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City attorney seeks civil injunctions to curb Tenderloin drug dealing

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera has moved into civil injunction territory in an effort to prevent known drug dealers from entering the Tenderloin neighborhood.

Herrera said Thursday morning at a press conference from City Hall:

“These lawsuits are designed to help stop the brazen open-air drug dealing that has plagued this historic neighborhood at the center of our city’s opioid crisis.”

It’s no secret that open-air drug dealing in Tenderloin is a problem on any given day and affects the quality of life for the area’s house and unhoused residents, city officials said at a press conference.

The Department of Public Health reported last month that overdose deaths in The City nearly doubled between 2018 and 2019, from 259 to 459. It was discovered that overdose deaths tend to be concentrated in the Tenderloin and South of Market neighborhoods.

So far this year, 81 people in the Tenderloin have died as a result of drug overdose, the City Attorney’s Office said.

Police Chief Bill Scott said many drug dealers come from outside The City to pry on residents. Scott said officers arrested 267 drug dealers during a recent three-month operation. Of those arrested, 58 lived did not live within city limits.

Scott added:

“We cannot and will not further tolerate drug dealers coming into the Tenderloin from wherever they’re coming from throughout the Bay Area to ruin our community.”

Herrera said the 28 civil injunctions filed, if ordered by the court, will prohibit known drug dealers from entering a 50 square block radius that encompasses the Tenderloin and part of the South of Market neighborhood.

He said:

“We are focused on the predatory, repeat dealers selling the most dangerous drugs, including those leading to the most overdose deaths.”

Herrera said his office is seeking civil injunctions based on several criteria: If individuals have been arrested in the Tenderloin at least twice for the sale of drugs or possession of drugs intended for sale in the past year and a half, if one of the arrests was made in the last nine months and both of arrests have led to criminal charges or a motion to revoke probation.

Herrera is focusing on non-residents who have been arrested for drug offenses involving fentanyl, heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine.

The city attorney said that while they are not a silver bullet in dealing with the opioid crisis, the civil injunctions provide law enforcement with an additional tool.

Herrera said:

“It’s time for a new approach.”

Mayor London Breed, who has voiced support for Herrera’s civil injunction method, said:

“People have got to be held accountable for the destruction that they are causing in these communities. When we talk about destruction, we’re talking about the people who are dying in record numbers from drug overdoses right in the Tenderloin.”

However, Public Defender Mano Raju responded to the civil injunctions in a statement, saying he agrees that the Tenderloin is experiencing a drug crisis, but he disagrees with Herrera’s take on how to solve it.

Raju said:

“More enforcement of low-level, subsistence street level sellers is not the solution to this ongoing public health crisis. Rather, we should use our resources to provide meaningful alternatives to street level dealers – including housing, job training, and employment – and also focus on getting at the source of the drug trade, which will continue to produce drugs so long as the demand exists.”

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