Some San Francisco hospital security performed by low-level officers 

click to enlarge Lynne Spalding
  • Mike Koozmin/S.F. Examiner file photo
  • Lynne Spalding’s body was wheeled out of San Francisco General Hospital last month after she was found dead in a stairwell weeks after disappearing from her hospital bed.
Some security duties at San Francisco General Hospital are carried out by civilians who are only required to take an introductory, weeklong course in law enforcement, not the highly technical training that sheriff’s deputies receive, according to hospital records obtained by The San Francisco Examiner.

Sheriff’s deputies do much of the patrol duties at the hospital, but those tasks are also carried out by “institutional police officers,” or IPOs, who are not certified peace officers, according to the Sheriff’s Department. Other duties, such as monitoring the main lobby, are carried out by Sheriff’s Department cadets who are also civilian employees.

Wednesday’s revelations detailing a series of breakdowns surrounding a missing patient and the subsequent discovery of her body weeks later raised questions about the effectiveness of all hospital security staff, including IPOs.

It’s unclear how many of these “officers” participated in the failed search for Lynne Spalding, a 57-year-old patient who disappeared from her fifth-floor hospital bed Sept. 21 and was discovered dead in a nearby stairwell Oct. 8.

But the Spalding family’s lawyer, Haig Harris, said the fact that these undertrained security staff members could have contributed to the breakdown is disturbing.

When it comes to IPOs, the Sheriff’s Department doesn’t seem to have much confidence, at least in terms of their future.

“We will not hire that classification” anymore since it’s not a position that exists within the department, said Kathy Gorwood, a department spokeswoman.

When the Sheriff’s Department took over security at city-run hospitals in 2002, existing security staff — part of the Institutional Police Department — were kept on so they could get more “comprehensive law enforcement training” and be incorporated into a city law enforcement agency. At the time, all IPOs were offered the chance to become sheriff’s deputies. Thirteen IPOs still work for the Sheriff’s Department at S.F. General, Laguna Honda Hospital or one of nine clinics.

When the IPOs retire or leave their jobs, the Sheriff’s Department has and will continue to fill the positions with deputies.

Unlike deputies or police officers, IPOs are not certified by the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST). But they do carry firearms and can make arrests while on duty as “limited-function peace officers.”

The training required to become an IPO, according to The City, is limited to a 40-hour introductory policing course.

The only additional training the Sheriff’s Department has given the handful of IPOs still working at city health care facilities is the same 24-hour annual refresher course it’s mandated by law to give deputies.

Sherriff’s deputies must go through a long training process, including graduating from the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Academy, completing the POST pre-employment process and passing a background check, among other requirements. Only then are they assigned to duty, said Gorwood.

During one recent two-week period, IPOs worked 17 percent of patrol shifts at S.F. General, according to the Sheriff’s Department.

About The Author

Jonah Owen Lamb

Jonah Owen Lamb

Bio:
Born and raised on a houseboat in Sausalito, Lamb has written for newspapers in New York City, Utah and the San Joaquin Valley. He was most recently an editor at the San Luis Obispo Tribune for nearly three years. He has written for The S.F. Examiner since 2013 and covers criminal justice and planning.
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