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San Francisco drug crisis: 2 people entered treatment out of 476 arrested

Police officers at a nighttime crime scene with a body covered by a tarp on the sidewalk.
SFPD officers patrol the Tenderloin neighborhood on Thursday, January 27, 2022. | Source: Melina Mara/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Two people have entered drug treatment through a new initiative that San Francisco police launched in late May to arrest people suspected of using drugs in public.

The initiative, which launched alongside a number of local, state and federal law enforcement efforts targeting the city’s open-air drug markets, has resulted in the arrest of 476 people who were suspected of using drugs or being under the influence of drugs in public. 

Police Chief Bill Scott acknowledged the efforts haven’t moved many people with addiction into treatment, but said the city lacks another method of removing people who are using drugs from public spaces. 

San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott speaks at a hearing before the Police Commission on July 19, 2023. | Source: Jeremy Chen/The Standard

“I know that’s a small number, but we started at zero,” Scott said at a San Francisco Police Commission meeting on Wednesday. “You’ll never hear me say that arresting folks will solve addiction, but these are still crimes.”

Police Commission member Max Carter-Oberstone questioned whether the department should continue the program in the face of the results.

“How much longer are we going to continue experimenting with this?” Carter-Oberstone said. 

Fatal overdoses in the city have climbed to record highs this year, with 71 people dying from drugs in July, according to preliminary data from the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office. 

A group of people, including some doing opioids, in the Tenderloin District of San Francisco on Monday, July 4, 2022. | Source: Benjamin Fanjoy for The Standard

Scott said the Department of Public Health has helped advise on the new program, and he contended that no other city department possesses the police’s ability to forcibly remove people using drugs from the public. 

When the effort launched in late May, city officials said the program would focus on people whose drug use presented a danger to themselves or others.  

“Until some other entity other than the police department deals with this issue, it really doesn’t leave us with much of a choice,” Scott said. “People are fed up with the talk.” 

Eight officers and one sergeant are working full-time to arrest people suspected of using drugs, while four officers are working part-time on the initiative and another six officers recently started making arrests of drug users at night, Scott said. 

The police department has arrested over 300 alleged drug dealers and seized over 220 pounds of drugs in the last three months. The California Highway Patrol announced last Friday it had made 100 drug arrests since April.

The recent influx of drug arrests caused the local jail population to breach 1,000 people for the first time in years. 

David Sjostedt can be reached at