SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) — Embattled San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin calls the Tenderloin the most diverse area in the city, but it’s also a neighborhood beset by crime and drug sales.
Boudin calls what’s happening in the neighborhood “devastating.”
“The Tenderloin is a neighborhood that’s one of the most diverse in SF and has one of the largest concentrations of families with school aged kids,” he said. “It’s devastating to see what is happening in the streets of the Tenderloin. To know that there are families that live there, merchants that are trying to survive and do business, kids that have to step over folks overdosing on their way to school.”
It’s something that neighborhood resident Drake Davis faces every day.
“Right there at that corner, right there in front of that BART station,” Davis said. “I asked the guy why he was looking at me like he wanted to beat me up. He said — ‘because you ain’t buying the heroin, the methamphetamine, none of that fentanyl.’”
Before Davis even started browsing the farmer’s market produce, he stopped to thank the police officers that were stationed around Civic Center Plaza.
“I’m just glad the city is finally doing their job,” he said.
This past week the city launched another offensive against the organized drug trafficking that has plagued the neighborhood for years now.
“Definitely more dealers, more weight,” said officer SFPD Officer Murray Daggs. “It’s more blatant, and it’s pretty much all over the Tenderloin.”
The big game changer has been fentanyl. Just over a kilo was pulled off the streets in 2019. Police are now on track for a four-fold increase over last year.
“Year to date the total of narcotics we’ve already seized has already surpassed 2020’s seizures,” says Tenderloin Station Captain Chris Canning. “So the seizure rate is accelerating dramatically.”
Police are also making a lot of arrests, of very familiar faces.
Last year, 284 different individuals were arrested for selling drugs more than once. Of those, 89 were arrested 3 times, One individual was arrested seven times last year. Of the 30 or so individuals who make up the most repeat arrests, not a single one of them is currently in custody.
“Yes the frustration is there,” said San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott. “It’s definitely frustrating when we have to arrest the same people over and over again. But they’re keeping their heads up, they continue to do their job and I think that’s commendable. We’re going to keep doing our job to the best of our ability so others can do theirs.”
“Look, I walked the tenderloin the day before yesterday,” said Thomas Wolf. “In a two block radius I counted 22 drug dealers, mid afternoon like today. Individuals that don’t use their own product, they are working, to them it’s only a business, it’s not to support their drug habit.”
Wolf went from working for the city, to being an addict on the street. He’s now a recovery advocate, serving on the city’s drug crimes task force.
“I wasn’t locked away in prison for 15 years,” Wolf explained. “I spent about three months in the county jail. That was enough for me to help get started turning my life around. That’s just me, everybody’s different.”
His suggestion is that the city shift course, and balance compassion with accountability.
“We can have active enforcement and accountability without being draconian in the city,” Wolf said. “We can expand our collaborative courts for individuals struggling with addiction for committing crimes. And then we can also have accountability for people who are selling drugs on the street.”
There is broad consensus in the city about what needs to be done for the addicts.
“First you lift the drugs, and you get these people to rehab,” Davis said of those on the streets. “And you get them housing.”
Finding consensus on the criminal element is proving more complicated, and more costly.
“It’s not just that we’re paying a price and watching a bunch of people suffering in their addiction on the street,” Wolf said. “We’re actually paying a price in 60 people a month or more dying of drug overdose now in San Francisco. I just think that it’s time for everybody to put down their ideologies, sit down at the table and tr to come together and find some real solutions. If you love San Francisco. We have to try.”
That task force on which Tom Wolf serves is expected to release a set of recommendations late next month.
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