End the nightlife crackdown

Harassing parties and clubs shouldn't be a priority for a cash-strapped city's police department

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EDITORIAL Police Chief George Gascón has asked for more authority to crack down on rogue cops, and has vowed to clean up the small handful of bad actors who are giving the department an ugly reputation for violence and abuse. But before San Franciscans are going to trust the chief, he's got to show some evidence that he's serious — and cleaning up the mess that is Southern Station's crackdown on nightlife would be a great place to start.

As Rebecca Bowe and Steven T. Jones report in this issue, the SFPD seems to be waging war on parties, clubs, and events, particularly in the SoMa area. And it's not pretty. Undercover cops sneak into events then call in the troops, who make multiple dubious arrests and, according to widespread accounts, seize or destroy laptops and other DJ equipment and beat up and abuse participants.

It's a pointless waste of law enforcement resources. In a city where a significant number of murders remain unsolved, where merchants complain about street-level crimes that could easily be addressed by foot patrols, and where the chief complains that he lacks the funds to address all the problems he's facing, we can't fathom why stopping nightlife is a top police priority. At the very worst, some participants and promoters might be guilty of holding an event without the proper permits — but nobody's getting robbed, assaulted, or killed.

And the tactics used by the officers are needlessly violent, sometimes brutal. According to lawsuits and eyewitness accounts, SFPD officers have smashed laptops, kicked and beaten partygoers, and arrested people with little cause. A San Francisco lawyer is preparing to file a RICO Act lawsuit against the city, charging that the police are conspiring with state liquor-control officials to harass people engaged in lawful activity.

The policy directives behind this appear to come from Cdr. James Dudley, the former captain of Southern Station, and the officer most directly responsible for the crackdown is Larry Bertrand. Paired with an officer from the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, Bertrand attends parties in plain clothes, sometimes dressed as a raver.

Complaints about Bertrand and the crackdowns are piling up. We've been writing about it for months. SF Weekly picked up the story last week. There are complaints filed with the city's Office of Citizen Complaints and lawsuits pending. The chief may not have known about the problems at the crime lab, but he has to be aware of what Bertrand is up to.

Gascón should direct Dudley and Bertrand to back off — to halt the undercover work, end the seizure of personal property such as laptops and DJ gear (it's not a crime to own a computer or speaker system), and work with the clubs and the nightlife community to devise reasonable systems for dealing with permit issues. And he needs to do it publicly, to let San Franciscans know that he's addressing the issue.

Mayor Gavin Newsom needs to get involved too, and make a clear public statement that harassing parties and clubs isn't the top priority for a cash-strapped city's police department.

 

Comments

Mayor Newsom needs to understand that many promoters are now packing up and taking their clubs else where. Oakland and East bay of late has been very hospitable towards night life and welcomes the business.

If something doesn't change, there will be no San Francisco Nightlife.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 23, 2010 @ 11:23 pm

Mayor Newsom needs to understand that many promoters are now packing up and taking their clubs else where. Oakland and East bay of late has been very hospitable towards night life and welcomes the business.

If something doesn't change, there will be no San Francisco Nightlife.

Posted by Plubius on Mar. 23, 2010 @ 11:23 pm

Let's face it: SFBG gets big advertising money from bars and night clubs. What else are they going to say? And why don't they admit this source of bias in their editorial?

Posted by Guest on Mar. 24, 2010 @ 1:27 pm

Very well put. As a long-time party promoter in San Francisco,this SFBG issue's related stories of the ridiculous Sit-Lie ordinance and War On Fun sent chills down my spine. Throwing parties in this City has never been more of a challenge.....and I would like to discuss another nail being pounded into the coffin of SF nightlife.

True,harassing parties and clubs shouldn't be the top priority for a cash-strapped city's police department.

It is shameful that the SFPD is wasting tax-payer money cracking down on parties and clubs, but were you also aware that the SF DPW is doing the same thing?

They have assigned teams to go up and down Haight St. every day, tearing down LEGALLY posted signs on street poles. When I say legally posted, I refer to guidelines set by the SF DPW itself:

http://www.sfgov.org/site/sfdpw_page.asp?id=111916

These posters are sometimes the only way party promoters can advertise their events, many of them not having the financial means to advertise elsewhere.

Doesn't is strike you as wasteful, both in tax-payer dollars and man hours, for a City department to assign people the daily task of ripping down posters that were put up following the legal guidelines set by that department? Isn't it also silly? Finally, isn't this a First Amendment violation?

What is going on in the Haight? Didn't Gavin Newsom just by a house up there?

Posted by Guest Heklina on Mar. 30, 2010 @ 9:07 am

What is going on in the Haight? Didn't Gavin Newsom just by a house up there?

In a capitalist society, nothing should stand in the way of property values. This is one of the apparent "rights" of property owners, as the need to increase market rates trump individuals' rights. Also, as profits begin to decline, merchants look to the groups with higher income levels, so it is in merchants' interest to appeal to such an income group; in both product and aesthetic appeal.

Posted by Guest Michael Worrall on Mar. 30, 2010 @ 11:22 am

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