SAN FRANCISCO - With the Memorial Day weekend less than a week away, the union representing U.S. Park Police officers is telling people to stay away from some of San Francisco's biggest tourist draws.
Leaders of the Fraternal Order of Police United States Park Police Labor Committee say they don't have enough staff to adequately protect the city's beaches and even the area around the Golden Gate Bridge.
Memorial Day marks the unofficial beginning of the summer travel season and as tourism ramps up tens of thousands of visitors are expected to make their way through the areas around the Golden Gate Bridge, the Presidio, and San Francisco's beaches.
The union representing the officers who patrol those areas is warning visitors their department in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area is dangerously understaffed.
"It's our mission to make sure the public is safe, and part of that is to let them know what they are risking when they come to visit the San Francisco parks," said Ken Spencer, chairman of the union.
Spencer says staffing is critically low, just 32 officers when they should have 83 officers assigned to the Presidio area.
He says what that means is at any given time, there are just three officers patrolling an area roughly from 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 last fiscal year shows that visitors are vulnerable to property crimes, including auto burglaries and more serious crimes.
"We've had 13 sexual assaults," said Spencer. "One hundred calls for disorderly conduct, 114 fires, and then, of course, the burglaries and larcenies to motor vehicles, we've had 193 of those."
Park visitors say they did not know that police were stretched that thin.
"That does bring a big concern to me, but like, I feel that a lot of places are not monitored by police," said Ari Echeverria.
"Just living in the city you're just used to is. Anywhere you go in this city you have got to be careful, take your stuff out of your car," said Eoghan Daly.
Union leaders say the core issue is hiring and retention of park police officers, they say their officers start at close to $68,000 per year.
The union says neighboring San Francisco police start at more than $92,000 per year.
A raise for park police officers would have to be approved by Congress and the union says it is lobbying lawmakers to increase pay for those officers.
"We've asked our command staff, the National Park Service, Department of Interior for help," said Spencer. "They will not give us any answers on what they are doing to fix this problem. Our last ditch effort here to let the public know this is 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 disagrees with the assertions of the park police union.