A recent court decision in San Francisco went largely unnoticed, but the result may signal the end of a crime-fighting force which has been part of the city since the Gold Rush days -- even before the San Francisco Police Department.
For 160 years, the Patrol Special have been walking their beats in San Francisco, an auxiliary force overseen by the police department. They look like regular police officers. They are armed and they have the power to apprehend, but not to arrest.
Perhaps the most important distinction is that they are not paid by the city, but by the business and neighborhood groups who are willing to spend for what they consider an extra layer of protection. Their clients, the Castro Community Benefit District among them, believe the Patrol Special group make the streets safer.
"It's the same people here all the time and they know who the characters are," said Andrea Aiello with the Castro Benefit District.
If the Patrol Special provide that kind of service, which is essentially free to the city, why is their survival very much in doubt? And why is so little help coming from City Hall?
Once number in the hundreds, only a dozen of them are left to patrol their beats, geographical areas that under the city charter are owned by the Patrol Special themselves.
So what has changed?
"You've got the entire police force doing 10-B. And it's nobody's interest to help the Patrol Specials anymore," said Daniel Bakondi, attorney for Patrol Special.
10-B is a police department program which has made regular San Francisco police officers available for the kind of work that used to be the domain of the Patrol Specials.
An example would be regular police officers stationed outside Apple Stores. The officers are off duty, which means they are working overtime.
But the city is not footing the bill. Apple is.
10-B provides substantial financial incentive for the city -- the Patrol Special do not.
So it came as a surprise that during a July meeting, the police commission did approve, and by unanimous vote no less, a new assistant Patrol Special named Cody Clements.
Clements is the first applicant approved by the commission in four years. But the commission, which did not respond to NBC Bay Area requests for an interview, denies it is deliberately dragging out the process.
A federal judge recently dismissed a lawsuit by the Patrol Special. As a result, the city is under no obligation to preserve the force, nor will they be compensated for work lost to the 10-B program.
Patrol Special Officer Alan Baynard has spent his life protecting the communities who hire him, but he and his colleagues are getting old now and they need reinforcements.
"I think the city is very determined to get rid of us," Baynard said. "I don't know if there would be a lot of people jumping up and down saying this is a good program.
The Patrol Special continue to walk their beats night after night, hoping for any signal their work is valued by city leaders.
"We have no idea what public officials are thinking," Bakondi said. "Nobody's talking about this. Not one peep from anybody."
The Patrol Special's days appear to be numbered, even as property crimes continue to plague the city.
Despite a police force down 300 officers and without the resources to keep up, there is clearly no lifeline coming from City Hall.
Unless public demand saves the day, it will not be long before one might hear the question, "Where's a Patrol Special when you need one?"