Two longtime members of The City's little-known Patrol Special Police resigned in recent weeks after administrative charges were filed against them with the Police Commission, but then apparently rescinded their resignations, opting instead for a leave of absence.
The resignations or leaves of absence of brothers Todd and Scott Hart brings the already dwindling number of Patrol Specials down even further. Once numbering in the hundreds, they now stand at fewer than 10.
"They were brought up on administrative charges, not criminal charges," said Alan Byard, president of the Patrol Special Police Of?cers Association. "They have resigned so everything is dropped."
But Scott Hart said they have since rescinded their resignations, although no one at the Police Commission has yet received any notice of that.
The charges leveled against the Harts included patrolling outside of their beats and doing so at an illegal marijuana grow house and dispensary. They were also cited for failing to supply lists of their clients and what they charged them for security.
They also covered more beats than allowed under new rules from the Police Commission, which oversees Patrol Specials.
The case, according to Byard, is the latest in an ongoing effort by the Police Department and Police Commission to phase out the special units. The little-known, quasipublic Patrol Specials, who have provided private, city-sanctioned security in San Francisco since before the Gold Rush, have been in a two-decades-long losing fight over what they say is an effort by police chiefs, the officers union and others to disband a body that is written into the City Charter.
"They don't want us," Byard said as an explanation for the Police Commission's actions.
Commission President Tom Mazzucco said the commission is not trying to disband Patrol Specials, but instead wants to further train them to boost their level of professionalism in line with police officers and increase the level of oversight.
"We have them, let's make them the best in the country," Mazzucco said. "They are the only ones in the country."
Scott Hart told The San Francisco Examiner that the charges, which he said amount to bureaucratic filing issues, are part of the Police Commission's and SFPD's efforts to destroy the Patrol Specials, a move, he says, that would mean more private security jobs for off-duty police officers.
For instance, he said, while the charges state the brothers were patrolling outside of their beat, they were given permission to patrol there by another Patrol Special officer who owned that beat. Under the City Charter, beats are owned and can be sold or passed on to family members.
The alleged offenses happened while the brothers were patrolling an illegal marijuana grow site and dispensary, but Scott Hart said they provide security for exteriors of buildings and often don't know what's going on inside. He said this was the case in that instance.
As for paperwork, the brothers say they handed over their client list initially but then were told it had been lost and needed to be refiled, which Scott Hart refused to do, saying it was not his responsibility. As for how much they charged their clients, Scott Hart said that information is confidential.
The brothers -- who each owned four beats, including one at the Westfield Centre mall, South of Market and the Tenderloin -- had inherited three beats apiece from their father. But new rules -- which Scott Hart contends don't apply to inherited beats like theirs -- bar them from owning more than three each.
The commission, Mazzucco said, has increased the required levels of training, including a free annual weeklong police academy class and two firing-range tests. The commission also has required client lists, among other things.
Some intransigent Patrol Specials are not complying with the rules, Mazzucco said. Some have refused to hand over their client lists. Others have portrayed themselves as Police Department officers.
Capt. Michael Redmond, who commands the Southern Police District, where the Harts reported daily, said the station "had a great working relationship with" the Harts.
In 2009, then-Police Chief Heather Fong wrote to the U.S. Homeland Security Department on behalf of Scott Hart to commend actions in a criminal incident on Jones Street.
Scott Hart, who registered a new private security company with the state in recent weeks and has retained most of his old clients minus the Westfield Centre, said the removal of their services from their beats is bound to increase crime -- not a good thing for anyone, especially with low SFPD officer staffing levels. Overall staffing levels should be at 1,971, but they remain at 1,685.
As for the assistant Patrol Specials whom Scott and Todd Hart employed, all or most will be rehired by his private security firm, Scott Hart said.
What is the Patrol Special Police force?
Founded in 1847, the Patrol Special Police originally served as a private security force in the lawless days of the Gold Rush era.
Since then, they have become a private police force that at times augmented the Police Department.
They are even written into the City Charter as San Francisco's designated private police entity.
During a police strike in 1975, Patrol Specials temporarily took on police duties. And by the late 1970s there were more than 400 Patrol Specials across The City.
Today, this anachronistic force -- their numbers have dwindled to an all-time low -- still patrols San Francisco streets.
All Patrol Specials, dressed like regular cops in navy blue uniforms until the mid-1990s, carry guns, use police radio frequencies and report their activities to whichever police districts they work in.
But, according to the SFPD, they are not police. They do not have the power to arrest people -- they were stripped of their peace officer status in the 1990s -- but they look and act much like police officers and are overseen by the Police Commission. They even wear patches that say "Patrol Special" and "San Francisco Police."
The City is divided into 67 Patrol Special beats, each owned by Patrol Special officers who can sell them to other Patrol Specials. Some beats are very small while others are large. Each beat is paid for voluntarily by private businesses and residents who wish to have additional security above and beyond that provided by the SFPD.
It's unknown what individual beat owners can earn off their beats, but according to Police Commission President Tom Mazzucco some of the beats can be "lucrative."
Once in the hundreds, now there are about 10 Patrol Specials and an unknown number of assistants who help them patrol beats, according to the Police Department and Patrol Special Police Of?cers Association. Still, the number of officers and assistants is hard to nail down. The association represents 28 Patrol Specials.
The Police Commission requires each officer to take a weeklong police training class to become a Patrol Special. The commission must approve all new Patrol Specials and their assistants. Patrol Specials are required to perform a shooting range test twice a year, and annually update their skills by taking a policing class at the academy.
The officers are also required to have liability insurance.