SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) – There are 600 empty beds in San Francisco’s jails, partly because of a sizable decrease in the number of narcotics arrests. Is that because of changing police tactics, the city’s drug lab scandal, or even the Occupy Wall Street protests?

The people in charge can’t seem to agree on the reason.

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Four years ago, almost half the people in the county jails were there on drug charges. Now, it’s 25% – at most.

KCBS’ Doug Sovern Reports:

“Drug cases are the fuel that drives the engine of the criminal justice system,” reasoned San Francisco Sheriff Mike Hennessey. “And we’re seeing a lot fewer drug cases in custody.”

He blames the scandal that shut down San Francisco’s police drug lab in 2010.

“San Francisco does not have a current operating drug lab so all cases must be farmed out at an expense. From my perspective, it appears that a lot fewer drug cases are being prosecuted in San Francisco,” he said.

True, confirms San Francisco Police Department Sgt. Michael Andraychak.

“Arrest rates for narcotics offenders is down in San Francisco,” explained Andraychak.

Specifically, 39% in 2010, dropping to 25% in 2011.

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But don’t blame the drug lab scandal, warns District Attorney George Gascon.

“I would disagree with that,” he opined.

Gascon was police chief when the woman running the lab was caught stealing drug evidence for her own use. Gascon says the drop in drug cases since then is because the police and prosecutors have been targeting violent crime and mid-level drug dealers instead of waging a warn on drugs by targeting low-level users.

“In 2010 there was certainly a shift in focus,” suggested Gason, “from a prosecutorial stance here since I have been here for the last year there certainly has been also a different way of looking at the way we prosecute cases.”

Out on the streets, Sgt. Andraychak also says the department has 200 fewer officers than it should, and there’s less money for narcotics overtime.

He and Gascon both contend the drug testing system is more efficient now, even though the city has to send narcotics to other labs.

“Police officers in the field are currently doing presumptive tests of suspected narcotics evidence, and there are tests that are done generally at the station and then the narcotics are packaged up and delivered to an outside lab for confirmatory testing,” he outlined the process.

There’s also the “occupy factor,” meaning authorities say it took so many resources to handle the Occupy SF demonstrations that they made even fewer drug arrests in the last three months.

Bottom line, says Gascon, crime of all kinds is down, and empty beds at the jail is a good thing.

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