The head of the U.S. Park Police Union says that families should rethink plans to visit some San Francisco beaches and recreation areas because of a shortage of police officers. This as Memorial Day weekend approaches.
San Francisco's beaches are unique in California because they're not patrolled by local, county or even state law enforcement officers.
Instead, the U.S. Park Police Patrol the majority of coastline and portions of the Bay.
U.S. Park Fraternal Order of Police Chairman Kenneth Spencer said on Wednesday that his department has a serious shortage of officers.
"Every single field office is severely understaffed. San Francisco is by far the worst," he said.
San Francisco, New York and Washington D.C. each have U.S. Park police departments.
The office in San Francisco is supposed to have 83 officers, currently it only has 32.
Spencer said at any given time, there could be as few as three officers on patrol.
"It's a massive land area and for three officers to be patrolling it at any time. We just feel that it's extremely unsafe,” he said.
Spencer said the major issue is recruiting and retaining officers and the biggest barrier in the pricey Bay Area is a $68,000 starting salary, which is about $25,000 less than starting pay for a San Francisco police officer.
The staffing warning did raise concerns for new San Francisco resident Debo Chakraburty.
"I came with my kids, and I sometimes wonder if they go nearby someplace that's not safe, is there someone there to take care of them or not. So, that's definitely a concern,” Chakraburty said.
The announcement comes ahead of the Memorial Day weekend, when people are expected to flock to beaches.
In a prepared statement, U.S. Park Police spokesperson Charlie Strickfaden wrote in part:
"Please let the public know the safety of our staff and visitors is always our top priority and park areas remain open and available to the public we serve."
Most beach regulars who spoke with NBC Bay Area Wednesday said they weren't aware of the U.S. Park police staffing issues and, weren’t much aware of the department.
"I feel extremely safe here and it honestly wouldn't occur to me to need a police presence at the park," said San Francisco resident Nicole Penwill.
The agency said it's not alone. In medical and other similar emergencies, the San Francisco Fire Department will respond, and in major police incidents, the park police can call for backup from San Francisco police.
The Head of the Park Police Union said they do have a bill pending in congress to help address the staffing problems. He said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been helpful with that and hopes lawmakers will help support it as well.