San Francisco Patrol Special Police

San Francisco Patrol Special Police is a neighborhood police force authorized in San Francisco's City Charter but not part of the San Francisco Police Department. Rather they are sworn officers, private citizens, appointed and regulated by the San Francisco Police Commission after an initial background review by the San Francisco Police Department. They are assigned to, or purchase, a specific area, or beat and charge private clients hourly rates for a variety of services. [1]

San Francisco Patrol Special Police
Agency overview
Jurisdictional structure
Operations jurisdictionSan Francisco, California, USA
General nature
San Francisco Patrol Special Police

The force has been in operation since 1847 during the California Gold Rush. By current City Code the force provides patrols on the streets of San Francisco as well as at fixed locations, and also provides a range of other safety services as requested by private clients.

The San Francisco Patrol Special Police is one of the oldest law enforcement agencies in the United States and credited for the first modern U.S. adaption of the Community policing concept. [2][3][4][5] [6]

As of 2011, there were approximately 40 patrol special police officers.[7]

Services, operation, and financing

Patrol Special Police provide a variety of services for private clients pursuant to a negotiated contract, including unlocking or securing doors to a business, making checks of residences or businesses, conducting perimeter checks at burglar alarms, providing a physical presence at businesses and providing security consultations.[8] Officers concentrate on order maintenance, rapid response, and early intervention in quality-of-life matters. Their goal is to prevent disturbances from becoming expensive and serious crimes, and to relieve pressure on the public police. Since 1994 officers operate with citizens' powers of arrest, are on police radio bandwidth, and are trained annually for 24 hrs. of classroom instruction and twice on the range, according to standards set by the Police Chief. Officers are not civil service employees of the San Francisco Police Department nor do they earn City benefits or pensions. However, for specified purposes courts may consider them to be employees, such as for purposes of the SFPD maintaining employment records.

The officers are assigned a "beat" or a specific area where officers serve.

By tradition and practice, Patrol Special Police officers respect and consider the distinct tenor and character of neighborhood life where they work. They often attend merchant and resident meetings to listen to concerns or offer advice. Officers become trusted and valued members of neighborhoods where many interact daily with business owners, customers, residents, and families on the streets, thus serving as effective local "eyes and ears" to dispense important safety advice and gather security information.[9][10][11]

Clients include merchants, professionals, homeowners' associations, residents, street fair organizers, non-profit organizations (and occasionally, government agencies who may outsource security). The typical hourly rate in 2010 for patrols averaged $50–60, including a patrol car. Additional services or more intense policing may entail an additional cost negotiated with each client.

Patrol Special Police clients and the public are protected from negligent or intentional harm because rules governing program rules require each beat owner to carry liability insurance that protects against potential negligence or injury by an officer. In addition, rules require each beat owner to carry worker's compensation insurance for employees. Each beat owner determines if he or she will fund a health and/or retirement plan for Assistant Patrol Special Police Officers.

History and relationship to the San Francisco Police Department and community groups

Patrol Special Police force history dates from before the 1848 California Gold Rush prior to formation of the City's formal police department. A citizen and merchant-sponsored neighborhood police force known as the Special Police has kept San Francisco neighborhoods safe since it was established in 1847 with the swearing in of two constables. In 1851, the City increased Special Police to 50 sworn officers, and created the public police department at the same time. In 1857, the Special Police force was formalized in the City Charter.[12] Today, Section 4.127 of the City Charter governs the Patrol Special Police.[13]

In cases of public safety emergencies, both historically and today, Patrol Special Police and SFPD officers provide assistance to the other force as required by public safety needs, and work cooperatively together to protect the public. Patrol Special Police Officer Robert Burns was recommended in spring of 2010 for an SFPD Medal of Valor for bringing down a gunman outside of his private client's bar on February 7 and thus, saving many lives. In addition, officers have been called upon to assist SFPD officers during earthquakes such as the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

"But in 1994, with backing from the SFPD and the powerful police union, the Police Officers Association (POA), the Police Commission stripped the patrol specials of their status as peace officers with the ability to issue citations and book their own arrests."[14] The ranks of the specials and their assistants — some 250 strong at the time — plummeted to 18 patrol specials, employing fewer than two dozen assistants. "They're killing us by attrition," said Jane Warner, president of the association that represents the specials.[14]

Logs of daily activities were introduced in 2010 on the officers' support group website, and demonstrate a close working relationship between the SFPD foot patrol officers and community safety groups in neighborhoods where Patrol Special Police Officers serve.[15][16][17][18]

Appointment and program regulation

Patrol Special Police Officers and Assistant Officers are duly appointed by the San Francisco Police Commission, an appointed body of seven civilians which has oversight responsibility for the Patrol Special Police Program as well as for the SFPD.[13]

The Interim Rules and Procedures for Patrol Special Officers and Their Assistants (The Rules) promulgated by the Police Commission in December, 2008 require that Patrol Special Police Officers pass an initial background check conducted by the SFPD. Officers receive 24 hours of annual training in the classroom and twice on the range according to standards determined by the Police Chief. Before going on patrol, Patrol Special Police check in with the duty watch commander in the police district where they serve.

