There are a few new efforts happening at the state and federal level to address what is hardly a localized problem in San Francisco, which is the fentanyl crisis. And Mayor Breed is hinting at a new DEA raid or something in the works.
On May 1, House Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi — who remains SF's representative in Congress — announced that she was requesting that the Justice Department designate a new operation to address the fentanyl crisis in her hometown, dubbed Operation Overdrive.
"While SF has an ongoing, increasingly robust public health response, we need law enforcement targeted at the cartels – which promote overdose deaths and violent crime," Pelosi said. "Operation Overdrive would unlock more federal resources to deter fentanyl trafficking and ensure public safety."
The request came in a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland, in which she added, "Time is of the essence. People are dying from fentanyl and violence."
Then last week, Mayor London Breed shared with the Board of Supervisors that she had had a meeting with Pelosi and representatives of federal agencies, as part of her tough-talking address regarding open-air drug dealing in the city. This was during her monthly address to the board after they recessed from that disastrous outdoor portion in U.N. Plaza and retreated back to their City Hall chamber on May 23.
"You and I both know that I have no control and no say over federal and state partners, but I have been reaching out to them over the years, and we are finally making some headway," Breed said. She explained that the Department of Emergency Management had been coordinating with "multiple departments and agencies" with a focus on the drug crisis in the Tenderloin, SoMa, and Mission.
Breed was referring in part to the recently announced state help via the CHP and National Guard, which launched at the beginning of May. But with regard to federal assistance, Breed had something new to share.
"Just yesterday, I had an important meeting with our police chief, our district attorney, our Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi, and our new U.S. attorney," Breed said. "I'm not at liberty to speak about the details, but know that everyone is focused on this very important issue. All of these partnerships and efforts matter."
Breed talked about this meeting just before she called out Supervisor Dean Preston for denouncing efforts to crack down on illegal drug dealing and open-air use.
"I get that people have an issue with the fact that we are looking at being more aggressive with people who struggle with addiction," Breed said. “Force is going to have to be a part of it. We’re going to have to do more."
There may be some sort of dramatic DEA crackdown coming to the local area, the likes of which we haven't seen in a few years. During the last year of the Obama Administration, in January 2016, the DEA conducted a major raid in coordination with the SFPD and made 48 arrests in SF and the East Bay, including in 11 homes occupied primarily by Honduran nationals.
Back in 2019, we were hearing that most drug dealing in the Tenderloin was controlled by two gangs, and the dealers themselves mostly lived outside the city. Since then we've occasionally heard about federal busts of dealers living in Oakland, like this one in April 2022, and this one in February 2023.
So, yeah, federal interventions aren't new. The SF Standard reports, after speaking to Breed this week, that this latest one hopes to "disrupt drug-dealing activity that has been moving away from the Tenderloin and SoMa neighborhoods." And details aren't being shared so as not to tip off the dealers themselves.
"Our goal is to have the results speak for themselves and to talk about the information of the arrests that we've made or the data that shows the change," Breed told the Standard.
That data could be tough to come by, given that past raids and crackdowns haven't amounted to much noticeable change on the street. And people are still finding and doing drugs.
District Attorney Brooke Jenkins announced a crackdown last fall on misdemeanor drug offenders, and we haven't yet seen any data on the success or failure of that. You may recall that Breed was similarly talking "crackdown" in December 2021, when she said she wanted to end "all the bullshit that has destroyed our city."
Breed will be up for reelection next year — she's not polling so great as of now — and no doubt "fentanyl" and "Tenderloin" are going to be keywords in much of her opponents' messaging.
Top image: Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) (C) and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) talk on the sidelines of a news conference with the House Democratic Women's Caucus outside the U.S. Capitol on May 25, 2023 in Washington, DC. The caucus members were joined by representatives from the National Women’s Law Center, MomsRising, Community Change Action, and other to highlight how a possible federal default would hurt women and families. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)