National Park Police Union warns visitors to stay away from some of SF’s top tourist destinations

With Memorial Day weekend less than a week away, the union representing US park police officers is telling people to stay away from some of San Francisco’s biggest tourist attractions.

Leaders of the Fraternal Order of Police United States Park Police Labor Committee (USPPFOP) say they don’t have enough personnel to adequately protect city beaches and even the area around the Golden Gate Bridge.

Memorial Day marks the unofficial start of the summer travel season, and as tourism picks up, tens of thousands of visitors are expected to pass through the areas around the Golden Gate Bridge, the Presidio and San Francisco’s beaches.

The union representing officers who patrol these areas is warning visitors that their department in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area is dangerously understaffed.

“Our mission is to make sure the public is safe, and part of that is letting them know what they’re at risk for when they come to visit San Francisco parks,” said Ken Spencer, president of the USPPFOP.

Spencer says manning is extremely low, only 32 officers when they should have 83 officers assigned to the Presidio area.

He says that means that at any one time there are only three officers patrolling an area roughly west of Fisherman’s Wharf along the coast including Baker and China Beaches and then south along Ocean Beach.

Spencer says the latest data from the past fiscal year shows visitors are vulnerable to property crime, including car break-ins and more serious crime.

“We had 13 sexual assaults,” Spencer said. “One hundred disorderly conduct calls, 114 fires, and then, of course, burglaries and motor vehicle thefts, we had 193.”

Park visitors say they didn’t know the police were in such high demand. “It worries me a lot, but I feel like a lot of places are not under police surveillance,” Ari Echeverria said.

“You just have to live in the city you are used to. Everywhere you go in this city, you have to be careful, get your stuff out of your car,” Eoghan Daly said.

Union leaders say the main problem is hiring and retaining park police officers. They say their agents start at nearly $68,000 a year. The union says policing nearby San Francisco starts at more than $92,000 a year.

A raise for park police officers is expected to be approved by Congress, and the union says it is lobbying lawmakers to increase pay for those officers.

“We have requested assistance from our command staff, the National Park Service, Department of Interior,” Spencer said. “They won’t give us any answers on what they’re doing to fix this. Our last ditch effort here to let the public know that’s what we’re dealing with.”

For its part, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area said the safety of staff and visitors is the top priority and disagreed with the park police union’s assertions.