The mayor's office and the SFPD put out new numbers this week documenting the success, they say, of efforts to crack down on open-air drug sales in and around the Tenderloin and SoMa.
The numbers certainly sound dramatic, and they don't even include arrests and stings by federal agents, which are also ongoing. The SFPD says it has made 990 arrests since May 29 — 573 for narcotics sales, and 421 for outstanding warrants and other reasons. It also touts nearly 800 arrests for drug use, under the controversial program in which users are being detained and allegedly pushed toward accepting offers of treatment — though anecdotally it sounds like they're just being arrested, processed, and put back out on the street.
As the Chronicle reports, after following up with the mayor's office, only 12 people have accepted treatment so far this year after being arrested for drug use. That amounts to 1.5%.
Our joint efforts to shut down the open-air drug markets in the Tenderloin and SoMa are still ongoing! Here are our latest stats on arrests and seizures to date. pic.twitter.com/JrOH7lv7oj— San Francisco Police (@SFPD) December 18, 2023
"We want people who need support to get help and we will continue to offer people second chances, but San Francisco can’t be a place where anything goes and [we] allow harmful behaviors to become the norm," Breed said in a statement. "These first six months are just the start of the work we know we need to continue."
Breed further said that local, state, and federal authorities were working together to "coordinate and hold those breaking the law in our city accountable."
The DA's office says it has filed charges in 827 of the 952 felony narcotics case that have come from the SFPD so far this year. Those numbers likely include the months before the current crackdown efforts began, from January to May.
Whether these prosecutions succeed in removing many drugs, or dealers, from the street in the long term remains to be seen. The SFPD said it had removed almost 120 kilos of narcotics from the streets in seizures during the last six months, and around 64 kilos of that was fentanyl.
Opponents of this criminal-justice strategy argue that criminalizing drug use does nothing to help the user, and that this crackdown on street-level dealers is just a game of whack-a-mole.
"When people who are street-level dealers are taken off the street, they are rapidly replaced because the demand remains," says Angela Chan, assistant chief attorney at the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, in a statement to the Chronicle. "And when people being arrested for public drug use are rounded up and flash incarcerated in jail, they experience grueling withdrawal for a few hours or days at a time, but are largely not connected to treatment."
Chan adds, "Our communities would be safer if those who are arrested for selling drugs were given an opportunity to exit the exploitative drug trade and those who suffer from substance use disorders had low-barrier treatment options in the community."
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