It's too soon to say whether the law enforcement crackdown on open-air drug dealing in the Tenderloin and SoMa, ongoing since this summer, has been a success or failure. But some impacts have been apparent, and anecdotally, there may be fewer dealers on the streets.
It's been over five months since Mayor London Breed, Governor Gavin Newsom, and House Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi all pledged to help stamp out the open-air drug trade in San Francisco and discourage the use of fentanyl. While the effort seems unlikely to address the national scourge of fentanyl addiction — of which San Francisco's epidemic is just one small part — the crackdown effort has perhaps slowed some of the drug trade and made drugs a bit harder to get in the city. Though maybe not by much.
Breed sought funding back in February for SFPD overtime to deal with the drug crisis, and in May the mayor announced, controversially, that officers would begin arresting people for drug use, possession, and public intoxication in an effort to push more people into treatment — an effort that doesn't seem to have worked, at least according to early numbers.
Pelosi announced in early June that a federal-level crackdown was coming as well, and while we don't know of any major stings, the Chronicle now reports that DEA sweeps have been taking place, and federal prosecutors have charged 89 individuals with drug crimes — including 28 in October alone.
June, July, and August saw some 300 arrests of drug dealers by the SFPD and its state and local partners, as the mayor announced last month. Those arrests came as a result of new coordination between the SFPD, SF Sheriff's Office, and the CHP, help that Governor Newsom had pledged back in the spring.
This has contributed to a 32% surge in the number of inmates in the city's jails, which led the Sheriff’s Office to reopen its San Bruno annex last week to accommodate more inmates, as the Chronicle reports.
A full accounting of arrests and prosecutions is still probably months away, but in the short term, one anonymous dealer tells the Chronicle that he's mostly given up dealing and is doing more construction work, in order to avoid arrest. This dealer said he was "scared," and added "You go to the city and it’s empty now."
Federal prosecutors have reportedly been fast-tracking cases, getting low-level dealers out of the neighborhood through stay-away orders, and in the case of undocumented dealers, referring them to ICE for deportation.
The owner of Emperor Norton's Boozeland on Larkin Street, Kevin DeMattia, tells the paper that the end of his block isn't empty, exactly, but the typical gatherings of dealers and clients has dwindled in recent months. (And, he notes to the Chronicle, that dealers seem to be using fireworks to alert each other when cops are present.)
Law enforcement acknowledges that, because of resources, much of their work in the Tenderloin and SoMa is happening in the daytime, so nights are probably their usual free-for-all.
And at least one federal agent seems confident that the sustained, intense crackdown will have some long-term effect — though there's reason to be skeptical, and these crackdowns have happened before.
SF's streets "have never experienced a [law enforcement] surge like this before," says drug intelligence officer Mark Karandang, speaking to the Chronicle. "The sweeps before have lasted a couple of weeks, maybe a month. But this has been going on for the last four months. And it doesn't look like it's going to abate anytime soon."
We await more official numbers from the feds and the city. And likely before then, we will be seeing how the APEC summit and the general sweeps by Secret Service and other agencies further impact where and how the local drug trade is occurring.
Photo: Gabe Pierce