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Gavin Newsom tells SFPD to work with National Guard, CHP against drug crisis

A screenshot of a video shows Gov. Gavin Newsom touring San Francisco's Tenderloin neighborhood on Wednesday. | Courtesy JJ Smith

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Friday that San Francisco police and District Attorney Brooke Jenkins have been told to tap California Highway Patrol and National Guard resources to battle the city's drug crisis.

"Two truths can coexist at the same time: San Francisco’s violent crime rate is below comparably sized cities like Jacksonville and Fort Worth—and there is also more we must do to address public safety concerns, especially the fentanyl crisis," Newsom said.

The announcement directs the four agencies to figure out a path to work together to better deal with San Francisco's open-air drug dealing scene in the Tenderloin neighborhood and other areas of the city. The National Guard will identify specialist personnel and resources to support the analysis of drug trafficking operations, with a particular focus on disrupting and dismantling fentanyl trafficking rings.

Newsom has told CHP to find ways to assist San Francisco police, including through the assignment of CHP personnel and resources to assist cops in combating the fentanyl crisis through technical assistance, training and drug trafficking enforcement within key areas of the city.

"The CalGuard is seeing significant success supporting multiagency task forces interdicting fentanyl across our state," said Major Gen. Matthew P. Beevers of the California National Guard. "We expect to achieve the same success working with our partners in San Francisco."

“The San Francisco Police Department has been working hard to stop drug trafficking by making countless arrests and narcotics seizures,” San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott said. "Despite our ongoing work and close collaboration with the district attorney, the fentanyl crisis has contributed to hundreds of drug overdose-related deaths."

Jenkins said the new resources will help the city's ability to fight crime and prosecute suspected drug dealers and traffickers.

"THE CAVALRY IS COMING!" tweeted SF Supervisor Matt Dorsey, a former police communications executive, in reaction to Newsom's Friday announcement.

SFPD Police Chief Bill Scott | Camille Cohen/The Standard

"We do need our state and city leaders to act with this type of urgency to prevent overdose deaths, like opening overdose prevention centers. No amount of law enforcement will solve what is really a public health crisis," said San Francisco Public Defender Mano Raju.

Calls were growing on Thursday for CHP to step in to help local law enforcement battle the fentanyl crisis as the police department struggles with its own staffing woes.

Since 2019, more than 2,000 people in the city have died from fentanyl overdoses. The crisis has sparked regular debate over establishing safe drug-use sites in San Francisco that backers say prevent overdose deaths but opponents say sanction illegal behavior.

Newsom made a surprise visit to the Tenderloin on Wednesday to see San Francisco’s fentanyl crisis firsthand but made no public remarks. The governor was flanked by Attorney General Rob Bonta, and Mayor London Breed's office confirmed that her chief of staff, Sean Elsbernd, was also present.

A screenshot of a video shows Gov. Gavin Newsom touring San Francisco's Tenderloin neighborhood on Wednesday. | Courtesy JJ Smith

Breed said Friday on Twitter that SFPD and Jenkins have been "partnering to increase enforcement, but our local agencies can use this support in their work to help make a difference for our City." She thanked Newsom "for this critical support to help break up open-air drug dealing" in San Francisco.

State Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, issued a statement Friday afternoon saying he welcomes the coordinated effort to disrupt drug markets in the city. However, he also noted that Newsom vetoed his legislation to create a pilot program for safe consumption sites in San Francisco.

“In the wake of the veto of my legislation to authorize San Francisco to pilot safe consumption sites, we are now awaiting long overdue legal guidance from the Biden Administration to allow San Francisco to open its first such site,” Wiener said. “Taking on the crisis of overdose deaths will require more treatment, safe consumption sites, robust access to Narcan, and drug testing. We need an all-of-the-above approach.”

SF’s police department has 335 fewer full-duty police officers than it did in 2017, with a total of 1,537 officers as of January, according to Dorsey. A police staffing analysis indicated that the department needs upward of 2,100 sworn officers to satisfy city demands.

CHP has been deployed into crime hotspots by the governor before—in 2021, Newsom deployed CHP officers into Oakland to supplement city police patrols in high-crime areas of the city after then-Mayor Libby Schaff requested it. In 2007, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger sent an anti-gang task force into Oakland at the request of then-Mayor Ron Dellums.