Existing loitering law having little impact

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As officials push a new law that would ban people from sitting or lying on San Francisco sidewalks, another recently passed loitering law meant to stem nightclub violence has yet to make an impact.

In May, the Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance that was championed by Mayor Gavin Newsom that made it illegal to linger within 10 feet of a nightclub for more than three minutes.

The law was meant to give police officers a tool to keep people who had no intentions of going into the nightclub from harassing people as they passed by — encounters that often turned violent.

But since the law went into effect, police have yet to hand out a single infraction or citation as violence continues to plague areas such as the neon block of Broadway. Police say they have yet to create a citywide policy and that the law has been used only as a warning to move along anyone who loiters.

Cmdr. James Dudley — who still takes an interest in nightclub issues after being promoted to a citywide post from the station that policed the Broadway corridor — said police are still developing a policy for the loitering law.

“As with all new legislation, we have to be careful how we implement it,” Dudley said. “But it’s really similar to how we would use the sit-lie ordinance. It’s not being abused, no one’s being targeted and it’s being used judiciously by officers.”

Some on the Entertainment Commission, which has taken heavy criticism from police and neighbors recently for not shutting down problematic clubs, say the enforcement tool is entirely in police hands.

“Rank-and-file police on the streets are not totally aware of it or how it works,” commission President Audrey Joseph said. “There should be an advisory going out through the Police Department educating them on how to use it.” 

The two police stations with the most clubs, those covering North Beach and SoMa, were informed of the law last year and are using it as a warning. Officer Mark Alvarez, who walks a beat in North Beach, said he’s given out several warnings and people then move.

“It helps us move people along,” Alvarez said. “As long as people are moving, it tends to keep personalities from clashing.”

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