While the SFPD makes about one and a half drug arrests per day, on average, in the Tenderloin, the department still seems only be putting a small dent in the open-air drug trade that goes on in plain sight.

The Chronicle's Phil Matier takes on the issue in his Sunday column, discussing the "revolving door" of convicted drug dealers who move through SF's legal system, many receiving probation and returning right to the blocks where they were arrested to continue to dealing.

The sale of meth, heroin, crack cocaine, fentanyl, and other opioids is rampant on many Tenderloin blocks, as this set of heat maps from 2017 illustrated. Based on SFPD reports, Hyde Street between Turk and Golden Gate is the geographic center of the drug trade and the most active block for arrests on average. Sixth Street also makes a lot of appearances, and seems to be most popular for meth selling.

These days, as Matier reports, most of the dealers are part of organized crime rings controlled by two gangs.

Prosecutors say the street sellers typically live in groups, outside of San Francisco, and are assigned specific locations controlled by two gangs.
The dealers work in shifts to keep their areas open 24 hours a day. Each shift is covered by a crew that varies with the demand.
Often, homeless addicts are employed as human storage lockers. The homeless addict stands nearby and holds the bulk of the drugs. When the dealer makes the sale, the addict hands the bindles to the buyer.

By limiting how much drugs each dealer is carrying on their person, the strategy is to limit how much jail time they might get if caught.

District 6 Supervisor Matt Haney says that because each arrest costs the city $10,000, and because many result in probation, the city needs to get better about making probation work as a deterrent.

Out of 883 drug arrests made last year, 747 were referred to the DA's office, and 640 were prosecuted. Of those arrested, 56% were in the Tenderloin, according to a report from the city’s budget and legislative analyst. Only 173 of those prosecuted were convicted, and of those, only 32 served longer sentences in county jail. The vast majority were released on probation.

Photo: Ryan Alexander