The Rules authorize the uniform and patch as shown above, which are distinct from that of the San Francisco Police Department, however the uniform, service revolver, baton, and patrol car are purchased privately by the Patrol Special Police Officer and not paid for with taxpayer funds. Patrol Special Police Officers wear a patch on their uniform that identifies their force by name on a band at the top, as shown above. The lettering and trim of the patch is embroidered in silver thread. Officers wear a silver-toned six-point star with the words "San Francisco Patrol Special Police."


Patrol Special clients surveyed in the fall, 2009 by Dr. Edward P. Stringham, a San Jose State University Associate Professor of Economics, consistently reported that the Patrol Specials make their neighborhoods a safer place to live, work, and visit. Clients reported that officers are consistently professional and courteous. Clients observed that officers are particularly responsive to the character of business and residential life and needs of the specific neighborhood where they work, resolving matters quickly and with discretion rather than coming "with bells and whistles." Officers are viewed as proactive in resolving minor disturbances early to prevent serious crimes from occurring. Officers respond quickly and effectively to quality-of-life crimes that often SFPD officers do not or cannot rapidly address.[19][18]


The Patrol Special has a professional Association whose President as of June, 2010 is Officer Alan Byard, a 30-year veteran officer serving the Marina beat and part of the Polk Street beat. Other officers include: Vice-President – Officer Scott Hart serving the South of Market beat and part of the Tenderloin beat, Treasurer – Officer John Barry serving the Bernal Heights and Haight beats, Assistant Treasurer – Assistant Patrol Special Officer David Palmer, and Shop Steward – Officer Robert Burns serving parts of the Fisherman's Wharf beat. The Association sponsors a website.[20] The force also has a professional support group known as the "Special Neighborhood Policing" group which sponsors a community outreach website.[21]

Christian Slater starred in the 1992 film Kuffs, which detailed the story of a young, inexperienced Patrol Special coming into his own. A novel written by John Lescroart, The First Law, also weaves a story line around the Patrol Specials.

See also


  1. San Francisco City Charter Reference on Patrol Special Police Officers
  2. The San Francisco Patrol Special Police Officers
  3. "About Us". Retrieved October 18, 2011.
  4. "Features and Benefits of the Patrol". Retrieved March 11, 2014.
  5. "Features and Benefits of the Patrol". Retrieved March 11, 2014.
  6. San Francisco City Charter Reference on Patrol Special Police Officers
  7. Bowe, Rebecca (March 12, 2010). "Supes pass resolution protecting SF Patrol Special Police Officers". San Francisco Bay Guardian. Retrieved July 30, 2013.
  8. "Information: Patrol Specials". SFPD Official Website. San Francisco Police Department. Retrieved July 30, 2013.
  9. "About Us". Retrieved October 18, 2011.
  10. "Features and Benefits of the Patrol". Retrieved March 11, 2014.
  11. "Features and Benefits of the Patrol". Retrieved March 11, 2014.
  12. "Our History". Retrieved October 18, 2011.
  13. Archived November 26, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
  14. Russell, Ron (June 4, 2008). "To Serve & Collect". SF Weekly.
  15. "Murder charge filed in Suede nightclub shooting". The San Francisco Examiner. February 9, 2010. Archived from the original on June 16, 2011. Retrieved August 19, 2010.
  16. Cassell, Heather. "The Bay Area Reporter Online | Patrol Special officer injured in Christmas melee". Retrieved October 18, 2011.
  17. "Safety Advice". Retrieved March 11, 2014.
  18. "Commendations and Kudos". Retrieved March 11, 2014.
  19. "Report on the Special Patrol Police : 2009". Retrieved March 11, 2014.
  20. "San Francisco Patrol Special Police – Qualifications". Retrieved October 18, 2011.
  21. "Mission Statement". Retrieved October 18, 2011.
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