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More SF drug arrests, but do residents feel more safe?

In 2023, San Francisco Police officers arrested a record number of people who sell, and people who use drugs.
Thomas Hawk
Flickr / Creative Commons
In 2023, San Francisco Police officers arrested a record number of people who sell, and people who use drugs.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed is cracking down on street drug trafficking. In June, she set up a unified command center on Market Street near Civic Center, so that state and local law enforcement authorities could coordinate to crack down on drug dealers. On Tuesday morning, the Mayor’s office said that police have arrested nearly 700 people for selling drugs since the command center opened.

Since the beginning of the year, the San Francisco Police Department has arrested more than 900 suspected drug dealers in the Tenderloin and SoMa neighborhoods alone. This nearly doubles the number of such arrests from 2022.

Police have also arrested nearly 800 people for public drug use since the beginning of the year.

District Attorney Brooke Jenkins’ office reports that it has filed charges in 827 of 952 felony narcotics cases this year. Officials say this exceeds the previous record, set in 2018.

For today’s “Question of the Bay,” KALW went down to the Tenderloin to ask people there whether they have noticed the crackdown, and whether or not it has been making their neighborhood feel more safe.

Amber Sheldon is the community engagement coordinator in the Harm Reduction Department at Glide Memorial Church.

“Arresting drug dealers makes the drug supply more unreliable and more inconsistent, which will increase overdose. That’s just the nature of the beast. I don’t think that it makes the neighborhood any safer, at all.”

Amber says they have already noticed an increase in overdose since June.

“I’ve absolutely noticed an increase in overdose. I’ve responded to more overdoses in the last six months than I have prior to that in the last three years.”

Michelle has lived in San Francisco for 38 years. She is skeptical about the effectiveness of the Mayor’s crackdown on drug sales.

“That’s not gonna help nothin. They’re just, when they get out they’re just gonna come back and do the same thing. That’s just wasting the state’s money, that’s all. She’d rather spend all that money arresting people than place them in housing, that don’t make no sense.”

Justin has lived in San Francisco for 15 years. He had this to say about whether the increased police presence makes him feel more safe, or less.

“Probably a bit of both, depending on which side you’re on. If you’re inside or outside.  [What might that feel like if you’re inside vs if you're outside?] Then you have a place to hide, where often out here you don’t.”

Justin says there are more effective solutions to the overdose crisis in San Francisco.

“The war on drugs is a war on US citizens. It’s proven not to be effective, at all so… I’d like to see that we’re moving towards legalization, which is proven to reduce crime and other things.”

Alastair Boone is the Director of Street Spirit newspaper, and a member of KALW's 2024 Audio Academy.