By Janie Har
SAN FRANCISCO – The chief prosecutor of San Francisco on Monday rejected the mayor’s call for increased policing to tackle rampant drug trafficking in one of the city’s most vulnerable neighborhoods, urging them to instead invest more money in homes and treatment that the causes of crime.
Politically competitive District Attorney Chesa Boudin was accompanied by public defender Mano Raju and addiction specialists at a press conference announced after Mayor London Breed declared a state of emergency in the long-battered Tenderloin last week. Open drug trafficking and neighborhood shootings have scared children and seniors into going outside.
San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin speaks during a press conference in protest of Mayor London’s Breed plan for more police and law enforcement that could affect drug users in the Tenderloin neighborhood on Monday, December 20, 2021 in San Francisco. (Gabrielle Lurie / San Francisco Chronicle via AP)
The press conference comes as Boudin, whose 2019 election was unsupported by Breed, faces a recall election in June put on the ballot by critics who say he is gentle on criminals. Boudin’s office countered the criticism with examples of effective crackdown on shoplifting and other criminal activities. But his remarks on Monday made his position clear on how to persecute people with drug problems or mental health problems.
“If arrests and indictments alone could solve the drug crisis in this country or city, it would have been resolved long ago,” he said. “We spent over a trillion dollars fighting the so-called war on drugs, and where did that take us?”
Boudin said he was indignant at the “raw human suffering” he saw in the neighborhood. But using outdated methods won’t make people safer and the city has other options, said Boudin, who worked in the public defender’s office before being appointed prosecutor.
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A mayor’s spokesman said Monday the government had made historic investments in housing and treatment and was determined to open a safe drug use point as well as a drug disenchantment center, ideas also supported by spokesmen on Monday. As part of their contingency plan, Breed is working to open a temporary location in the Tenderloin to connect people to services, said Jeff Cretan.
“The reality is our outreach teams are out there every day, and while many people take services to get inside and get the help they need, others don’t,” he said, adding that the mayor will continue to invest in these programs, “but people will not be allowed to refuse these services and continue breaking the law.”
Like many other predominantly democratic cities, San Francisco is fighting crime in the face of police reforms sparked by the 2020 murder of George Floyd. While general crime reports in San Francisco prior to the pandemic have declined, viral video footage of cheeky shoplifters and home break-in stories have put an uncomfortable spotlight on a city that prides itself on its praised compassion and tolerance.
Oakland City Council, a longtime leader of the Black Lives Matter movement to cut police funding, backed down earlier this month and voted to hire 60 new officers and add two new police academies amid an increase in murders and gun violence.
San Francisco spends millions of dollars to fight homelessness and drug addiction, but the effort has not made any visible changes. City guides say the high cost of housing and the abundance of cheap synthetic drugs are devastating other major cities as well.
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Some residents say San Francisco has lost its luster as officials fail to deter repeat offenders, provide shelter for the homeless, or keep the streets clean. They are also dismayed that the school district, which is not controlled by the mayor, held on to distance learning for most of the past year, while neighboring districts and even private schools in San Francisco welcomed students back to their classrooms. Several school board members are also facing new elections.
People who live and work in Tenderloin, one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, have asked the mayor’s office for increased patrols, although not all think police is the solution.
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In response, Breed said last week they needed to be “less tolerant of all the cops – it destroyed our town” and announced initiatives to make stolen property more difficult to sell and give police real-time access to surveillance video.
She said the city will no longer tolerate open drug use or trafficking and people will have to accept treatment or go to jail. Critics say there aren’t enough treatment beds or accommodations.
Del Seymour, founder of the personnel development group Code Tenderloin, said at the press conference on Monday that he loves and respects the mayor but is flooding the neighborhood with more police officers who don’t know how to deal with people struggling with addictions, mental health issues and Struggling with homelessness is not the answer.
“We deserve a lot better,” he said. “The money you will spend on it can be used for drug counseling and needs-based treatment.”
Other speakers on Monday included representatives from HealthRIGHT 360, which offers mental health and substance use treatment; SF AIDS Foundation; and Shamann Walton, president and only black member of the San Francisco board of directors.