Hope -- and some skepticism -- as fentanyl crackdown begins in SF's Tenderloin

"I'm hopeful something good comes out of this and we can help reclaim this city," one resident said.

ByTara Campbell and Liz Kreutz KGO logo
Tuesday, May 2, 2023
CA National Guard, CHP begin crackdown on SF open-air drug market
Monday marks the start of Gov. Newsom's move to crack down on San Francisco's open-air drug market with CHP officers and the state's National Guard.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Monday marks the start of Governor Gavin Newsom's major move to crack down on San Francisco's open-air drug market. California Highway Patrol and the California National Guard are teaming up with the SFPD and District Attorney's Office to help get drug dealers off the streets.

CHP officers will be targeting the Tenderloin and South of Market neighborhoods, while the California National Guard works behind the scenes analyzing intelligence.

"As we hopefully wind down the drug market, we also have to make sure that we are winding up support for the people who are going to have a harder time finding drugs," said Supervisor Dorsey.

RELATED: 'Injecting Hope' | Watch documentary on innovative program tackling drug overdose, fentanyl epidemic

"If you are going to be eliminating the supply like this, especially with people that do have substance use disorder and if their primary substance is fentanyl. We really need to make sure that we're able to help these folks and very quickly," said Gary McCoy of HealthRight 360, one of the nonprofits working with the city in hopes of establishing safe consumption sites.

Safe consumption sites, also known as safe injection, or overdose prevention sites, are places people can go to use their drugs under supervision in case of an overdose - and be connected to services like treatment and housing. The sites are illegal under federal law, but the Mayor's Office and Board of Supervisors are trying to find workarounds, similar to sites like those in New York City, operated by a nonprofit.

"There are some conversations happening that fingers crossed we'll make some progress on some of the overdose prevention sites that we're talking about," said Supervisor Dorsey.

Driving around the tenderloin on Monday afternoon, it looked pretty much like it does on any other day. There were a few SFPD officers on foot patrol. And we spotted two CHP cars passing through.

But despite no visible difference in the neighborhood, some San Franciscans are hopeful Monday will mark a turning point in San Francisco.

VIDEO: National Guard explains their role in fighting San Francisco's fentanyl crisis

California National Guard explains how they will carry out their roles in fighting San Francisco's fentanyl crisis.

"I am cautiously optimistic. Let's put it that way," Tom Wolf, a recovering fentanyl addict who used to live on the streets of the Tenderloin, told ABC7 News.

Wolf said word has already spread around the community.

"From what I'm hearing from people on the street, is that they're hunkering down. The people using drugs are hunkering down in anticipation of this increase in law enforcement to kind of ride out the storm," Wolf said.

"The key is that, when we do this enforcement, it's going to have to be a sustained approach," he added. "We can't just have the CHP come in here for three weeks and then go home. If they're going to be here, they're going to have to be here for six months at least."

CHP said they have 75 uniformed officers in San Francisco, but they won't say how many officers are being deployed at any given time for this effort.

Supervisor Dean Preston -- who represents the Tenderloin and has been critical of Newsom's plan -- said he's heard it's going to be about six officers. He is among those skeptical the plan will make much change.

VIDEO: Mixed reaction to Gov. Newsom's plans to combat San Francisco's fentanyl crisis

There are still questions over what Newsom's plan to enlist the CA National Guard and CHP to combat San Francisco's fentanyl crisis will look like.

"It's kind of a big nothing burger in some ways," Preston said. "I mean, the governor announced military deployment with the National Guard and CHP and all that. In reality, now we find out that the plan appears to be taking six CHP officers who are already stationed here in San Francisco and having them drive around the Tenderloin and SOMA."

"So, I wish the governor would focus less on these publicity stunts and more on working on us to actually improve the community," he added.

Wolf, meantime, is just thankful that there's focus on combating the crisis.

"We definitely need to do something, so adding more law enforcement is a first step in that direction," he said.

Jury is still out, he said, if that increased police presence will be enough to deter drug dealers.

"I think they'll believe it if they see it," Wolf said. "Until then, I think they're going to keep doing what they're doing. There's too much money to be made out here."

"That's why I'm saying I'm cautiously optimistic," he added. "I'm hopeful something good comes out of this and we can help reclaim this city."

Now Streaming 24/7 Click Here

If you're on the ABC7 News app, click here to watch live