They called it "Operation Safe School," they targeted 29 of the most notorious drug dealers whose turfs were near schools. In San Francisco, they zeroed in on the Tenderloin -- the neighborhood many immigrant families call home. U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag and San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr told us they wanted to make a difference for the sake of the families and their children.
The task force targeted chronic drug dealers operating near schools in the tenderloin. Armed with federal indictments, they made their arrests quietly. Some had been selling drugs here since the early 90's.
Narcotics investigator Sgt. Darren Nocetti told us, "Some people have arrests in the Tenderloin area, if you include the juvenile history, they will have been arrested probably in excess of 50 times."
Many of those arrested on state charges are cycled in and out of jail and they're soon back on the streets. The message this time was different -- there were federal charges, which means they're facing at least a mandatory one year in the federal penn.
Haag told us, "Based on the amount of drugs, they often face more than that. Certainly more than the hours and days that are the result of a state prosecution, unfortunately."
The U.S. attorney obtained the indictments under the safe schools program, which forbids drug dealing within 1,000 feet of schools. There are several in the Tenderloin. They serve many of the nearly 4,000 kids who live in the 56-block area.
Many attend City Academy, a private elementary school with no recreation facilities. Every day they walk, escorted by teachers, through the streets of the Tenderloin to a playground several blocks away.
They pass drug dealers, selling with seeming impunity in front of children. The Tenderloin has the highest rate of drug crimes in the city. Crack, heroin, prescription pills… you name it, they've got it. Narcotics inspector Brit Elmore says it's like an outdoor pharmacy.
Elmore told us, "They take a corner over. They'll stay on that corner until they sell out. And then somebody will come in and take their spot and it's just like punching a time clock coming in and out."
They don't even have roots here.
San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr told us, "The vast majority of these folks that we're getting do not live in San Francisco. They're commuting to San Francisco to sell drugs."
So, not only do the dealers face more significant prison time under the federal justice system, they also face stay away orders which could last five to six years. The U.S. attorney also emphasized that this is not a one-time sweep. They plan to do this on a sustaining basis with more indictments to come.
On Tuesday at 6 p.m. we'll show you just how important this operation was to the children and their schools. See that story here.