The Chronicle did a ride-along with California Highway Patrol officers on their fentanyl crackdown efforts, and found they may be pulling people over for low-level traffic stops that have been likened to racial profiling.
Two separate and seemingly unrelated San Francisco law enforcement efforts may be intertwining together, with possibly controversial results. You’ll recall that California Highway Patrol officers have been deployed to the Tenderloin in an effort to stamp out the drug trade, a directive from Governor Gavin Newsom that started in early May — and today Newsom is touting how the CHP has seized 4.2 kilos of fentanyl in just six weeks. But that effort by the CHP may conflict with an SF ban on low-level traffic stops called pretextual stops, which are minor violations like busted tail lights, which the Police Commission voted to ban in January.
The Chronicle recently did a ride-along with some of those highway patrol officers deployed to the Tenderloin, and found they may be performing those pretextual stops. And they would be allowed to, as the California Highway Patrol (CHP) is a state agency, and not under the jurisdiction of the SF Police Commission.
One arrest the Chronicle witnessed was spurred by heavily tinted windows (a violation for which the commission banned stops), but the vehicle also had a flat rear tire (not considered a pretextual stop). And once pulled over, CHP found the driver was allegedly in possession of crack cocaine and had the individual arrested.
The officer the Chronicle rode with said CHP does those pretextual stops, and insists they’re valuable. “You start there and work your way up through information you learn,” CHP officer Andrew Barclay told the Chron. “That’s why it’s important to make these stops.”
But a CHP spokesperson insisted the agency is not performing pretextual stops, albeit with language that seems to leave the door open to them.
“The CHP conducts traffic stops when the officer has reasonable suspicion or probable cause that a traffic violation has occurred,” CHP director of communications Jaime Coffee told the paper. “While conducting the traffic stop, officers may develop probable cause that a more serious crime has been committed.”
Data from the governor’s office says that under this SF CHP crackdown that started in May, the agency has seized 5.5 kilos of narcotics, and made 92 arrests for fentanyl, gun charges, DUI, and other crimes. But the Chronicle also analyzed SF District Attorney Office data, and found only 12 drug arrests in May referred by CHP, which does not sound like a lot, though the Chron also notes it’s more than then CHP had referred in the last 12 months combined.
It should be noted that the police commission ban on pretextual stops has not gone into effect yet. While the commission passed the ban in January, the Chronicle reports “it’s tied up in negotiations between the city and the police officers’ union.” The CHP involvement may complicate those negotiations even more.
Image: @CHPSanFrancisco via Twitter