SF police in the Tenderloin will now help get addicts off the streets – and can arrest those who refuse


San Francisco Mayor London Breed plans to step up police action on outdoor drug use in the Tenderloin. can access housing, addiction treatment and other services.

If people continue to engage in illegal behavior and fail to comply, the official said, they could be arrested. The new approach signals officials’ desire to see meaningful change in the Tenderloin and is likely to rekindle criticism from some city supervisors, District Attorney Chesa Boudin and community groups who say criminalizing addiction is against -productive.

When Breed first announced her emergency declaration to crack down on outdoor drug trafficking and use in the Tenderloin more than two months ago, she said people who refused the intervention could go to jail. The emergency was aimed at stemming the city’s overdose epidemic, which has killed more than 1,300 people in San Francisco over the past two years.

After critics rebuffed the threat of arrests, Breed staffers said they would not initially involve the police when trying to persuade people to get help and use the Liaison Center, which opened a month ago at United Nations Plaza. But Mary Ellen Carroll, head of the Department of Emergency Management and head of the mayor’s initiative, told The Chronicle on Thursday that the approach was about to change.

She said that so far outreach workers have offered people on the streets voluntary services and told them to move on.
from targeted blocks
if they do not want to go to the liaison center or accept another service. Carroll described it as more of a “pull” but said the city would now use “a push” involving law enforcement, though she stressed arrests were a last resort.

“You can either engage in services, or go to that place, you can move around, or if you do something illegal, the police will intervene,†she said.

“We really haven’t, as far as outreach, done that,” she added, “but that’s the next step we’re looking at.”

Carroll said arrests would be “on a case-by-case basis and would really be based on behavior and discretion. … We do not intend to arrest people for consumption, but if their behavior is causing harm in the community and they are completely reluctant to engage with any other services, we do not have no choice but to ask PD to intervene. â€

In the past, Breed has focused on creating programs that remove law enforcement from interactions with people struggling with homelessness, mental health issues and drug use. She said she still supported these moves, but the situation in the Tenderloin demanded action. The neighborhood, which has a high concentration of children, has made national headlines for its street conditions, open-air drug markets and overdose deaths.

Carroll said work so far has focused on connecting people to voluntary services, including placing more than 300 people in accommodation or shelters, either directly from the streets or through the Linkage Center. . City data shows that only a fraction of visitors to the UN Plaza liaison center have been connected to services.

Carroll said there is a housing and shelter shortage, but enough drug treatment to meet demand, and the city is working to get more resources online.

Last week, the city recorded 2,666 visits to the liaison center, which could include the same person coming more than once. The city provided 166 referrals for services and 13 completed links, meaning someone was enrolled in a program or moved to housing or shelter. These numbers were down significantly from the previous week, when there were 402 referrals and 48 completed liaisons.

Carroll added that “the next phase will be for people who aren’t interested or aren’t willing and don’t engage with this.”

“The choice to stay on the streets and continue with these behaviors, that’s no longer one of the choices,” she said.

Carroll said Thursday the change would begin immediately, following conversations with Police Chief Bill Scott and city leaders this week. She said it would not be a “roundup” with police carrying out mass sweeps.

Carroll said police could enforce laws against drug trafficking and use, as well as a controversial ordinance that prohibits sitting and lying on public sidewalks and generally affects homeless people.

The police can issue a ticket or misdemeanor citation under the sit/lie order. An offender can receive a fine or community service on the first offense. If there is a second offense within 24 hours, the person can face up to 10 days in jail.

Whether a person remains in jail or is charged with a crime requires the cooperation of judges, who decide whether or not to release a person before trial, and the district attorney’s office.

Boudin, who could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday evening, said in December that his office continued “the sale and possession of drugs with the intention of selling at higher rates than my predecessor in 2018 and 2019. He said arresting drug addicts won’t solve problems in the net.

When asked after Breed’s emergency declaration if he would prosecute drug addicts, he noted that possession is a misdemeanor, meaning someone arrested for the crime receives a citation and then is asked to appear in court. He said that given “what we know about addiction, the chances of these people even showing up in court are very small.” He said the approach was not a “useful response” to a public health crisis.

Critics of the Tenderloin emergency and increased policing have questioned whether the city has enough housing, shelter and treatment and can get people to available places quickly.

Oversight board chairman Shamann Walton, who voted against the emergency, said in December the board had urged the mayor to declare a state of emergency for the overdose crisis – not “to increase budgets law enforcement here in San Francisco and arresting people who use drugs when we currently don’t have adequate resources to meet their needs.

Even Supervisor Catherine Stefani, who voted for the emergency, told a hearing Thursday that the city doesn’t seem to have enough rehab beds for those who want to get off drugs.

“It needs to be resolved,” she said.

Kelley Cutler of the Coalition on Homelessness said there was a mismatch between demand and resources. Cutler said on Twitter Thursday night that she was “outreaching today and asking people about their experience at the Liaison Center. People WANT resources. People WANT housing. There is a high demand and few resources. People said you had to get there early so you could shower or do laundry.

Carroll said that when the liaison center first opened, people came more by word of mouth, not even through outreach, but she said, “Now we’re getting to the point where it’s getting harder. . … The people who stay are those who are cut off, for various reasons, not so willing to engage in service.

Separately, Carroll said more police are needed in general to respond to drug traffickers, for whom the liaison center would not be offered as an option. She said she supports Breed’s request for $7.9 million in overtime police overtime for this exercise, which must be approved by the Board of Supervisors.

Carroll said the city is doing “everything we can without law enforcement,†including community engagement, programming and resources, but said more police are also needed.

“The last thing any of us want to do is arrest people and take them to jail, that’s not our goal,” she said, “but at the same time, people are dying in the streets”.

Mallory Moench is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]: @mallorymoench

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