Salesforce Tower, Ross Dress for Less and other downtown San Francisco corporations and businesses are shelling out millions of dollars to pay off-duty police officers to work as private security guards. The reasons? The city’s growing property crime problem and the safety of their workers.
“It goes hand in hand with the homeless problem and the drug epidemic in the city,” said retired San Francisco Police Officers Association President Martin Halloran.
But it’s not cheap.
A single officer standing in a building lobby or store entrance earns $100 an hour and can cost a business upward of $1,000 a day when city administrative fees are added.
“They pay dearly,” Union Square Business Improvement District Executive Director Karin Flood said. “Each business has to pencil it out.”
The use of police as private paid security is known as the 10-B program and has been a fixture in San Francisco for decades. Under the program, a business or retailer pays the off-duty officer’s overtime wage, plus a 14.7% administration fee to the city. In the past, 10-B officers were usually hired for special events, or to manage traffic around construction sites. In recent years, however, the use of those officers by businesses and corporations during regular hours has exploded.
Just look at the numbers.
According to police records, officers working the 10-B program clocked 203,000 hours of off-duty overtime in fiscal 2018-2019, a 32,000-hour increase over the previous year and far above the 114,000 10-B hours worked in fiscal 2016-2017.
“There was a time when it was rank-and-file officers who did most of the work, but now the demand is so great that sergeants and lieutenants are working 10-B,” Halloran said.
Hiring a sergeant costs $133 per hour for daytime work, $138 per hour for nights. Hiring a lieutenant costs the businesses $153 to $158 per hour, but the businesses appear ready and willing to pay up.
Unlike private security workers, police working in the 10-B program are armed.
Sources in the security business, speaking on background, said much of the growth in using police on overtime is driven by companies’ concerns for the safety of their workers.
The thinking is that having an armed and trained police officer is viewed as a visible deterrent against episodes like the shooting at YouTube headquarters in San Bruno that wounded three people last year.
Plus, unlike private security workers, 10-B cops are in direct contact via radio with the local district station and other on-duty police in the area, just in case they need backup.
For retailers, it’s the rise in thefts following the passage of Proposition 47 in 2014, which basically made theft of goods worth less than $950 a misdemeanor that is rarely charged. Instead, the suspect is ticketed and released.
“The goal of using a cop is to try to prevent the theft from happening in the first place, rather than having security guards chase someone,” said one corporate security executive who didn’t want to be identified because his clients use the 10-B program.
“Plus, say a private security guard gets into a fight with a thief or a homeless person,” the security executive said. “The store could wind up being sued and having to pay way more in legal fees than the original theft or the cost of the 10-B officer.
“If the thieves see a police officer, they usually move on to another target,” he said.
“The thinking is, you can pay now or you can pay later,” Halloran said.
The program also brought in about $2.2 million in administration fees to the general fund last year.
But there is a downside.
“People see them and ask why tech businesses are getting special attention,” the security executive said.
The Police Department, however, says no matter who is paying, a cop is still a cop.
“While they may be directing traffic at a construction zone or standing a fixed post at a retailer, their primary responsibility is to act as a San Francisco police officer and to protect life and property,” said department spokesman Sgt. Michael Andraychak.
“An officer assigned to a 10-B job brings an additional uniformed presence to that neighborhood, serves as a resource to the community and a deterrent to crime,” he added.
And these days, businesses want as many deterrents to trouble as they can find.
San Francisco Chronicle columnist Phillip Matier appears Sundays and Wednesdays. Matier can be seen on the KPIX-TV morning and evening news. He can also be heard on KCBS radio Monday through Friday at 7:50 a.m. and 5:50 p.m. Got a tip? Call 415-777-8815, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @philmatier