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San Francisco drug crisis: Here’s where crime reports are rising

A woman removes drugs from a baggie on the street.
A woman who did not want to use her name removes drugs from a baggie in the Tenderloin. | Source: Benjamin Fanjoy for The Standard

Drug crimes have risen this past year in some San Francisco neighborhoods even as they have dipped slightly in some of the usual hotspots for illegal narcotics enforcement, police data analyzed by The Standard shows.

The uptick is reflected in data that includes 911 calls and reports filed by San Francisco officers responding to incidents involving drug offenses such as dealing, possessing or transporting drugs, or having drug paraphernalia.

And it comes amid a multiagency drug crackdown launched this spring that centers on the Tenderloin. That neighborhood has seen slightly fewer incidents in the past year after a significant jump from pre-pandemic levels.

There were 1,013 reports of drug offense incidents in the Tenderloin in the 12 months before Aug. 23 this year, compared with 1,031 during the same period ending in August 2022, according to the police incident data.

There were 821 drug offense reports in the Tenderloin for the same period in 2019—before the pandemic.


SoMa is second to the Tenderloin in the city’s drug and homelessness crisis. It is also being targeted by the enforcement crackdown—drug offense reports have more than doubled from 318 to 656 annually in the two-year period ending Aug. 23. In the same period ending in August 2019, there were 334 reports.

Ryan Hahn, a heroin user who has lived in the Henry Hotel on Sixth and Mission streets for eight years, believes there has been no difference in visible drug use. But in the last year he said has seen a lot more police near where he lives, especially along Seventh Street between Mission and Market streets.

Ryan Hahn stands outside the Henry Hotel in SoMa. | Source: Garrett Leahy/The Standard

“That’s where they’re really cracking down,” Hahn said. “That’s always been the place to get [drugs].”

“If people wanna get high, they’re gonna get high,” he said. “I don’t know what the solution is, but it’s certainly not going after the drugs.”

Victor Dosier, who has lived in the Alder Hotel for 10 years, said SoMa has always been the same, without an increase in use and with occasional arrests.

“There’s dope everywhere,” Dosier said. “I can’t say I’ve ever seen anything else. I’ve seen people get arrested here and there.”

The Mission

In the Mission, there were 199 incidents in the 12 months ending Aug. 23 this year, compared with 130 during the same period ending in August 2022. There were 407 drug offense reports in the Mission for the same period ending in 2019.

Thomas Scifo, who lives in the Tenderloin but frequently comes to the Mission to work and shop, said he has not seen much drug use around there during his four years as a San Francisco resident.

Thomas Scifo poses for a portrait near 16th and Mission streets. | Source: Garrett Leahy/The Standard

“There’s drug use all over the city, but I come to the Mission because it’s always been the same,” Scifo said while sitting at the BART plaza at 16th and Mission streets.

Jesús Castaneda, who owns incense and candle store Botanica Yechungo on 16th Street between Capp Street and South Van Ness Avenue, said drug dealing or use does not seem any worse this year so far compared to last year.

“It looks better now than before the pandemic,” Castaneda said.

Sheldon Ruth, who has lived on 17th Street near Capp Street for 13 years and has been in the Mission for 30 years, said he occasionally sees drug use, but it’s uncommon. Ruth said he has seen more police officers in the area, but he said he thinks their presence is more related to the issues Capp Street has had with sex workers.

An "end" sign is attached to a barrier blocking a road in San Francisco.
The city erected barriers on Capp Street this year to curb traffic and mitigate safety concerns related to sex workers and their clients frequenting the road at night. | Source: Felix Uribe Jr for The Standard

For Ruth, his main gripes about his neighborhood are how dirty the sidewalks can be and the trash left by people camping there.

“It’s less about the drugs; it’s more about how dirty the street is sometimes,” Ruth said. “But that comes with living in the city.”

Moving Up the Hill?

In June, Mayor London Breed said the Tenderloin and SoMa crackdown had forced dealers to move out of those areas and into Lower Nob Hill and along Van Ness Avenue—but locals weren’t convinced.

In Nob Hill, there were 27 recorded incidents in the 12 months before Aug. 23, 2023, compared with 21 during the same period ending in August 2022. In the same period ending in August 2019, the upscale neighborhood reported 53 incidents.

A butterfly mural stands out among apartment buildings in the Tenderloin and Nob Hill. | Source: Jeremy Chen/The Standard

Tony Miranda, owner of the Nob Hill cafe Nook on Jackson and Hyde streets, has lived in the area for eight years and said he has never seen anyone using or selling drugs in his neighborhood.

Tyler Hanson, who lives in Nob Hill on Washington and Hyde streets, said he has never seen drug use either.

Tyler Hanson poses for a portrait outside his Nob Hill apartment on Hyde Street near Washington Street. | Source: Garrett Leahy/The Standard

In Russian Hill, there were 15 recorded incidents in the 12 months before Aug. 23, 2023, compared with seven during the same period ending in August 2022. In the same period for 2019, the upscale neighborhood reported 12 incidents.

Ana Luevanos lives in Lower Nob Hill but has walked around Russian Hill almost every day for the past three years.

Ana Luevanos poses for a portrait in Russian Hill. | Source: Garrett Leahy/The Standard

“I never see anything here,” Luevanos said. “Once you’re past California Street, everything’s fine.”

Brooks Berstein, who lives in Russian Hill and owns Za Pizza, said the neighborhood has always felt safe.

“It’s pretty mellow,” Berstein said. “[Drug users] don’t come up the hill.”

Other Neighborhoods

Many other areas have shown upticks in drug crime incidents, though their overall numbers are small. In Japantown, for instance, the data shows drug crime reports have risen from two to eight in the two-year period.

In Lone Mountain/USF, incidents have doubled from four to eight.

In the Outer Richmond, incidents grew from five to 14, and in Lakeshore, incidents increased from two to four. 

While these numbers remain low, they represent the biggest year-over-year percentage increases in the data.

The Mayor’s Office, District Attorney’s Office, San Francisco Police Department and Public Defender’s Office did not respond to requests for comment.

Some Caveats

Experts say it’s important to note that the data reflects where the city chooses to focus police resources.

Heavily enforced areas like the Tenderloin and SoMa often see more reports, according to University of San Francisco criminologist Kimberly Richman, who said that heightened enforcement tends to happen in marginalized areas and can reproduce poverty.

“It seems rational on the surface, but endemically it ends up targeting poor people and people of color,” Richman said. “There’s more cops and a concentration of poverty with people returning from the criminal justice system with no resources.”

Richman also said that police data can often be a drastic undercount compared to other crime reporting metrics—and that not all crimes are reported to police.

One example, according to Richman, is the National Crime Victimization Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, which surveys 150,000 households about nonfatal personal crimes such as assault and robbery as well as household property crimes. In that survey, she said, “the numbers are usually double compared to police reports year over year.”