SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — For weeks now the flood of drugs running through San Francisco’s downtown BART stations has been making headlines. That phenomenon, of course, just an extension of the problems that have long-plagued the streets above.
Civic Center and surrounding Tenderloin neighborhood is the epicenter of the city’s opioid crisis, and the San Francisco Police Department’s Tenderloin Station is tasked with stopping that flood of drugs. KPIX 5 spent one day with those officers, who are now making a much more high-profile push against the neighborhood’s notorious drug market.
The first arrest of this particular afternoon shift occurs just off Market Street. The suspect, a man from out of town, allegedly carrying a back full of marijuana, cash, plastic bags, a scale, and a handgun. “Loaded,” said the officer examining the handgun, showing a full clip of ammunition.
Back out on the street, it just goes on like this.
“There, he’s got rocks in his mouth right now,” said Officer Murray Daggs, pointing towards two men on Mission Street. “See him? He’s making a deal.”
A quick drive through just a few blocks reveals drug trafficking in nearly every direction. “There’s just so much going on at street level that it’s hard to deal with everything,” said Officer Paul Ruetti. “But we do as much as we can.”
The station has made quite a show of its efforts to control what really is an unstoppable tide of drugs. Its Twitter feed is a conveyor belt of confiscated narcotics bindles. So how do they tackle a problem this big?
“Sometimes we’re down low, sometimes we’re up top. There are multiple ways to try to get a vantage on some of these guys out here,” said Daggs, standing on a Tenderloin rooftop with a pair of binoculars. Without getting too specific, these officers have a lot of allies in this neighborhood, and that allows them to keep plenty of eyes on the streets, and above them. “And you’re just kind of waiting,” said Daggs, “hoping they’ll just pull out a bag of narcotics.”
It doesn’t take long. The closer you watch, the more you see: handfuls of drug dealers hiding handfuls of drugs in their mounts, spitting out bindles when a customer approaches. At times, there are as many as seven drug dealers on one single corner making more deals than any observer could keep up with. “See that a lot,” said Daggs. “Every day. There’s no way to arrest all of them, and this goes on 24 hours a day.”
So there is the criminal and law enforcement side of this, and then there is the human side, and that is pretty inescapable. Out of the blue, someone screams: “Does anyone have any Narcan?” On a sidewalk, a woman is collapsed, unconscious, and turning blue in the face. “She’s been out for about 15 minutes. 15 to 20 minutes,” said one bystander. It was a homeless person who pulled the shot from their grocery cart full of belongings. A passerby administered it. About a minute later the woman who had once looked entirely lifeless drew a heavy breath. “She’s coming to,” shouts one bystander. She was eventually taken away by medics, all within 50 feet of the dealers swarming around the corner of Eddy and Golden Gate.
The next arrest for police comes several blocks away, and it’s a familiar face.
“Known subject. Has a stay-away order. He’s also on parole for a firearm related incident,” said Daggs. How often do these officers find themselves arresting the same people they’ve previously arrested before? “Very frequently,” sighed Ruetti.
So on it goes. More suspects will be arrested and there will be more Twitter posts starring those little baggies, as the Tenderloin’s infamous drug market shows no signs of slowing down.
“We’ve got a huge problem,” acknowledged Ruetti, “But we’re doing the best we can with the resource that we have.”