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San Francisco police are spying on drug dealers from office buildings, apartments

An SFPD vehicle sits in the Mission Police Station in San Francisco, Calif. on Wednesday, May 25, 2022. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

San Francisco police have been given access to private offices and apartment buildings to spy on drug dealers, according to correspondence seen by The Standard from a building involved.

The communications seem to offer further evidence that the city is cracking down on dealers in the wake of an unprecedented drug crisis.

According to the property’s management, a plainclothes cop asked to come to their office multiple times a week, while other buildings had given the San Francisco Police Department permission to enter discreetly and not disturb others.

The building’s manager said police told him they wanted access specifically to observe drug dealers.

Members of the San Francisco Police Narcotics Division dressed in plainclothes following an arrest of someone in possession of drugs and paraphernalia in San Francisco on July 28, 2022. | Don Feria for the Standard

SFPD spokesman Robert Rueca declined to comment on the practice.

San Francisco is infamous for what media and public officials have dubbed “open-air drug markets.” Overdoses surged after fentanyl became popular, because it is cheap and up to 50 times stronger than heroin.

In 2020 and 2021, about 1,350 people died from overdoses in San Francisco—twice the city’s death toll from from Covid. 

How to fix the fentanyl crisis is at the heart of local political debates and became an issue during the recall of former District Attorney Chesa Boudin. His office did not issue any convictions for felony fentanyl dealing last year, a significant departure from how drug dealing was treated under previous DAs.

District Attorney Brooke Jenkins—who was appointed by Mayor London Breed after Boudin’s ouster—has said she would make convicting and holding fentanyl dealers accountable a key priority for her administration. Boudin supporters have decried her approach as a return to the failed War on Drugs.

In the post-Boudin era of law enforcement, San Francisco police have also embraced new tactics for fixing the drug problem.

In July, the police department ramped up citing and arresting drug users, not just dealers—something the department had shied away from for years. 

The District Attorney’s Office, meanwhile, has seen a small uptick in narcotics cases since Jenkins took office.

The building manager who spoke to The Standard about giving police access to office space for reconnaissance said he welcomes SFPD’s efforts to tackle the drug problem. He said drug usage has become consistently worse in the last few years, with dozens of people shooting up outside their doorstep.

Another tenant said he was supportive as well.

“What the cops are doing makes me feel like it’s at least not going to get worse,” they said.

The tenant noted how the drug problem has accompanied other health and safety problems in the heart of the city: he said he regularly sees human feces by the building entrance. The city has made an effort to wash the sidewalks more frequently, he added, “but I don’t think that does anything.”

He said he’s interested in seeing how effective police surveillance proves in tackling the issues plaguing the neighborhood.

“This is the most aggressive behavior I’ve seen from the cops,” the tenant said, “so I’m crossing my fingers that things get better.”