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The Independent Institute
Working Paper #74

Private Policing in San Francisco


This paper provides an analysis of one of the longest established private police groups in America, the San Francisco Patrol Special Police. Dating back to the days of the Gold Rush, the Patrol Special Police are a collection of independent companies that are authorized in the City Charter to patrol different neighborhoods at the request of private clients. A survey is conducted to investigate why private parties pay the Patrol Special Police rather than simply relying on government police. The results indicate that the Patrol Special Police play an important role in providing safety that citizens cannot obtain if they had to rely on the safety services of the San Francisco Police Department. Yet despite these evident benefits, the Patrol Special Police face some challenging political and regulatory obstacles. This article finds evidence that members of the S.F.P.D. have been using regulations to restrict competition and effectively take over business using the force of law. It documents some of the expenses to taxpayers of these practices and offers some suggestions for regulatory reform.


Edward P. Stringham is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute; Associate Professor of Business Economics in the Area of Energy, Economics and Law in the Rawls College of Business at Texas Tech University; and editor of the Independent Institute book Anarchy and the Law: The Political Economy of Choice.