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San Francisco fentanyl crisis: Sheriff’s deputies to arrest drug dealers

Sheriff Paul Miyamoto speaks outside San Francisco City Hall during a press conference on Dec. 7, 2021. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

The San Francisco Sheriff’s Department announced it is set to deploy 130 specially trained deputies from its Emergency Services Unit to arrest drug dealers in the Tenderloin, Civic Center and SoMa neighborhoods.

Deputies will work overtime for six months and will also try to get drug users into treatment.

“Fighting the fentanyl crisis and tackling flagrant drug use on our streets requires a head-on, tough love approach,” said Sheriff Paul Miyamoto. “Without the threat of jail time, the city has no way of compelling individuals to participate in proven programs that address the root causes of addiction.”

Miyamoto was joined by San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott, District Attorney Brooke Jenkins, Department of Emergency Management Director Mary Ellen Carroll and supervisors including Joel Engardio and Matt Dorsey at Civic Center Plaza to announce the plans.

In a statement Wednesday, the sheriff’s office said the officers have undergone “extensive, specialized training for handling situations that require intervention for destructive or criminal behavior” and will work alongside city and local law-enforcement resources.

Those resources already include California Highway Patrol officers sent last April to drug-dealing hot spots in the city’s Tenderloin and SoMa neighborhoods. Those officers would patrol, but also train police to better detect drug- and alcohol-related crimes in the city. The organization also pledged to investigate more complicated criminal cases, especially those related to illegal opioid trafficking.

For her part, Jenkins thanked Miyamoto “for his leadership and commitment to providing additional resources to combat open-air drug markets and improve public safety. The Sheriff’s Emergency Services Unit deployment will build on existing efforts to improve public health and public safety outcomes on the street as we work collaboratively to get those suffering with substance use disorders into treatment and prosecute suspected drug dealers and traffickers.”

The SF Sheriff’s Department said it already has two field training program vehicles on patrol in the Tenderloin from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays to Fridays and plans to have two more by the end of May, 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. Mondays through Thursdays.

A patrol unit responding to service calls for affected sites and a warrant-service unit will also join in, helping San Francisco police in the Tenderloin. Staffers in the sheriff’s administration and programs division will post compliance checks and enforcement for electronic monitoring to supervise about 100 Tenderloin residents who would otherwise be in jail custody.

Ken Lomba, president of the San Francisco Deputy Sheriff’s Association, offered his praise Thursday afternoon. “Our Deputy Sheriffs are law enforcement professionals and are always ready and willing to help improve public safety,” Lomba said. “This is the way it should always be Sheriffs and Police working together with the common goal of improving public safety.”

“I only wish the mayor’s office would treat us as equals as well. We are proud of Sheriff Miyamoto for stepping up for the San Franciscans,” he added.

“The mayor’s budget cut to the second largest law enforcement agency does not help public safety, it does not help with our short staffing, it does not help with increasing care for the incarcerated people. We wish that someday a mayor will realize the hidden gem, the Sheriff’s Office, and treat us equally to the police department.”

Earlier this week, Mayor London Breed touted police’s arrests of 25 people on suspicion of public intoxication as agencies test the waters on a tough-love approach to the city’s drug crisis.

San Francisco Public Defender Mano Raju has previously criticized plans to increase law enforcement in the Tenderloin and SoMa neighborhoods.

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

This is a developing story.

George Kelly can be reached at