Scalp a Ticket, Go to Jail? Basis of San Francisco's Law Odder Than You'd Think.

Categories: Law & Order
It's against the law -- or is it?
A soft toss away from the high-legged kick of the Juan Marichal monument outside AT&T Park, an attention-grabbing sign blows in the gentle breeze. In large, alarming letters, the sign warns of the dangers of purchasing scalped tickets -- and notes that both the buyer and seller can be arrested for doing so.

And yet, according to the police code cited on the sign (Good Ol' No. 869) scalping is not strictly illegal: This is a code that prohibits folks from selling wares on the street without a peddlers' permit. This means folks who sell their tickets online or out of their homes or offices are not violating the law. And your humble narrator was unable to find anything within the police code stating that people who buy wares from unlicensed peddlers are subject to arrest -- and that makes sense. The idea of getting the cuffs slapped on and ducking into the back of a patrol car for the "crime" of purchasing hemp wallets or glass beads from a man with without a peddler's permit seems outrageous -- and if scalping falls under the purview of Police Code 869 as well, where's the difference?

Staci Slaughter, a San Francisco Giants spokeswoman, stood by the sign's wording and said the Giants' legal team would get back to us on this. Just as is the case for a world championship within my lifetime, I can state: We're waiting!

This sign's alarmist language seems especially out of place when, not 200 feet away -- on public property -- scalpers roam the streets with impunity. Lieutenant Michael Flynn -- who oversees the San Francisco police patrols for all events at AT&T Park -- has no idea how many scalpers (or ticket-buyers) were cited or arrested last year (more on the SFPD's glorious databases in a moment). But he does know that there were 253 "contacts" -- in which an officer spoke to a scalper near AT&T Park and may have gone on to issue a citation or carry out an arrest -- last year.

How many of these folks ended up in court? Likely it's not many: Regarding the swarms of scalpers offering "TICKETS! TICKETS! TICKETS!" as cops look on, SFPD spokesman Sgt. Wilfred Williams noted, "I don't think we would make a citation or arrest or something like that. ... There's a lot going on at the games. There's a lot for us to do."

Now, it's not certain that San Francisco Police officers put on old Glenn Miller records when they get home or pull a bottle of Moxie out of the icebox -- but they're saddled with a record-keeping system that hails from this arcane era. A relatively straightforward spreadsheet grouping arrests or citations by code and placing them on a map of the city -- well, that'd be great. Instead, we got the numbers for AT&T Park scalping incidents from the police officer overseeing that area. If someone was busted scalping at Candlestick Park or War Memorial Stadium, that wouldn't show up here; there appears to be no database organized by crime. Williams suggested we call the Sheriff's Department -- but their Public Information Officer, Susan Fahey, noted that only the SFPD or California Highway Patrol arrests these sorts of offenders in the city -- and she doubts the SFPD has arrests booked by code violation.

This is no knock on Williams or Flynn -- who were genuinely helpful on this story. But the system they must work with seems onerous even by 1940s standards. It's no surprise that folks are scalping tickets outside of the ballpark (though it is surprising that the police have no method of tracking how many citations or arrests have taken place). But other instances of far more serious crimes may be taking place throughout the city -- and who's to know? 

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