The new SF drug dealing and drug using crackdown has now yielded 45 arrests according to data presented by SFPD, and of those, police say only three of them live in San Francisco.
SF Mayor London Breed declared in late May that people would be arrested for being high on drugs in public and part of a fresh new fentanyl crackdown. And additional cavalries had already been called in: Governor Gavin Newsom called in the California Highway Patrol and the state National Guard, plus earlier this month, the SF Sheriff’s Office started deploying deputies to make drug arrests.
The crackdowns have generated concerns over racial profiling and over-incarceration, so SF Police Chief Bill Scott addressed the San Francisco Police Commission last Wednesday to give an update on how all this was being handled. And the Chronicle reports Scott said that 95% of those arrested were from out of town, that is, only three out of 45 arrested live in San Francisco.
The Chron frames this as “drug tourism,” which has become a popular catchphrase/slur on social media among prominent provocateurs.
I’d expect many of those who use drugs publicly to be from out of town, but I’m stunned by what @SFPDChief Scott reported here — only 3 of the 45 people arrested so far for public drug use have a San Francisco address.— Matt Dorsey (@mattdorsey) June 16, 2023
We should *not* be a destination city for public drug use. pic.twitter.com/FQ42oAETdu
“Most of [those arrested] list addresses in this country,” Scott told the Commission, as seen in the widely shared tweet above from Supervisor Matt Dorsey. “But only three out of 45 list San Francisco as their address. That was, I wouldn’t say surprising, but that’s something we’re paying attention to.
But about these numbers… didn’t they tell us just two weeks ago that they’d made 58 drug arrests under the crackdown that effectively started in May? How could we have only 45 arrests now when we had 58 ten days ago? It’s possible that both may be true, and the discrepancy may lie with how the various agencies (SFPD, CHP, National Guard, SF Sheriff’’s Office) collect data differently, or the difference may lie with varying different charges, like sales or use.
But it’s fair to want more detail than Scott’s three sentences the Chronicle and Dorsey quoted. So SFist sat through that whole police commission exchange, which you can watch online.
Police Commission president Cindy Elias did ask for that clarification on arrest numbers, and Chief Scott clarified that the 45 arrests were indeed CHP and National Guard arrests. “That’s just these eight officers,” Scott responded. “That group has arrested 45 people.”
And are these out of town people mostly just drug users who hopped that gates at Daly City or West Oakland BART? If so, that doesn't really feel like “tourism.” Scott did not provide any breakdown of where the arrestees were from. Though he did give some other insights into the rationale for people who come from out of town to buy drugs in San Francisco.
“I’ve talked to people. And I’ve said ‘Why do you do this? Why do you do this in this city?’,” Scott recalled. He paraphrased their responses as, “It’s easy, it’s cheap. And we don’t think anybody’s going to do anything about it.”
And for broader context, Scott added, “We are not the only city that’s facing this. Many other cities in the U.S.A. are facing this [fentanyl] issue. And they haven’t figured it out either.”
This term “drug tourism” may be more political messaging than law enforcement terminology. (Scott did not himself ever use the phrase “drug tourism” in his address to the commission.)
“There’s this theory of ‘drug tourism’ that’s been taking hold lately,” Treatment on Demand Coalition coordinator Sara Shortt told the Chronicle. “I think it’s clear they’re trying to produce certain conclusions.” Indeed, we’ve seen elected officials blame certain nationalities for the prevalence of fentanyl in San Francisco.
Thank you, Gov. @GavinNewsom and @CHP_GoldenGate! (Thanks also to @CalGuard for your behind-the-scenes work.) Your help to shut down fentanyl dealers perpetrating the deadliest crime in San Francisco history is appreciated.— Matt Dorsey (@mattdorsey) June 15, 2023
The more help, the better! 🙏https://t.co/ukAmaSTXIt
If people in need are getting help, that’s great, and Chief Scott defended the effort quite professionally. But some of the messaging around this issue strains credulity. Newsom’s office has been pushing the above claim that the CHP has seized enough fentanyl “to potentially kill 2.1 million people” under this campaign. Yes we have seen hundreds of overdoses in San Francisco this year, but given they’re referring to 4.2 kilos, that’s only a scratch of how much fentanyl is being dealt. We are not seeing millions of people dying in San Francisco. Newsom’s office may be using a metric of how much fentanyl could kill your Aunt Tilly who’s in a nursing home, but hardcore fentanyl addicts have a higher tolerance.
And Dorsey’s claim that fentanyl dealing is “the deadliest crime in San Francisco history” also seems a little much. (I imagine gun violence and hit-and-runs have historically killed far more San Franciscans than fentanyl has.) So there is certainly some political brand-burnishing in this debate, which may be a bigger priority for some than saving lives or improving SF street conditions.