Just in time for tourists to descend on downtown for Pride at the end of June, San Francisco sheriff's deputies will be out in force making arrests for drug dealing and open-air drug use, as part of Mayor London Breed's previously announced plan.
There was a press conference outside City Hall Thursday morning with San Francisco Sheriff Paul Miyamoto, District Attorney Brooke Jenkins, and several city supervisors to announce that the Sheriff's Department's Emergency Services Unit (ESU) will be taking charge of a new initiative to arrest drug users and coerce them into treatment.
Of the deputies that will deployed, Yamamoto said in a Thursday release, "Their objectives are very simple: to eradicate open air drug use and to assist those suffering from harmful behavior into program and services, support current efforts to disrupt drug sales, increase public safety with a greater visible law enforcement presence."
The sheriff also noted that ESU deputies have specialized training for handling situations that "require intervention for destructive or criminal behavior."
"We are not advocating for harsher punishments or increased incarceration for those struggling with harmful choices,” Miyamoto said at the press conference, per the Chronicle. “While it’s an unpopular stance to take, arresting and putting people in jail, it can be a critical gateway to help the needs and needs to be a part of the multi-pronged approach."
Miyamoto added, "In many cases, individuals suffering from drug addiction only seek help when they hit their lowest point, and the sad truth for many is that the low point is incarceration. When we remove the low point, we may be doing more harm than good by allowing them to continue."
The deployment of deputies, 130 in all who will be working overtime, is set to begin at the end of June, the Sheriff's Office says. They will be out on the streets of the Tenderloin and SoMa — the Chronicle does not mention the Mission District, some parts of which have seen an uptick in drug dealing — and presumably this will be beginning ahead of Pride Sunday, when the area becomes crowded with tourists from around the region and the country.
Breed has suggested that a special detention facility for drug users is being prepared that is not the County Jail itself, but that has not yet opened.
The effort to harass and penalize addicts, which has drawn criticism from many including Supervisor Dean Preston, is being framed as a compassionate act of harm reduction — though Breed herself, at a May 23 Board of Supervisors meeting, framed it the opposite way, suggesting that when it came to leaving drug users alone, "Compassion is killing people."
"It is personal to me, what we are seeing in our city," said Supervisor Matt Dorsey, who has been open about his own struggles with substance abuse and recovery. "It isn't just because I used to be a drug addict. It's because I know... that there is a better life on the other side of drug addiction... The promise of recovery is what this is about."
"Part of the solution," DA Jenkins said, "is making sure that we have enough law enforcement on the ground in the Tenderloin, South of Market, and in the Civic Center area to make sure that drug dealers understand that their behavior will not be tolerated any longer in this city, and that those struggling with addiction get the help that they so desperately need."
Critics have been quick to make comparisons to the failed War on Drugs and to warn that flooding these areas with cops probably isn't sustainable anyway.
And do they really think that they're going to permanently rid the city of drug dealers?
Public Defender Crystal Carpino told the Chronicle that tossing addicts in jail is not an act of compassion, and many are "suffering a pretty wild detox on their own" on the streets without needing to do so in a jail setting.
And Sup. Preston tweeted on Tuesday, "Incredible our City is doing this in 2023. Arresting/jailing people for their drug use. This is the failed war on drugs and it does serious harm. I’m deeply disappointed and outraged that any city leader would support this."
The tough talk and fresh round of action by Mayor Breed — who has previously announced other, similar crackdowns in the Tenderloin over the last two years — comes amid talk of her poll numbers being particularly low, and as her first serious challenger has emerged for the 2024 mayor's race. It also comes after months of talk about SF's struggling/dying downtown, "doom loops," and the closure announcements of major retail stores on mid-Market including Whole Foods, Nordstrom, and Old Navy.
Photo via SF Sheriff's Office