Debate Surrounds Limiting Special Patrol Police

Men in Uniform

 

John Fitzinger is a 12-year Patrol Special Police officer who is responsible for the Castro beat. He wants his citation books and his peace officer status back. Photo: Bill Sywak

 

In a recent letter to members of the Castro Merchants, President Terry Asten Bennett set the context: “Several years ago the San Francisco Police Commission revoked some of the law enforcement tools previously granted to the San Francisco Patrol Special Police (SFPSP). ... These proposed changes are deeply concerning to us.”

 

Examples may include removing their access to SFPD radio communication frequencies and changing their uniforms. At their January 15 meeting, the Castro Merchants Board unanimously approved a resolution to oppose further limits on SFPSP and to support reinstating their citation-issuing abilities.

 

The Patrol Specials are supervised by the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) and are appointed and governed by rules and procedures set by the Police Commission. They wear uniforms approved by the Commission, carry a firearm and can use a two-way SFPD radio. Their right to issue citations and arrest suspects was taken away in 1994 and is a continuing point of contention.

 

This unusual tale begins before the California Gold Rush of 1848 when, in 1832 according to one account, the city charter allowed certain private companies to enforce public laws, in the absence of a formal police department. In 1847 a citizen and merchant-sponsored neighborhood police force known as the Special Police was established with the swearing in of two constables.

 

When the public police department was created in 1851, the number of Special Police had grown to 50 sworn officers. In 1857 this Special Police force was formalized in the City Charter, an arrangement that governs the Patrol Special Police even today. So in effect, San Francisco has long had two police forces: the regular police department officers, and a separately-chartered law enforcement group, the Patrol Special Police.

 

As an official brochure describes their functions, Patrol Special Police “are committed to community policing with an emphasis on problem solving and community outreach: walking their ‘beats’ and getting to know people on an individual basis, attending community meetings and working closely with the police department and other city agencies to find resolutions to everyday neighborhood concerns.” Their focus is on rapid response and early intervention in quality-of-life matters and preventing disturbances from becoming expensive and serious crimes and relieving pressure on public police.

 

Residents typically depend on and develop long-term relationships with their Patrol Special officers. One such example was Jane Warner, the late SFPSP president whose namesake is kept by 17th St. plaza. By the authority of the City Charter, Patrol Special Officers are compensated by neighborhood merchants and residents who contract for their services and can share the cost. The officers and their assistants are not members of the Police Department and have no peace officer authority. Neither are public taxpayer funds used to pay their salaries. Instead, as private security businesses, they contract with individual merchants and others and incur regular business expenses such as insurance and the costs of their own vehicles.

 

While they are under the legal restrictions of the Police Department and Police Commission, compared with private security firms they are the only private patrolling group legally authorized to patrol the streets of San Francisco. This means that while security guards must remain in a fixed position on private property, Patrol Special Officers can patrol the streets, serving as the eyes and ears of the neighborhood and alerting the police department as needed.

 

“I’ve been working with neighborhood leaders in the Castro, the police department, and the police commission to try to figure out how we can get more Patrol Specials in our neighborhood,” Supervisor Scott Wiener said. “There are a number of bureaucratic obstacles preventing more Patrol Specials from being available, and we’re trying to work through that.  I also would like to get the police department to restore to the Patrol Specials the power, which they used to have, to write infraction tickets.”

 

In 1994 the police department instituted its “10B program,” under which police security work at street festivals, schools and the like, which had been the province of the Patrol Specials, was now available to regular police.

 

While the Specials had to contract with their clients to get paid, the officers got paid through the city’s 10B program at time and a half, bumping what some Patrols modestly estimate is a $90,000 regular annual salary to $150,000 or more. Then this new amount would be used to calibrate a much higher pension. For the city the administrative fee under 10B was substantial and growing each year.

 

Warner had said, “They’re killing us by attrition. They managed to downgrade us to take away our clients; now they’d like to put us out of our misery entirely.” But to SFPSP President Alan Byard the real beneficiary, should the Patrol Special program be eliminated, would be the Police Department itself. “With us gone, they will be able to work more off-duty security. That’s the whole thing behind all of this.”

 

Attorney Daniel Bakondi represents the San Francisco Patrol Special Police force against the City and County of San Francisco, San Francisco Police Department, and numerous individual defendants in an ongoing lawsuit over the City’s interference with the Patrol Special’s patrol rights.

 

According to Bakondi, “This case is different than past Patrol Specials’ lawsuits.  In addition to the City’s liability, SFPD officers, City employees and officials are alleged to have facilitated or engaged in privately hired, privately paid security services under 10B, in violation of the Patrol Specials’ exclusive patrol rights under the San Francisco Charter.”

