by Randy Shaw on August 28, 2023 (BeyondChron.org)

Photo shows open drug market at Leavenworth and McAllister

August 23, 2023, Leavenworth and McAllister

Drug Dealers Spawn Shoplifting, Break-Ins and More

Most of San Francisco’ problems have a common source: Open air drug markets. Easy access to drugs brought thousands of drug tourists to the city. The number of unhoused tent dwellers skyrocketed, as shelters ban drugs.

Addicts needing money for their next fix have increased shoplifting, car break ins, and home and business burglaries. Overdoses put a huge burden on the city’s health care and emergency response system (fentanyl changed the game).

San Francisco pays a steep price for allowing drug markets to thrive. When businesses explain why they are leaving San Francisco, drug activities on sidewalks top the list.

Why is San Francisco the only major U.S. cities unable to prevent open air drug markets on highly visible sidewalks?

Given their harm to San Francisco, why are open air drug markets still thriving?

SFPD Has No Strategy to Close Drug Markets

The answer is simpler than many think: drug markets thrive because the SFPD lacks a strategy to close them. I wrote about this in April and no effective strategy has since emerged.

Under Chief Scott, the SFPD has only one strategy to close drug markets: undercover arrests. The strategy has failed. Arrests have skyrocketed while drug markets grow and even expand.

The Chief sees it as a numbers game. But he counts the wrong numbers. Success is not measured by arrest numbers but by the reduction and closure of drug markets.

That hasn’t happened. Check out the above August 23, 2023 photo from Leavenworth and McAllister. Or walk by the 300 block of Hyde, 600 and 700 blocks of Eddy, Market between 7th and 8th streets in the evening or UN Plaza at late night.  I could list others but you get the point.

Whenever media ask merchants or residents if they see any reduction in drug activities the answer is No. That speaks volumes to the city’s ongoing failure to provide sufficient public safety. And the misleading measure of “arrests.”

In some places like 24th and Mission BART station the drug market is bigger than ever. All while dealers from the cartel remain in areas once used by the city as drug “containment zones”

Consistency and Visibility Works

Closing drug markets requires law enforcement visibility and consistency of enforcement. Scott’s reliance on undercover arrests achieves neither.

Consistency means that when the police move dealers off a block they make sure they do not return in a few hours or less. The lack of consistency explains why a site like 7th and Market can be completely clear at 2pm and two hours later be as overwhelmed by dealers and users as 300 Hyde.

Visibility deters drug markets because dealers seek to avoid arrest. It also means community residents see officers on their blocks and feel safer.

The Tenderloin and other areas hosting drug markets have seen neither consistency nor visibility. Meanwhile, Union Square and the Westfield Center gets visible police on a consistent basis.

The SFPD views officer visibility as an effective strategy everywhere outside of certain neighborhoods. If the cartel started selling on Chestnut or Union Street  you know full well there would be officers out on fixed posts on every block.

Last Friday the SFPD announced, “Effective immediately, we have increased visible uniformed police patrols in areas of the city where auto break-ins are most pervasive, including, but not limited to, the Palace of Fine Arts, Alamo Square, and Fisherman’s Wharf.”

I look forward to Supervisor Dean Preston, who opposes police in the Tenderloin, publicly urging the police to leave Alamo Square where he lives.

Why does Chief Scott fail to provide beat cops or consistency of enforcement in drug hot spots? Scott knows that Union Square businesses feel better when they see officers. He doesn’t believe Tenderloin business owners or residents deserve similar consideration.

When you pursue a strategy that continues to fail it’s because you don’t care about success. Or lack the skills to achieve it.

No End In Sight

Scott’s insistence on continuing a failed strategy is troubling. It leaves me with little optimism for  eliminating open air drug markets as long as he remains chief. The best hope is the mid-November Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) conference, but that could just clear dealers out for a week or two.

As much as we celebrate IKEA’s opening, the Civic Center Carnival and a bold transformation of UN Plaza, there will not be much new investment in Mid-Market so long as drug markets remain. We’ll continue to see more businesses closing than opening.

As recovery advocates argue, the true harm reduction comes from shutting down drug markets.

Randy Shaw

Randy Shaw is the Editor of Beyond Chron and the Director of San Francisco’s Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which publishes Beyond Chron. Shaw’s latest book is Generation Priced Out: Who Gets to Live in the New Urban America. He is the author of four prior books on activism, including The Activist’s Handbook: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century, and Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century. He is also the author of The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco

Tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *