There is some good news and some bad news coming out of City Hall. The good news is that the Board of Supervisors will be considering a proposal introduced by Supervisor Bevan Dufty to name the pedestrian plaza on 17th and Castro "Jane Warner Plaza" in honor of a Police Special Patrol Officer who served The Castro well and bravely. The bad news is the Board of Supervisors might be meeting in the near future to find a way to dismantle the Patrol Specials -- because they are cost effective to private clients who pay them? Go figure. It seems as if the effots to eliminate the Patrol Specials are from the perspective of a taxpayer, misguided at best and irresponsible at worst. From the perspective of a Libertarian, these efforts are additionally a blatant assault on the free market.
A recent study of the Patrol Specials conducted at taxpayers’ expense by Public Safety Strategies Group LLC (PSSG), a Massachusetts based management consulting firm, reiterates the lack of understanding of the economic challenges facing San Francisco, the true costs of government provided safety services, and the solutions that private safety personnel can provide. Let alone PSSG’s mischaracterization of the Patrol Specials as mere security guards existing at the sufferance of the SFPD.
The Patrol Specials have been part of the City’s Charter since the Gold Rush days, and they are unique in our Nation’s safety alternatives. Unlike security guards, they are not stationary, but patrol the neighborhoods of the clients that hire them, providing safety to everyone in the area. Unlike security guards, Patrol Specials receive training equivalent to that of City police. Most importantly, unlike security guards, they will remain a safety personnel alternative unless and until the citizens of San Francisco vote in a local election to remove them from the City Charter.
Taxpayers need to be wary about attempts to remove the Patrol Specials from service to The City. The fact that Patrol Specials are not paid out of City funds is crucial in today’s economically challenging times. However, an even more dire reason taxpayers need to support Patrol Specials is the fact that during more affluent times, San Franciscans voted for very generous pay and pension packages for The City’s Police and Firefighters. The City Civil Grand Jury in their report of June 25, 2010, warned San Franciscans that “Pension and health benefits enjoyed by San Francisco retirees are unsustainable.” A good chunk of this unsustainable liability stems from Police and Firefighter pensions. Interestingly, the study by the Public Safety Strategies Group mentioned above chose instead to focus on $303,838 estimated yearly cost to the SFPD, and taxpayers, of the general oversight provided to the Patrol Specials by the SFPD, such as “Liaison annual salary (Sergean) full time, $126,282.” (Please note the annual salary quoted here!)
Libertarians are particularly sensitive to government encroachment in the free market and to restrictions of fair competition. The SFPD valuable and appreciated service to the public as responders to violent crimes against person and property is not in competition to the Patrol Specials. The SFPD 10(b) program is. This is an “overtime program, which allows the use of uniformed police officers as security personnel at special events, sports matches, construction sites, filming sites, dance clubs, department stores.” (Retrieved September 1, 2009 from the San Francisco Government website by the Independent Institute for their report on the Patrol Specials dated December 21, 2009.) This subsidized overtime (pay at time and a half) program, coupled with efforts to dismantle the Patrol Specials by what appears to be any means necessary, might be construed as unfair competition. The California Unfair Competition Law (Business and Professional Code Section 17200) addresses not only private firms, but “other organizations and persons”.
It is true that entities that hire police officers under the 10(b) program pay a fee, which goes into The City’s coffers. However, given the generous pay of police officers, and given the fact they are paid overtime for 10(b) program work, renders it doubtful that taxpayers are benefited economically by this program. Additionally, taxpayers may be viewed as further injured by the monopolistic nature of the program.
The Patrol Special’s uniqueness and long history constitute treasures San Franciscans need to support. The City’s misguided efforts at improving safety by eliminating cost effective safety services need to be discouraged.
ADDENDUM Posted October 7, 2010: To their credit, The City's Board of Supervisors passed the Resolution to name the plaza on 17th and Castro "Jane Warner Plaza."
ADDENDUM Posted November 27, 2010: Jane Warner Plaza is a pleasant spot in the Castro, worthy of a visit. However, at present it lacks a proper plaque that would do justice to Officer Jane's dedication to the neighborhood. So, the San Francisco Patrol Special Police has set up a fund to co-sponsor with the City a memorial plaque. The fund has been established at the San Francisco Police Credit Union, P.O. Box 22219, San Francisco, CA 94122-0219. The Patrols, the Libertarian Party of San Francisco, and the folks in the Castro who knew Officer Jane hope you will sent your check made payable to "Officer Jane Warner Memorial Fund."