SF jazz bar owner says police, fire departments ‘failed’ his business, allowing thieves to plunder for hours

A Tenderloin jazz bar owner lambasted San Francisco police and fire officials Wednesday for failing to protect his business following an overnight break-in, leaving the property unsecured while thieves cycled through for several more hours.

Fritz Quattlebaum, who owns the Black Cat bar and supper club on Eddy Street, said police and fire crews who responded to the initial burglary early Tuesday morning taped a plastic shade to the frame of the shattered glass door and left after 20 minutes.

Police did not return to the business for the rest of the night, Quattlebaum said, allowing unfettered access for a second wave of burglars.

“The Police Department is one block away, and no one bothered to stop by and check,” Quattlebaum said. “Most of the damage, most of the stuff (taken) happened after the police got there.”

Spokespersons for the Police and Fire departments said officials made multiple attempts to reach a representative for the Black Cat after they arrived, but that those attempts were unsuccessful.

Jonathan Baxter, a lieutenant with the Fire Department, said it’s the owners responsibility to obtain security or an outside service to secure their property after a fire or break-in, and that the city doesn’t have the resources to guard an unsecured space for several hours.

There were “absolutely no mistakes made by the Fire Department,” Baxter said.

A police spokesperson said officers at the scene acted in accordance with Police Department policy. “This is an open and active investigation, as such there will be follow-up,” said Sgt. Adam Lobsinger.

The Black Cat break-in was the latest in what has been a string of crimes in which business owners and residents have blasted what they characterized as an exasperatingly feckless response from law enforcement agencies.

Last year, surveillance video showed police appearing to stand by and watch as a possible burglary unfolded at a cannabis dispensary. In February, The Chronicle reported on a restaurant owner who said her business was vandalized on New Year’s Eve — both before and after the police arrived, spoke to the suspected vandal, and left.

Police Chief Bill Scott told The Chronicle in February that the officers who watched the cannabis burglary were sent back to training.

According to a police statement, officers arrived at the Eddy Street bar at about 2:19 am, after a witness notified the police that a door to the business had been broken.

Upon arrival, officers saw an individual exit the business through the shattered glass door and detained the person.

“Officers conducted a walkthrough of the business and determined that it was unoccupied,” a police spokesperson said in an email to The Chronicle. “The detained individual was released pending further investigation.”

After their unsuccessful attempts to reach the business owners, police said officers wrote an incident report and left contact information at the scene.

For the next six hours, Quattlebaum said, carloads of thieves took turns pulling up to the space and walking out of the club’s front door with arms full of musical instruments, cash register drawers and liquor bottles.

Some brought their own bags, he said.

“It was literally a free-for-all,” Quattlebaum said, describing what appeared on security footage as a leisurely shopping experience.

“They just walked around the place, picking things up and putting it in the bag,” Quattlebaum said. “People would look at things … and put it back down like, ‘Well, I don’t want to take it.'”

Quattlebaum believes the crews should have put up plywood after the initial break-in.

The owner said he’s been in contact with the Tenderloin precinct captain, and that the captain is “very upset about what happened.”

“I feel like he’s really committed, and that he sees and acknowledges the failures that happened in this situation,” Quattlebaum said.

“They owe us a duty of responsibility,” Quattlebaum said. “That’s what we’re paying them to do, and they failed.”

Megan Cassidy is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @meganrcassidy

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