Police Raids Can’t Close San Francisco Brothels, Casinos, And Speakeasies

San Francisco plays host to hundreds of businesses, both legal and illegal, offering sex for cash, illegal gambling, and after-hours alcohol, and it seems even the police can’t shut them down.

As many as half of the city’s 300 massage parlors are actually fronts for prostitution and neighborhood casinos and after-hour bars dot the landscape, but little is being done to shut them down.

SF City Attorney Dennis Herrera has filed lawsuits to shutter some of the casinos while city police raid suspected brothels, but nothing seems to work.

Manny Torres, who owns a restaurant near one of the illegal casinos, told Mission Local the place seems to be immune from the law even though police constantly raid the place.

“The police have been here six times, and they come in and take the liquor, but [the people] get let go. Every night there’s a party, every night they get arrested, and the next morning they get let go.”

New laws enacted earlier this year are helping, but can’t seem to turn the tide. Now, massage parlors shut down for health code violations or illegal activity must wait three years before reopening in the same location while new parlors must apply for expensive conditional use permits. Owners charged with a crime are denied permits, no conviction necessary.

They haven’t solved the problem, however, and in October, City Supervisor John Avalos hosted a hearing to deal with the issue. Police Capt. Joseph McFadden testified during the hearing that police had problems shutting down the illegal operations because of their tendency to shut down and move down the street, reports the San Francisco Examiner.

Many of owners of the illicit businesses simply ignore citations by the police and continue to operate. City Attorney Herrera has filed lawsuits against these operations aiming to shut them down with limited success, reports ABC 7 News.

“Illicit gambling dens like Kingston Shack are a terrible neighborhood nuisance. They inevitably harbor criminal activity, they diminish residents’ quality of life, and it’s no surprise that they quickly emerge as major targets of neighbors’ complaints.”

San Francisco’s ambivalent attitude toward illegal brothels and casinos shouldn’t be a surprise. Since the days of the gold rush and the Barbary Coast, the city has been a hive of prostitution. In 1911, the city even ran a health clinic for sex workers.

The City by the Bay has come a long way since then and in 2008, residents shot down Proposition K, which would have decriminalized prostitution.

The illegal activities continue, however, and it’s not a priority to shut them down. The Health Department says its mission is to deal with health concerns while the police are busy with more serious crime.

Meanwhile, efforts to legislate away the problem have proved difficult as new laws are often opposed by legitimate business owners who say they get lumped in with the criminals.

City residents who must live and work near the illegal establishments are understandably frustrated the businesses continue to operate and one resident told Mission Local he didn’t understand why these places can continue to operate.

“None of us understand how it’s possible for them to still be operating. Everything you think about the law actually doing something, this is like a flagrant violation.”

[Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]