Gascon cracking down on drugs in Tenderloin

November 25, 2009 7:37:34 PM PST
San Francisco's Tenderloin district has long had a reputation for being filled with poverty and vice. Now, it is a key battleground in Police Chief George Gascon's new war on drugs.

He seems to be winning the battle.

"It's him. It's Steeles!" an officer shouted Wednesday.

An undercover was making a "buy bust," which is police vernacular meaning he bought drugs from a dope dealer.

Sgt. Jerry Darcy headed up Wednesday's operation.

"A lot of them keep them concealed in their mouths. The rocks are small enough to keep them under your tongue," he said.

Darcy said the suspect in this case was a regular.

Police are targeting dealers selling heroin, crack cocaine and methamphetamine within 1,000 feet of three schools in the Tenderloin. The ordinance sets higher bails and stricter sentencing guidelines. "It is keeping the dealers in jail until their cases are adjudicated so they are not coming right back out on the street and reoffending," said police Sgt. Mark Obrochta.

The month-long crackdown around schools has already netted more than 50 arrests. On Wednesday, it took officers just 30 minutes to make four arrests, but police say in the past, they would have made twice as many.

At night, the pace is faster and the buy busts cover all of the Tenderloin. Some of those arrested carry weapons. Most of those arrested on one recent night were selling prescription pain killers like Vicadin and Oxycontin.

"One pill of Oxycontin in the Tenderloin goes for $40 on the street. So, it's also lucrative. So, that's why we've seen an increase," explained Obrochta.

The buyers are mostly from out of town.

"They're from the East Bay. They're from the local colleges, Peninsula, Marin County," said Darcy. "I mean, we're talking about young men and women hooked on these pain killers."

Police say most of the dealers come from the East Bay. They have always felt there is less of a chance to be arrested in San Francisco and that even if they were, they probably would not be prosecuted. But, that has apparently changed.

"What is going on in the Tenderloin is unacceptable in any American city," Gascon proclaimed in August 2009.

Gascon declared war on the Tenderloin drug trade as his first official act. The first salvo was a 20-day operation in August which resulted in more than 300 arrests.

"What we do is increasingly give up a significant piece of our city, and we throw up our arms and say we can't do anything about it. And, I refuse to do that," Gascon said.

District Attorney Kamala Harris says she has charged most of the drug arrests.

"Of the cases for which there had been arrests, 87 percent of those cases, my office took action," she told ABC7.

Undersheriff Jan Dempsey pointed out that her jail is filling up with drug arrests saying, "The population jumped about 13 percent between the end of June and the end of August."

Many Tenderloin merchants and residents tell ABC7 they have also noticed a difference.

"There seems to be a huge difference with the new police chief, that the police officers are able to be more pro-active and being able to do these petty drug busts and get people off the street," said apartment manager Shaughn Morgan.

But, the best measure of the drug war's success was unsolicited and came from a pedestrian as Sgt. Obrochta drove by.

"Good work you all doing. Good work," he said.

"Thank you sir," the sergeant replied.


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