Illicit Operations Harm Vitality of Commercial Corridors, Spur Crime
Half past 2:00 on a Saturday night in June, this reporter stood on Mission Street in the Excelsior District before a modest storefront and knocked on the glass door. Beyond a poorly installed security camera, several arcade games and jukeboxes, two young women stood by the entryway to a backroom. A man walked past them and came to the door. After a few words, this reporter left. No access.
A block over, this reporter attempted to gain entry into another storefront where loud music was playing and two young men had entered moments before. Again, no access.
The way into after hours clubs like these—often sites of after hours drinking, narcotics, prostitution and gambling—is by introduction only. To enter, an entrusted individual must vouch for a new patron.
For law enforcement, these illicit operations are little hubs of crime that are hard to eradicate. For community activists, they are a virulent blight negatively impacting economic growth on struggling commercial corridors.
Ingleside Police Station Capt. Joseph McFadden led the charge to remove the “Kingston Shack,” a particularly egregious offending after hours club in Bernal Heights. To do so required months of working closely with the City Attorney and District Attorney collecting evidence like Dept. of Building Inspection violations to arrests. Constructing a civil and criminal case strong enough to put the operation offline is painstaking. It’s not enough to go after criminal acts alone. Property owners who allow the acts within their buildings must be held accountable too.
Today, there are between 12 and 20 illicit operations in Ingleside Police District, Capt. McFadden estimated. In late June, an operation moved from the Excelsior to the Ingleside. Taraval Police Station Capt. Denise Flaherty confirmed that she and her officers were aware and had opened an investigation.
When investigating these illicit operations, police must coordinate their station’s permit officer, patrols and station investigation team along with other stations and city agencies. Ingleside and Taraval stations are both under staffed and often have to send officers to other districts when there are large events like Giants games.
The Excelsior Action Group, Outer Mission Merchant and Resident Association and Excelsior Outer Mission Merchants have united to work on informing the community about what to report when they see suspicious activity outside the clubs.
“I don’t have first hand experience with the gambling shacks, but I do see the blight,” artist ant EOMM member Grace Breyley said. “I don’t see them—they’re operating when we’re asleep. That’s why they’re hard to catch. There’s no one reporting. It takes something drastic to happen in one of them.”
Joelle Kenealey, president of OMMRA, is primarily concerned with making sure city agencies respond to community complaints since neighbors are the city’s eyes and ears. It’s been difficult under these circumstances.
“If you go to a bar and you have an issue, there are regulatory agencies you can go to,” Kenealey said. “You can go to the Alcohol Beverage Control permit officer and say, ‘Hey, we have a problem.’ But when you have these illegal places, who’s overseeing them? Who’s going to handle it?”
Andrea Ferrucci, proprietor of Dark Horse Inn and founder of EOMM, said that despite repeated attempts, DBI inspectors did not visit an after hours club that plagued her block of Geneva Avenue when it was open.
In a stroke of luck, the owners of Daniel’s Pharmacy bought the building.
For Capt. McFadden, the crimes that occur early in the morning after the after hours clubs close are a serious problem. In mid June, there was an early morning stabbing between two of the operations. Many possible patrons have been mugged a few blocks away for their winnings, Capt. McFadden speculated. It’s hard to say for sure because the victims are not forthcoming when interviewed for fear of implicating themselves and their associates.
Capt. McFadden, a 26-year veteran of the department, has been at his position a year. His first big task was overhauling the Station Investigation Team, a group of officers dedicated to investigating robberies and other crimes. He brought along with him the department’s best investigator to instill dogged vigilance into his officers.
“We’re not stupid,” Capt. McFadden said. “We know what’s going on. We can’t go in without cause.”
Eradicating the after-hours clubs by gathering evidence on the lieutenants who operate them. It’s too easy for the lieutenants to re-open in the same building or another nearby after a police raid. The game of Whack-a-mole continues. More players appear to be ready to play.