 

“Whether the city loses this lawsuit or not, the city’s headaches, expenses and problems with the Patrol Specials will continue,”Bakondi concluded.

 

John Fitzinger is a 12-year Patrol Special Police officer who is responsible for the Castro beat. He wants his citation books and his peace officer status back.

 

••••• ALSO IN THIS ISSUE ••••

 

 

Castro Street To See Overhaul, Widening During Mid-March

Delayed start frustrating local merchants

 

 

 

Contractors will start digging up Castro Street during the first or second week of this month, according to the San Francisco Department of Public Works (DPW). The start of the project will make Castro businesses happy.

 

Several businesses said they’ve been wanting to plan for the inevitable disruption from the Castro Street sidewalk widening project but can’t because city officials haven’t told them when the project will start. DPW’s website says that ground was supposed to have been broken on the project back in January.

 

“My concern as a merchant is I can’t really plan,” said Patrick Batt, owner of Eureka!, a new coffee shop on Castro Street. Batt said he opened his business based on two premises: the project would start in January, and it would impact his business during a slow time.

 

Cliff’s Variety is also concerned about not being able to plan. General Manager Terry Asten Bennett, also president of the Castro Merchants, said she wants to schedule time off for employees, but she can’t do that without knowing when the project will start.

 

“It makes it difficult to plan our business accordingly,” she said.

 

“The Castro Street Improvement Project has begun!” said John Dennis, project manager, DPW, by email. “We started construction progress meetings with our contractor, Ghilotti Brothers, on February 4, and still plan on project completion in October of this year. You can expect to see signs of construction the first or second weeks of March.”

 

But, by press time, Ghilotti Brothers could not confirm whether meetings with DPW had begun, and Ghilotti Brothers website does not list the project among its active ones.

 

Asten Bennett and others are also wondering when the project will affect each of their businesses. Cliff’s Variety plans to keep a tighter hold on inventory during the project.

 

According to Batt, during meetings with the community, city officials always said the drop dead start date was January 1, 2014. He said city officials told him the project would be completed by the Castro Street Fair in October. The issue is the timetable, Batt said.

 

Unfortunately, that’s not the only business concern. Paul Moffett, president, PO Plus, 585 Castro Street, wonders how trucks will make deliveries to Castro Street businesses when the sidewalks are widened. When the project is done, the street will be only two lanes.

 

Moffett also wonders what will happen when a MUNI bus breaks down.

 

“The question of lane widths was something that was studied at great depth during the planning process for this project,” Dennis said. “Our colleagues at SFMTA (San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency) feel that there will be sufficient width for traffic to flow freely even in the event of a vehicle breakdown.

 

“The SFMTA has [modeled] the project before and after construction in regards to traffic flows, and in addition, the city traffic engineer has reviewed the plans and the SFMTA Commission has approved the project.

 

“SFMTA Traffic Planners have worked closely with merchants to ensure that there is a sufficient number of loading zones and that they are located optimally for delivery purposes.”

 

Moffett, a former president of the merchant’s association, is also concerned about customer parking.

 

Dennis said, “The project has been designed to ensure a net-zero loss of parking.”

 

To help Castro businesses during construction, the city has given a $25,000 grant to the Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District (CBD). The money “will be used to improve communication between the contractors on the street, DPW and the merchants, and to pay for an advertising campaign with the theme, ‘The Castro is Open for Business During Construction,’” said an email from CBD Executive Director Andrea Aiello.

 

The CBD has also built a website that will provide merchants with “information on where and when the street will be disrupted, under construction, etc,” Aiello’s email added.

 

Despite merchant criticisms of the City’s work so far, Asten Bennett, Moffett and Batt had positive things to say about the project. Asten Bennett said she hopes the end result will be an even more robust Castro. Moffett said he sees a lot of good coming.“I believe the end result will benefit us in the long run,” Batt said.

 

 

••••• ALSO IN THIS ISSUE ••••

 

Efforts to Repeal Transgender School Law in California DOA

 

The effort to repeal the School Success and Opportunity Act (AB 1266) signed by Governor Brown last summer went down in defeat.

 

The law is meant to allow children from K through 12 with gender-identity issues to fit more easily into school activities, without being overruled or micromanaged by others. Modeled on practices and policies that have worked well for transgender youth in schools across the state, the law, which went into effect January 1, helps educators to work with students and families on a case-by-case basis.

