The California Highway Patrol (CHP), an organization typically associated with high-speed freeway chases and the iconic motorcycle cops featured in television classics like “ChiPs,” has undertaken an entirely new mission. They are now patrolling the gritty streets of San Francisco’s Tenderloin district, as part of a unified effort that spans multiple law enforcement agencies. Their shared objective: to confront and quell the pervasive drug trade that has firmly rooted itself in this 50-square-block neighborhood.
In recent days, CNN had a unique opportunity to bear witness to this task force in action as they apprehended a suspected drug dealer accused of peddling a perilous concoction of methamphetamine and fentanyl. What they stumbled upon during this operation was nothing short of alarming – a plastic bag containing 33 grams of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid notorious for its potency, capable of being up to 50 times more powerful than heroin. Officer Andy Barclay of the California Highway Patrol soberly calculated that this seemingly inconspicuous bag of fentanyl possessed the potential to claim the lives of thousands.
“To put it in perspective,” Barclay earnestly emphasized, “we’re looking at around 16,500 fatal doses of pure fentanyl in that small bag. Yes, 16,500 people could potentially die.”
The crackdown on drug activity in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district is spearheaded by none other than California Governor Gavin Newsom himself. His administration has allocated additional resources to tackle an issue that, while not unique to San Francisco, has garnered national attention. The city’s liberal politicians have come under scrutiny as some perceive an uptick in crime rates.
According to data from San Francisco Mayor London Breed’s office, the California Highway Patrol alone has made 100 drug-related arrests since May 30. Over the last three months, local law enforcement agencies have collectively detained 300 suspected drug dealers, and both local and state authorities have confiscated a staggering 103 kilograms of narcotics, including a staggering 56 kilograms (123 pounds) of fentanyl.
Governor Newsom has expressed his pride in the dedicated efforts of the California Highway Patrol and the California National Guard in their mission to combat what he aptly refers to as the “poison pipeline” coursing through the veins of the Tenderloin district. He underscores their pivotal role in holding drug traffickers accountable for their actions.
For quite some time, the Tenderloin district has been regarded as the epicenter of San Francisco’s open-air drug market – a problem that has intensified in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. In response to the escalating crisis, Mayor Breed declared a state of emergency in 2021. What’s truly disheartening is that this grim reality, characterized by conspicuous drug use and sales on street corners, exists just a stone’s throw away from Union Square – the city’s bustling shopping district, famous for its upscale hotels and stores.
Despite the concerted crackdown on drug-related activities in the Tenderloin, residents and business owners in the area have voiced their frustration and skepticism about witnessing tangible improvements in their daily lives. Many are hesitant to share their experiences on camera, fearing retaliation and harassment. However, Martha Hughes, a long-time resident of the Tenderloin, bravely breaks that silence.
“I’m not scared of them; I’m not scared of anything,” Hughes declared resolutely. Over her 24 years in the neighborhood, she has witnessed the steady decline of the area, marked by a growing number of drug addicts and dealers. While she supports the police crackdown, she remains unconvinced that it is yielding the desired impact. Her plan is to depart the area as soon as she can secure a more affordable living situation.
“I’m moving in a couple of years. I had to have surgery this year, so I don’t have the money, but I’m out of here as soon as I can afford it. I blame this all on the politicians, and they don’t really seem to care. They have a lot of big talk, but there’s not enough action really,” Hughes lamented.
One central figure in this complex web of issues is San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins, who took office in 2022 following a recall of the previous district attorney, Chesa Boudin, spurred by public dissatisfaction with rising crime rates.
“We appear to be failing as city leaders,” Jenkins acknowledged candidly. “I want them to know that I am working every day to ensure that the situation changes. But I’m only one part of this system. I have had to be very vocal about the fact that there is another part of the system right now that is failing them.”
Jenkins has not been idle in her role. She disclosed that her office has filed nearly 1,000 cases related to drug dealing and has taken steps to detain the most serious offenders until their trials.
“Unfortunately, they’re cycling back out onto the street almost immediately after the arrest in our case is filed to date,” Jenkins revealed, pointing the finger at Superior Court judges.
It’s vital to acknowledge that CNN was unable to independently verify Jenkins’ claims, and the San Francisco Superior Court opted not to provide a comment on the matter.
Jenkins went on to explain that, over the past year, her office had filed motions to keep 200 of the most dangerous drug dealers behind bars while they awaited trial. Shockingly, only 17 of these motions were granted, with judges releasing the remainder on their own recognizance. This means that the defendants agreed to appear in court when required and to abide by any imposed restrictions or conditions. In some instances, Jenkins alleged that the suspects did not return for their court hearings or committed further offenses while out on release.
“I’m not going to take the blame when my prosecutors are going in and arguing that these people have to remain in custody. The judges are not doing their part, and that has to be revealed,” Jenkins asserted.
The situation in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district is an intricate and deeply rooted issue, involving a web of agencies, law enforcement entities, elected officials, and the justice system. While commendable efforts are being made to address the drug crisis head-on, the challenges of enforcing the law, ensuring public safety, and providing support to those grappling with addiction continue to test the resilience of the city and its inhabitants.