San Francisco law enforcement officials hope a new, intensive effort against drug dealing in the city’s troubled Tenderloin neighborhood will relieve residents and families confronted daily by open-air transactions and violence.
New police Chief George Gascon was joined by District Attorney Kamala Harris, U.S. Attorney Joseph Russoniello and other officials at a news conference today at the Tenderloin police station to announce 302 arrests during a recent, three-week undercover sting operation in the area.
The drug enforcement operation began Aug. 13 and concluded today.
Of the arrestees, 261 were arrested for trying to sell drugs to officers during the so-called “buy-bust” operations. Others were booked simply for parole or probation violations.
The majority of the drug dealers were trying to sell crack cocaine, according to police. Other drugs included heroin and prescription medication.
“What you’re seeing here today is the beginning of a new process,” Gascon said. He called it “a more concerted effort … to clean up this area.”
“What’s going on in the Tenderloin is unacceptable in any American city,” he said, citing open-air drug deals taking place regularly in front of children walking to school.
Many of the drugs are supplied by organized crime, and many of the dealers come from other parts of the city, and the Bay Area, he said.
Gascon insisted the effort was not “a war” on poor or homeless people.
“It is a war on crime,” he said. He said many of the drug dealers already have multiple arrests, and while some are “incorrigible,” others could turn their arrest into an opportunity for recovery.
“I do not believe the people of San Francisco are satisfied with being lenient on crime,” Gascon said. He added that he had already had several conversations with local community leaders and residents on the subject.
“People are fed up,” he said.
Gascon said police are “going to be very focused in targeting (specific) people” at the center of the drug trade and also in increasing their own “intelligence base” on crime in the area.
“We’re creating a structure for the entire criminal justice system,” he said.
Harris called the Tenderloin “one of our most difficult areas in terms of addressing the problem of drug crime.”
She said drug dealing was not a victimless crime because families “have to walk down the street and deal with drug dealers on the corner.”
Harris’s office has since prosecuted all but about 10 of the recent buy-bust cases the office received, according to Sharon Woo, who runs the office’s narcotics division. Some cases had to be dropped when the alleged drugs turned out not to be controlled substances or due to other evidentiary issues, she said.
Gascon, Harris and Russoniello said their partnership also involved community groups and faith-based organizations, and asked for their support in addressing the ongoing problem.
According to Deputy Chief Kevin Cashman, head of the Police Department’s field operations bureau, the drug trade in the Tenderloin is “an open market” that draws drug dealers from far and wide to ply their “very lucrative” trade.
Disputes over drug turf can often descend into violence, Cashman said.
Though the Police Department has previously conducted buy-bust operations in the Tenderloin, Cashman said the goal of the new approach was to put a “significant dent” into drug dealing there.
“If you come to San Francisco to deal drugs, you will be arrested, you will be prosecuted, you will go to jail,” Cashman said.
“It’s not business as usual in the Tenderloin anymore.”