San Francisco moves to increase oversight of private security guards after bias complaints

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San Francisco is trying to strengthen oversight of private security companies by overhauling a 50-year-old local law that was meant to regulate the companies but is largely unenforced.

The board of supervisors voted unanimously on Tuesday to conduct a six-month study of a 1972 law that requires private security companies to register with the city, pay an annual fee and abide by certain set rules by the San Francisco Police Department.

Supervisor Catherine Stefani called for the review after her constituents raised concerns that private security guards had, in some cases, racially profiled members of the public. Investigating these reports, Stefani’s office discovered that Section 25 of the 1972 Act set out a number of provisions intended to regulate security firms, but were almost entirely ignored.

“What became clear, almost immediately, is that Section 25 is currently not implemented in any meaningful way in San Francisco, and we have uncovered no evidence of its implementation since 1972,” Stefani said.

The police department, in conjunction with the Office of the City Comptroller, will now conduct an analysis of Section 25 to help supervisors decide which components should be applied, which parts should be removed and whether any new rules should be added. to update the regulations. .

Stefani said she was specifically responding to reports from residents of her northwest San Francisco neighborhood who said people had been harassed by security guards as they walked down the street. She also pointed to an incident last year in which a black fifth-grade student was arrested by security guards at the Castro Safeway on Market Street and falsely accused of theft.

“Something has to be done,” Stefani said.

The city’s review will include developing a formal police process to regulate private security in San Francisco, establishing non-discrimination provisions that are now missing from Section 25, and creating a complaints process for members of the public to report suspected violations of the law, Stefani says.

One of the affected residents was Katie Colley, who wrote to city officials about “certain unfortunate and inexcusable interactions with children of color and personnel of a private security company in my neighborhood.”

Colley, who lives in Stefani’s neighborhood, said in one example, a security guard stopped a black teenager walking down the street and threatened him with a gun. Another case involved a security guard who allegedly followed a 12-year-old person of color, verbally threatening her and taking photos of her while she was on a public street, Colley said.

“As a mother of two black children, I believe it is safer for my children to walk our streets knowing that the police are trained to combat racial profiling, have de-escalation training, carry cameras bodily harm and there are reporting mechanisms in case of illegality. said Colley in an email to city supervisors this month. “But all of this work for police reform means nothing if the citizens of our city can bypass the police, hire private security companies and circumvent these protections, protections specially created for children like mine.”

San Francisco police officials expressed support for the revision to Section 25, but noted that part of the review will be to determine if any of the local provisions have been superseded by state law. ‘State.

Owen Scharlotte, director of Nob Hill Security in San Francisco, told The Chronicle he was receptive to the idea of ​​the city monitoring more closely reports of discrimination by private security guards. Scharlotte said his company typically employs 25 to 50 guards who cover about 15 to 20 job sites.

“We would support a reporting mechanism that tracks allegations of harassment by any business or agency operating in San Francisco,” Scharlotte said in an email. “Additionally, we would support a comprehensive analysis by the SFPD of current security company regulations that incorporates feedback from community members, police, security companies and security customers.”

JD Morris is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]: @thejdmorris

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