.

The patrol specials walk the streets of San Francisco. Neighborhood associations and residents pay for them and love them, but they may be on the way out.

Just the sight of SF patrol special Calvin Wiley makes residents of San Francisco's Glen Park neighborhood feel better.

"I have stopped burglaries, purse snatchers, you name it and I have been involved with it," said Wiley.

However, city officials worry his appearance of the patrol specials is confusing and a liability. Next to a San Francisco police officer, the uniforms look very similar. Glen Park residents hire the patrol specials to watch over their homes and businesses.

"They operate under a section of the city charter, but what they are really is security guards," says Peg Stevenson, director of the Auditor Division.

The Controller's Office commissioned a consultant group in Boston to study patrol specialists. The recommendation of a lengthy report is to change the city's charter and eliminate them.

"They are not police. They are not operating under our jurisdiction or control, they don't have the training," says Stevenson.

"Just like a hit in the gut. All the people that I know, all the people I take care of... I think it's unfair," says Wiley.

Both sides point to a fatal shooting at Suede Nightclub in February to support their argument. One man was killed and several others shot. A patrol specialist shot and apprehended the gunman before police got there, but the city is now being sued for what happened.

"In the long run we would hope the city could delete this charter section and stop overseeing what's essentially a security guard function," says Stevenson.

But they'll have to fight some passionate residents who are ready to fight to keep them on the streets.

"I think it's out of touch with reality and our needs here. We need more of these neighborhood police, not less," says San Francisco resident Ann Grogan.

The patrols are not only in Glen Park; there are 38 of them patrolling the streets of San Francisco.

The report will be presented to the police commission Wednesday night, but the debate is just getting started.

Supervisor Bevan Dufty says he wants to hold a hearing so the public can have its say.


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