In a city with a growing reputation for nightclub violence, the bar scene in the Castro doesn't stand out as particularly raucous. But clubs in the area have been the source of a growing number of noise and sanitation complaints from residents, leading the Castro Community Benefit District — a neighborhood beautification group that raises money through a local property tax — to consider beefing up security. In doing so, the district has taken sides in one of San Francisco law enforcement's most bitter rivalries.
The district's board is pushing bar owners to hire a police officer to keep patrons in line, and has even offered to pony up $9,300 to help pay for the added muscle. But the idea has been met with skepticism from some bar owners who say they already get along fine with a cheaper option — the San Francisco Patrol Special Police.
The "specials," members of a private patrol organization that began during the Gold Rush, look like cops — they wear blue and carry loaded guns — but lack the authority to arrest anyone. They cost less than $50 per hour, compared to $95 for police working at overtime rates through SFPD's so-called 10-B program. (Even with the CBD subsidy, the cops would be more expensive, at about $74 per hour.) The specials have been in a war of attrition for years with the 10-B program, which provides patrolmen to private clients who pay for the officers' overtime.
Jane Warner, president of the Association of Patrol Special Police Officers, says the police department has been carrying out an unofficial shakedown campaign, persuading neighborhood merchants and organizations — most recently the Castro CBD — that only overtime cops are adequate to their security needs. "10-B is just grafting by any other name," she says.
But CBD executive director Andrea Aiello says the district's board believes real cops with arresting power will keep the area safer. "We think that a police officer just has more weight," she says.
The only problem is that some bar owners and managers are perfectly happy with the specials, whom they currently employ. "It's been very good for us," Les Natali, owner of Badlands and Toad Hall, says of the Patrol Special contract. "We haven't had any need for services beyond that." However, he says he's willing to give 10-B a try if other bar owners agree to the idea.
It remains to be seen whether a new overtime cop is coming to the Castro. Aiello says that about 15 bars have to be on board to make the move affordable, and the CBD still hasn't persuaded enough proprietors to participate. Either way, if you see a boy in blue walking the neighborhood in coming months, best not assume he's with the Village People.