San Francisco's War on Fun


This San Francisco Bay Guardian feature on the city's seeming "war on fun" is an interesting object lesson in how the concerns, obsessions, and plain obnoxious orneriness of just a couple of cops can shape a whole city's approach to policing.

The heart of the matter:

Two undercover enforcers have been at the center of just about every recent case of nightclubs or private parties being raided without warrants and aggressively shut down, their patrons roughed up (see "Fun under siege," 4/21/09) and their money, booze, and equipment punitively seized "as evidence" (see "Police seize DJs laptops," 11/24/09) even though few of these raids result in charges being filed in court.

Officer Larry Bertrand of the San Francisco Police Department's Southern Station and Michelle Ott, an agent with the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, are plainclothes partners who spend their weekends undercover, crashing parties, harassing disfavored nightclubs, brutalizing party-goers, and trying to send the unmistakable message that they're in charge of San Francisco nightlife. Neither responded to our interview requests.

Isolated incidents of intolerant cops and NIMBY citizens who repeatedly complain about certain clubs or festivals has been a problem for years (see "Death of fun," 5/24/06 and "Death of fun, the sequel," 4/24/07)….

But the personal War of Fun by Bertrand and Ott seems to have galvanized and united the nightlife and festival community like never before, leading to the creation of a new California Music and Culture Association and prompting threats of a federal lawsuit alleging the ABC-SFPD collaboration is a racketeering scheme designed to harass, disrupt, and extort people engaged in otherwise lawful activity.

The myriad horror stories associated with Bertrand and Ott have also finally begun to draw attention from the Mayor's Office, which has quietly pushed the SFPD to rein in Bertrand and change its policies on raiding parties and seizing property.

Previous Hit and Run blogging from the frontlines of the San Fran war on fun.