 

The petition to repeal the law and put it before the voters in a subsequent election fell short by 17,276 valid signatures as confirmed by the California Secretary of State last week. A broad coalition worked in support of AB 1266, including Equality California, the Transgender Law Center, ACLU of California, Gay-Straight Alliance Network, National Center for Lesbian Rights, Gender Spectrum and LGBT organizations. John O’Connor, Executive Director of Equality California, encourages those who want to learn more to visit www.SupportAllStudents.org.

 

 

••••• ALSO IN THIS ISSUE ••••

 

Gay Men’s Chorus To Perform at Davies

 

 

 

The San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus will be presenting their grand celebration of classic American song, “Luster: an American Songbook,” on March 25th and 26th at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco. Member Ernie Tovar has been singing with the GALA Choruses [Gay and Lesbian Association of Choruses] since joining the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles in 1992. He has also sung with the New York Gay Men’s Chorus and the Golden Gate Men’s Chorus

 

Wendy:

Let’s start by talking about “Luster: an American Songbook,” the next huge event to be performed by the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus.

 

Ernie:

We have two nights at Davies Symphony Hall, and we’re doing “Tyler’s Suite,” celebrating the life of Tyler Clementi. He took his life jumping [off] a bridge when his roommate [cyber-bullied] him. It’s unfortunate that he chose that route; we would’ve hoped that he would have reached out to someone or a group of friends. So we’re here today celebrating his music through song [Tyler Clementi was an 18 year old acclaimed violinist], which is beautiful music written by people who have written the American Songbook, people like Ann Hampton Callaway, John Bucchino - eight composers who have written music through poems. The incredible thing is we worked with Steven Schwartz a couple concerts ago - a beautiful piece called “Testimony” that he wrote for us - more celebration emphasizing coming out in the community and why it’s beneficial for us to have the stage to sing the music we do, because music is so transcendent, and breaks so many different barriers, and gives people hope.

 

Wendy:

And you never know when someone like Tyler Clementi might be listening.

 

Ernie:

The huge thing about the chorus is that it isn’t just a musical organization; for some people it’s salvation. We get together every Monday night and, as I said, it isn’t just the music that draws us together; it’s the brotherhood - maybe those few people in the chorus who don’t have a lot of outside social connections, it is a place where they can come for whatever it may be for those three hours, but it’s changing their lives. To make such beautiful music and to have the opportunity to work with these different composers and directors, and the passion that we have, it’s amazing.

 

Wendy:

The composers and talent that have come forward wanting to be a part of “Tyler’s Suite” is evidence of that. These people have incredible resumes, incredible music histories - Steven Schwartz for example.

 

Ernie:

Steven Schwartz, who has written my favorite musical of all time, Pippin, and Godspell is another incredible one. We are so in awe of how lucky we are to have reached out to somebody as big as he is - how busy he is, to say, “Yes, I’m happy to help.”

 

Wendy:

All of these brilliant people are so enthusiastic about this project, which is great because the message about what cyber-bullying can do in the LGBT community and otherwise has to be put out there.

 

Ernie:

Right. Where we are in this day and age with technology and how fast it is - it is just that, pushing a button, and we can’t take it back.

 

Wendy:

“Tyler’s Suite” features some of the best American composers of our time, which is in keeping with the theme of the program on those two nights - “Luster: an American Songbook.” So, along with “Tyler’s Suite,” the SFGMC will be singing some of the great American Songbook classics.

 

Ernie:

We’re doing a Duke Ellington medley, we’re doing some Cole Porter, Irving Berlin.

 

Wendy:

All uplifting music from the Great Depression Era forward as it says on your website - morale boosters, but really those types of songs are always a good idea, during any era.

 

Ernie:

Right, since we are doing the Tyler music, it’s a good balance - a great balance of good all-American music that lifts your spirits - not that Tyler’s won’t, it’s just gonna play with your heart strings. It’s all beautiful music.

 

Wendy:

Not too long ago I interviewed Timothy Seelig, your artistic director.

 

Ernie:

An incredible man. Away from being an incredible director, mentor - the man has love and passion for humanity. He brings great musical ambiance to the group; he knows how to make a concert work by setting it up with the right music; he knows how to [bring] the right team together to coordinate the concert. But before that, he [gets] people together who just love one another, who let their guards down. He shows it through his spirit; he shows it through his speech. I am honored to work with him. It’s like having a master class every Monday night because you have to pay for someone like Tim Seelig to come into your life. We are really blessed to have him as our choral director.

© Castro Courier 2014 No part of this website or artwork portrayed may be redistributed or republished without the express permission of the Castro Courier. Opinions expressed are strictly those of the writers and do not reflect the opinions of the publisher or staff.

© Castro Courier 2014

Content is not available in this view. Try turning your device to landscape or view on a mainframe.