The SF Patrol Special Police look like police officers, but they’re not, and there’s only one of them left. Now Supervisor Aaron Peskin wants to beef up the 176-year-old program.
At first glance, the fellow below sure looks like an SFPD officer. But he’s not. He’s in uniform, but the badge is slightly different. He is armed, but cannot make arrests, and can only detain suspects until real police arrive. He’s effectively private security who “owns” his beat and negotiates rates with businesses and residents, with something called the San Francisco Patrol Special Police, a private security force established during the Gold Rush days of 1847, before there even was a SFPD. (Fun SF trivia fact: Christian Slater played an SF Patrol Special officer in the 1992 film Kuffs.)
And as Hoodline explained in a 2021 profile, that officer is now retired from his Castro beat.
The city had 450 Patrol Special Police at one point, and now, we are down to merely one. And he wants to retire, too.
KPIX took a ride with that one remaining officer, 68-year-old Alan Byard. He patrols Pac Heights and the Marina, paid by private residents and local merchants. And a quote from him may make you question the patrol’s effectiveness: “I’ve caught probably six burglars in the last three years,” he says.
But he arrives on potential crime scenes much more quickly than does the SFPD, and he is able to apprehend suspects — if not actually arrest them — so you could make the case that his patrol is a very effective deterrent.
And per KPIX, Supervisor Aaron Peskin wants to bolster this program, which does not cost the city anything, at a time when police overtime costs are spiraling out of control.
"You have somebody who is a trained peace officer who is really devoted to a particular neighborhood who embodies the notion of community policing," Peskin told the station. "They know the neighbors and I think that brings peace of mind to our residents and makes our city safer."
Police unions don’t like the idea, though, likely because it represents giving up some turf. "I think it's better to have more police officers and more deputy sheriffs on the streets making the arrests and putting criminals in jail," San Francisco Deputy Sheriff's Association president Ken Lomba told KPIX.
But the next steps here are not with the SF Board of Supervisors, but with the SF Police Commission. According to KPIX, that commission is planning to have discussions “later on this month to revive the program.”
Image: Castro/Upper Market CBD via Facebook