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San Francisco could crack down on public drug use under new program

San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott, center, District Attorney Brooke Jenkins, right, and San Francisco Mayor London Breed, left, hold a press conference at SFPD Headquarters on April 13, 2023. | Morgan Ellis/The Standard

San Francisco officials are developing a pilot program that could allow for the enforcement of public intoxication laws.

The Department of Emergency Management said Tuesday that a program will allow city workers to "address" situations when someone poses a danger to themselves or others due to their drug use, but declined to provide further details.

"We need every tool at our disposal to address the harm caused by open-air drug use," the department said in a statement.

Board President Aaron Peskin confirmed that the department had informed him the program would allow for the enforcement of public intoxication laws.

Melissa Hernandez, a legislative aide for Supervisor Dean Preston, said that she was told the pilot program will allow the San Francisco Police Department to enforce two city codes to arrest people under the influence and take them to 850 Bryant St., where the county jail is located.

They will “allegedly be released hours later,” according to Hernandez.

The Department of Emergency Management said that the program will be included in Mayor London Breed’s upcoming budget proposal.

Breed’s office didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Any plan to arrest people for public drug use could prove controversial among San Francisco policymakers.

Preston, a frequent police critic, took to Twitter on Tuesday to denounce the plan, calling it "reactionary, cruel and counterproductive."

Supervisor Matt Dorsey, who represents San Francisco's Mid-Market and SoMa neighborhoods, wrote that he had been advocating for the new approach as a means to promote "detox, stabilization and assessment" among people addicted to drugs.

"I think the most important, most compassionate, most life-saving message we can send is this: The party is over," Dorsey wrote on Twitter.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Board of Supervisors is set to convene at United Nations Plaza to question Breed on her response to the city's drug crisis in a rare open-air hearing.

Ahead of the hearing, Peskin released a letter to Breed asking her to stand up a "sustained" emergency operations site to coordinate the multiple agencies involved in shutting down open-air drug dealing.

David Sjostedt can be reached at