London Breed’s plan increases police presence in the Tenderloin district, a strategy that is at odds with the progressive city’s stance
Last modified on Sat 18 Dec 2021 01.54 GMT
The mayor of San Francisco has declared a state of emergency in the Tenderloin district, an area with high levels of homelessness and devastating numbers of drug overdoses, in an effort to crack down on crime and reduce overdose deaths.
“We are in a crisis and we need to respond accordingly,” said London Breed at a news conference on Friday. The plan will aggressively address issues on what she called the “nasty streets” in her city, including bolstering the budget for policing.
The announcement marked a stunning shift in rhetoric for a leader of one of America’s most liberal cities. Once a vocal champion of criminal justice reforms and reducing the reliance on police in favor of stronger social programs, Breed embraced an approach she acknowledged is at odds with what her progressive constituents want.
“What I’m proposing today and what I will be proposing in the future will make a lot of people uncomfortable,” she said. “And I don’t care.”
“Too many people are dying in this city, too many people are sprawled on our streets,” she said, citing the fact that about two people a day are dying of overdoses, mostly from fentanyl. “It’s time that the reign of criminals who are destroying our city, it is time for it to come to an end.”
The first two parts of a three-phased approach, described in a press release issued Friday, is already underway, and includes a significant increase in police presence instructed to target both drug sellers and users. Drug-related fatalities are on the rise and outpaced Covid deaths in the city last year by 2 to 1.
The emergency declaration will allow the city to cut through red tape that delays the public response to deteriorating conditions in the Tenderloin and quickly provide shelter, counseling and medical care to people suffering from addiction, Breed and other city officials said.
The crackdown also comes weeks after San Francisco was targeted by coordinated thefts, where groups of people raided high-end stores armed with crowbars and hammers. In response, the city deployed police to the downtown area in full-force, bumping officer overtime to roughly 8,000 hours.
But Breed’s plan is likely to draw some backlash. Statistics collected by the San Francisco police department show many types of crime, including larceny, are actually down from where they were in 2019. The plan also includes an expansion of police surveillance, a point that has sparked concerns from privacy experts and advocates that the mayor is attempting to circumvent San Francisco’s privacy laws.
“The mayor’s proposal to massively expand police presence in San Francisco is regressive and harmful to those who are already underserved and overpoliced,” said Mano Raju, public defender, in a statement issued Tuesday, noting that Breed made promises to divest in policing after the murder of George Floyd.
He added that an increase in policing won’t help address the root causes of crime, including poverty, addiction, disease, and trauma. “Piling more resources into policing and punishment – strategies that have consistently succeeded only in creating intergenerational trauma – have never been the solutions to public health crises, in the Tenderloin or elsewhere,” he said.
San Francisco is home to an estimated 8,000 homeless people, many of whom pitch tents in the Tenderloin and are struggling with chronic addiction or severe mental illness, often both.
Also on Friday, California’s governor Gavin Newsom announced a $250m proposal to help police fight organized retail theft, which would create a team dedicated to prosecuting such crimes.
The Associated Press contributed reporting