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On Friday San Francisco mayor London Breed declared a state of emergency in the Tenderloin district — an area near the heart of the city with high levels of homelessness and devastating numbers of drug overdoses — in a pledge to crack down on crime. New plans to aggressively address issues on what she called the “nasty streets” in her city, including bolstering the budget for policing, were also accompanied by a stunning shift in rhetoric for a leader of one of the country’s most liberal cities.
“We are in a crisis and we need to respond accordingly,” she said at a news conference on Friday. “Too many people are dying in this city, too many people are sprawled on our streets.” The emergency declaration, which is intended to last 90 days and must be ratified by the Board of Supervisors within 7 days, was issued to limit red tape around zoning and planning codes and enable funds to flow to the mayor’s plan more freely.
But the move targets more than drugs. 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.
California governor Gavin Newsom has also responded to the incident — and the national attention it sparked — with a $300 million plan to target organized crime.
“We recognize this moment requires us to do more,” Newsom said during a news conference. “These organized efforts have created tremendous fear and anxiety to many Californians.”
But experts have highlighted larceny and the overall property crime rate have fallen in the city. Before the pandemic crime rates in many categories were also falling across the state.
Once a vocal champion of criminal justice reforms and a reducing the reliance on police in favor of stronger social programs, Breed is now embracing an approach she acknowledges is at-odds with what her progressive constituents have long-advocated for.
“It’s time that the reign of criminals who are destroying our city, it is time for it to come to an end,” Breed said, joined by the city’s Police Chief Bill Scott. “What I’m proposing today and what I will be proposing in the future will make a lot of people uncomfortable,” she added, “And I don’t care.”
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. Breed said that more than two people are dying per day to drug overdoses, mostly to fentanyl. Fatalities are on the rise and outpaced Covid deaths in the city last year by 2 to 1.
“We are collectively committed to a long term solution that includes law enforcement, redeploying resources, and including our @SheriffSF to assist with mitigating challenges with access to support and services” Supervisor Ahsha Safai wrote on Twitter this week after joining Breed in the announcement of the new plan. Safai added that one part of the plan will focus on unlicensed vendors selling goods on the streets and another will focus on drug-use. “We must have cleaner safer streets” he said. “Enough is enough.”
But statistics collected by the San Francisco Police Department show many types of crime, including larceny, are actually down from where they were in 2019. Breed’s 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,” Public Defender Mano Raju said 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” he said, “— strategies that have consistently succeeded only in creating intergenerational trauma — have never been the solutions to public health crises, in the Tenderloin or elsewhere”