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San Francisco police response to Dolores Street hill bomb sparks debate

SFPD response to Dolores Street hill bomb sparks debate
SFPD response to Dolores Street hill bomb sparks debate 03:32

SAN FRANCISCO -- The police response to an annual unsanctioned skateboarding event in San Francisco's Mission District over the weekend has sparked a heated debate where even some participants are saying it has gotten out of control.

READ MORE: Neighbor describes damage caused in chaos after SFPD breaks up Dolores Street hill bomb

San Francisco police on Monday were defending their response to the annual, unsanctioned Dolores "hill bomb" skateboarding event near Dolores Park that spiraled out of control Saturday evening.

Police from the SFPD Mission Station and elsewhere responded to the increasingly unruly crowd after the arrest of a teen set off additional confrontations. Officers outfitted in riot gear and carrying tear gas and batons arrived to break up the crowd. Hundreds gathered ignored the orders to disperse. 

READ MORE: Dozens protest San Francisco police response to Dolores Hill Bomb melee

Fireworks set off in Dolores Park started fires. SFFD arrived on scene to extinguish the fires and the park was ordered closed as groups of vandals attacked occupied SF Muni streetcars.

Monday afternoon, SFPD Chief Bill Scott addressed criticism from some community members who say it was an overreaction.

Scott said officers did not put on helmets and riot gear until fireworks were shot at police and a sergeant was punched with a sharp object. 

"The helmets went on, and rightfully so. No officer is going to stand to protect the public without protective equipment while people were throwing bottles and whatever else they were doing and explosives," said Scott. "And they should not be expected to do that.

Scott explained the department planned to shut down the event quickly this year for safety reasons as problems including vandalism, injuries, and death have escalated over the years.

Even the skateboarding community is divided about who's responsible.

Some said overzealous police officers are to blame for the unruly crowd response. Others are making the case as the event has gotten so big, it has become too difficult for participants to police themselves.

Longtime San Francisco skateboarder Cody Costello took videos with his cellphone as police clashed with crowds near Dolores Park Saturday. He said there were outsiders instigating the problems.

"We're not seeing skateboards. We're seeing chaos causers," said Costello. "People outside our core group are taking over our event." 

Costello believes the tight-knit SF skater community has been able to keep the event from getting out of hand for years, though authorities argue there have been serious injuries and even a fatality associated with it. But as the Dolores hill bomb has drawn larger crowds, it has gotten extremely difficult to keep everything under control. 

"San Francisco is a skateboarding city. Done the hill bomb for a long time and now. People like to ride off someone else's energy," said Costello. "If you watch, a majority of the crowd didn't have skateboards in their hands."

Some younger skateboarders new to the scene admit they were to blame for creating much of the chaos. 

"I'm not going to lie. We started it and police were just trying to shut it down," said Zari, a young skateboarder from San Francisco 

"It's just a mess," added Costello.

On Monday, SFMTA officials estimated the damage to five Muni vehicles at approximately $70,000. The damage to the vehicles has impacted certain routes and service lines for commuters.

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