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How will the cops enforce S.F.'s new club loitering law? 

Wednesday, May 13 2009

Much ballyhooing and nay-saying accompanied the Board of Supervisors' passage last week of a law designed to cut down on that bane of city existence: the dreaded loiterers, those hangers-out in front of clubs, bars, and other dens of iniquity.

Boosters of the law predictably declared it a victory for Western civilization; a mayoral press release heralded the oncoming glory days of "preventing confrontations and forestalling violence." Skeptics, meanwhile, predictably clucked that this was yet more evidence of the decline of Western civilization. The Guardian trilled about poor people and First Amendment rights, asserting that politickers toting campaign signs and homeless folk panhandling could both be whisked away to county lockup under the new law (never mind that "aggressive" panhandling is already prohibited in San Francisco, and that the loitering law is in effect only between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m., when even Frank Chu is generally off the streets).

Somehow lost in the hoopla was an important fact: The SFPD still isn't sure how it will enforce the law.

Although "loitering" is handily defined in the legislation as "remain[ing] as a pedestrian of over three minutes within 10 feet from the entrance to a nightclub," is someone talking on a cell phone outside a club "remaining as a pedestrian" and therefore punishable with a $500 fine? The cops don't know yet.

"People have the right to be where they choose to be," said police spokeswoman Sergeant Lyn Tomioka, who stressed that the department's Field Operations Bureau will need to look at the law and issue a directive before police can comment on exactly how they intend to start busting people. Then, as with most laws, enforcement will ultimately lie with the discretion of the officers on the scene, she said: "But I don't think that zero tolerance [of people standing around] is the intention of the law."

And if it is, never fear: There's a whole wide world out there, starting at 10 feet, one inch and beyond.

About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.


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