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Lower Polk Residents, Bar Owners Discuss 'Unprecedented' Riot With Supervisor, Police Captain

Photo: Chris S.
By Brittany Hopkins - Published on February 12, 2016.

While Lower Polk has a reputation for being quite the rowdy scene on Friday and Saturday nights, many who live and run businesses in the neighborhood say that the "riot" that broke out around 1:45am on Sunday, Feb. 7th, just after the bars emptied out for the night, was unprecedented.

Outraged by the incident and fed up with ongoing quality of life issues in the neighborhood, the Lower Polk Neighbors association invited the district's newly-elected supervisor, Aaron Peskin, and police captain, Greg McEachern (who is stepping down from his post tomorrow), to join their members for a discussion this week on the riot and how the community can work with the city to quell such behavior after dark. The room was full of concerned residents and bar owners, as well as Northern Station police officers, and representatives from the entertainment commission and Mayor's Office of Neighborhood Services.

Before jumping into a discussion of solutions, Captain McEachern provided an overview of the events that unfolded, based on his investigation into the situation. Here's what he said:

The first calls for service came in at 1:46am. One sergeant and two officers responded immediately, and called in for backup as there were 100-200 people in the street, with many throwing bottles and spitting at the officers and pounding on cars attempting to drive through. At one point members of the crowd overturned a three-wheel motorcycle and lit it on fire.

Once reinforcements from neighboring police stations arrived, they formed a line and moved down the street, forcing the crowd to disperse. By roughly 2:10am the scene had cleared, without any major injuries or arrests.

Photo: Mike L.

For added background, Captain McEachern noted that Saturday, Feb. 6th was the city's busiest day for Super Bowl festivities. Super Bowl City on the Embarcadero, the NFL Experience at Moscone and the NFL Honors Ceremony at Bill Graham Auditorium all ran all day. About 50,000 to 100,000 more visitors entered the city that day, and all of these entertainment zones wrapped up around 9 or 10pm that night. Many of these visitors, who had been drinking all day, he said, decided to stay in the city and continue the fun. And presumably, many ended up on Polk Street.

Jumping into the discussion, one commenter said that while disturbances of this proportion are uncommon, riots following major sporting events are nothing new, especially on Polk from Bush to Sutter. People dancing around small fires in the street are also common, and officers need to have a fire extinguishers readily available when responding because bars' security guards are not trained to handle such issues.

Captain McEachern agreed that sporting events pose a challenge and said they always staff up to handle post-game celebrations, but without a team in the Super Bowl, last weekend's incident was completely unexpected. He also suggested having a chat with the bar owners to determine where the problem is emanating.

However, many local bar owners in attendance disagreed with that approach, arguing that their patrons are not the problem. The real issue, they said, is folks coming to the neighborhood from other cities and opting to purchase alcohol at liquor stores and drinking at the parklet outside Quetzal (1234 Polk St.). Calls for its removal were sounded, with one even noting that even the owner of Quetzal doesn't want it there either.


Parklet outside Quetzal in 2012 (Photo: SF Planning/Flickr)

A few also argued that mobile food vendors are driving noise and excess trash after last call and must be dealt with — although they've been told that SFPD cannot crackdown on vendors itself.

In response, Captain McEachern said one of his officers has led two crackdowns in partnership with the Department of Public Health. Supervisor Peskin also noted that he may be able to add a provision to the police code allowing the police department to deal with illegal vendors itself.

Before wrapping up the discussion — which also touched on the need to better support homeless neighbors and increase civic responsibility throughout the neighborhood — Andrew Chandler, chair of the Lower Polk Neighbors association, concluded that the best next step is holding an additional meeting with the supervisor, police captain and other city representatives to turn these suggestions into actions. Anyone interested in partaking in this follow-up meeting can reach out to lowerpolkneighbors {at} gmail {dot} com to stay in the loop.

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