New SFPD chief cites drop in Tenderloin crime

September 2, 2009 6:47:54 PM PDT
San Francisco's new police chief is wasting no time waging war against crime in a district of the city known for its open drug dealing. Hundreds were arrested in a massive operation.

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ABC7 witnessed a drug deal in the middle of the day across the street from the Tenderloin children's playground. Counselors say the dealers act with seeming impunity.

"We have young people that are having to be subjected to a standard of living that no one should have to," said new San Francisco Police Chief George Gascon. "What is going on in the Tenderloin is unacceptable in any American city."

Gascon quietly launched a war on crime in the Tenderloin shortly after he was sworn in.

The operation which ended Wednesday, started 21 days ago. It resulted in 300 arrests, most of them on drug charges. Almost half of those arrested were on probation or parole.

Gascon says he is working closely with District Attorney Kamala Harris and U.S. Attorney Joe Russonielo. However, community leaders say the justice system has been soft on drug dealers.

"There's an issue with regards of keeping the people off the streets," Rob Gauthier of Parc 55 Hotel.

Harris defended her record.

"Over the last five years, we have sent twice as many serious and violent felons to state prison," said Harris.

People ABC7 spoke with say the Tenderloin is an open drug market which breeds violence.

"The new chief, he's really doing his job," said Ray Eid who works at a grocery store in the heart of the Tenderloin. He has noticed lots of police these last few weeks. Eid says it has made a difference.

"Nobody hanging. Nothing," said Eid. "No drug dealing. You don't see it."

Mike Williams has lived in the area more than 20 years. He also saw lots of police activity.

"Stings and different operations, decoy, undercover guys," said Williams. "It's amazing to see how clean some of the corners are."

The chief says during the 21-day sweep, Tenderloin crime was down by more than one-third.

Residents wonder if it will stay that way.

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