SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- In the first six weeks since the California Highway Patrol began their crackdown in the Tenderloin, the agency says their officers have seized 4.2 kilos of fentanyl -- enough to kill potentially 2.1 million people. That's nearly three times the population of San Francisco.
ABC7 News was the first television news crew to ride along with CHP as officers patrol the Tenderloin, and got a first-hand look at their operation on the streets.
CHP drug seizures and arrests
In addition to fentanyl, according to the governor's office, since the start of the operation on May 1, CHP has also seized 957 grams of methamphetamine, 319 grams of cocaine, and 31 grams of heroin.
The agency has also made 92 felony and misdemeanor arrests, including on charges related to possession of fentanyl, illegal firearm possession, driving under the influence, and domestic violence.
"We're stopping vehicles with, you know, thousands, or hundreds of thousands, of potentially lethal doses of fentanyl," CHP spokesperson officer Andrew Barclay told ABC7 News while driving through the Tenderloin Monday afternoon.
He said 2 mg of fentanyl is enough to kill a person. The amount of fentanyl the agency has seized in just six weeks could kill more than 2 million.
"I'm proud of the CHP and CalGuard's lifesaving efforts to shut down the Tenderloin's poison pipeline and hold drug traffickers accountable," Governor Gavin Newsom said in a statement. "These early results show promise and serve as a call to action - we must do more to clean up San Francisco's streets, help those struggling with substance use, and eradicate fentanyl from our neighborhoods."
Barclay said that while SFPD officers are focused on hand-to-hand drug dealings on the sidewalks, CHP is focused on cars on the streets.
"Our focus is on traffic," Barclay explained. "So we know, as with anything that comes to the city of San Francisco, is that it has to get here somehow. So, if we have fentanyl coming into the city, it has to be delivered to San Francisco somehow and very often that is done in vehicles."
Since the start of the year, data from the city shows the number of people dying from accidental drug overdose deaths in San Francisco has been going up. Almost every week, there's more than the week before. The majority of those deaths have been caused by fentanyl, and more than a third have happened in the Tenderloin or South of Market.
And that is why in April, Governor Gavin Newsom announced he was deploying CHP and California National Guard to work on issues in the Tenderloin. CHP said they now have anywhere from six to 10 officers patrolling the area daily.
On Monday at Turk and Polk Streets, ABC7 News witnessed officers pull over and arrest a man suspected of driving under the influence. Shortly after, officers pulled over a driver following a pursuit through the neighborhood. When Officer Barclay opened the passenger door, he said he saw the driver swallow various items, potentially drugs. "I told him to spit everything out, but who knows what else he had already swallowed," Barclay said.
The officers immediately requested an ambulance and the driver was taken to a local hospital for evaluation.
Barclay said it's instances like these that CHP officers are encountering every day.
"The purpose of the partnership is to increase the law enforcement presence in this area with a goal of finding drugs, removing drugs, ultimately that is our charge," he said.
Efforts behind the scenes
As CHP focuses on the streets, a behind the scenes operation made up of roughly 30 different agencies is also underway.
According to the governor's office, both the Alcoholic Beverage Control and CalTrans are joining the operation. The agencies are going to deploy additional resources to the Tenderloin to address things like loitering and graffiti. The California National Guard, which is working on dismantling drug trafficking networks, has also increased the number of analysts assigned to the operation from 14 to 20.
"It's to build out, essentially, an image or a visual representation of the network and how it looks and how the people in the network relate to one another," Major General Matthew Beevers said of the National Guard's mission. "So, it's being able to understand the networks in such a way that we can give that info back to law enforcement and they can make arrests."
The challenge, according to Mike Sena, who works as the executive director of the Northern California High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) task force, is that there is just so much fentanyl.
"I mean it is to the point where the dealers, even if they lose pounds, which is a lot of money - it's like nothing to them," Sena said from his office on the 15th floor of the San Francisco federal building, which overlooks parts of the Tenderloin.
According to Sena, drug dealers working in the Tenderloin are mostly people originally from Honduras. A majority of the fentanyl they're selling is manufactured and brought in from Mexico. And the people buying come from all over Northern California, and some even out of state.
"A good portion of the people coming to San Francisco and are being arrested for purchasing in San Francisco are not native San Franciscans. They are people outside the area," Sena said. "So, we have to work with those communities as well."
Noticing a change
Back on the streets, we asked recovery advocate Tom Wolf, who was formerly homeless in the Tenderloin and addicted to fentanyl, if he's noticed any change in the neighborhood.
"Well, there's some blocks in the Tenderloin that are better, right? And definitely I've seen the CHP out there, and the CHP is primarily doing traffic stops for people in the neighborhood," Wolf said. "But I've also seen some of the drug market shift now to South of Market. So, now down by the federal building, down there 7th and Mission - that's kind of become the epicenter of the drug activity that you see."
"There are spots still in the Tenderloin - Van Ness and Eddy is still a hot spot. Hyde and Ellis is still a hot spot. But they've cleared out several blocks in the community as a result of the added enforcement," he explained.
Asked what grade he would give the operation six weeks in, Wolf laughed and replied, "Incomplete."
"I'd give an incomplete, because it hasn't been enough time," he said.
But the agencies working on the effort acknowledge six weeks is just the beginning. They said their efforts are far from over.
"I think we finally reached the tipping point in this city where the number of deaths exceeded what anyone could stand anymore," Sena said. "Up until this point, we have had basically a world without consequences, and now everyone is saying there will be consequences in San Francisco if you're dealing fentanyl."
Major General Beevers vowed to continue the National Guard operation for "as long as it takes."
"My message to drug dealers in the Tenderloin is this," Beevers said. "It's that you might not see uniform National Guard on the streets, but know this: that we are behind the scenes, we're going to figure out who you are, who your bosses are, who launders your money, and who gives you drugs to sell in this city."
"And we're going to come after you," he added. "And we're going to get you."
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