National Guard to join San Francisco's fight against the fentanyl crisis

Apr 22 2023, 2:22 am

A segment of the United States military will join local law enforcement authorities and officials in combatting the illicit drug crisis in San Francisco.

California governor Gavin Newsom announced today the California National Guard will be part of a new multi-agency operation focused on dismantling fentanyl trafficking and disrupting the supply of the deadly drug in the city, all the while holding large-scale drug dealers accountable.

North American cities like Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver have been facing a crisis of homelessness, mental health, crime, addictions, and overdoses, all exacerbated by the pandemic, but the situation in San Francisco based on local media reports is stratospheric in comparison.

It was emphasized by Newsom today that those struggling with addictions will not be targeted, and instead the operation will focus on drug suppliers and traffickers.

Over the first three months of 2023, there has been a 40% increase in overdose deaths in San Francisco, with fentanyl-related deaths largely concentrated in and around the Tenderloin and South of Market neighbourhoods.

The other agencies involved in the partnership are the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD), San Francisco District Attorney’s Office, and California Highway Patrol.

“We’re taking action. Through this new collaborative partnership, we are providing more law enforcement resources and personnel to crack down on crime linked to the fentanyl crisis, holding the poison peddlers accountable, and increasing law enforcement presence to improve public safety and public confidence in San Francisco,” said Newsom.

California National Guard is a division of the National Guard of the United States, which is the military reserve force under the joint authority of the federal and state governments.

The National Guard will identify specialist personnel and resources to support the analysis of drug trafficking operations, with a focus on disrupting and dismantling fentanyl trafficking rings. After the identification of personnel and resources, a multiagency operation will begin, including enforcement within key areas of San Francisco, with the troubled Tenderloin area noted as one area.

The Highway Patrol will identify ways to assist SFPD, including the assignment of Highway Patrol personnel and resources to assist local law enforcement.

The use of the National Guard’s resources for the purpose of addressing the illicit drug crisis in San Francisco can be considered extraordinary.

The National Guard is typically used for domestic security, including disaster preparation and response, terrorist attacks, and martial law when local law enforcement is overwhelmed.

Following the events of 2020, SFPD is now facing a “catastrophic” staffing shortage, with full-duty office numbers dropping to 1,537 at the start of 2023 — down from 2,182 before the pandemic and the social unrest. About 500 officers are also currently eligible for retirement. The growing staffing shortage is threatening the ability of the SFPD to adequately maintain law and order, and response to calls.

“The San Francisco Police Department has been working hard to stop drug trafficking by making countless arrests and narcotics seizures,” said SFPD Chief Bill Scott.

“Despite our ongoing work and close collaboration with the District Attorney, the fentanyl crisis has contributed to hundreds of drug overdose-related deaths. We welcome the support of our state partners because when we work together we can make a significant difference to make our city safer.”

Public safety and crime, including violent assaults and theft, are the paramount issues of San Francisco’s policymakers. The discourse on violent crime took a new turn when Bob Lee, a prominent tech entrepreneur, was killed in a stabbing on a city street earlier this month.

Due in part to semi-remote office work and recent changes to tech fortunes, there has been a hollowing out of San Francisco’s downtown, with the resulting depressed foot traffic levels and street presence amplifying crime concerns.

Businesses — retail, restaurants, and services — are struggling. There has been a major loss of storefronts and retail since 2020 due to a big drop in office worker foot traffic, and a huge increase in public disorder and theft.

At some stores, everyday items such as toiletries, even toothpaste and shampoo, as well as laundry detergent and baby formula are now kept behind locked glass and/or attached with alarm tags. Rampant theft has prompted major chains such as CVS and Walgreens to close a number of locations in San Francisco, and just last week Whole Foods announced it will temporarily close its one-year-old, 65,000 sq ft flagship store in downtown San Francisco until further notice due to safety concerns for workers.

In Summer 2022, a comprehensive survey by the San Francisco Chronicle found that over half of all San Francisco residents have been a victim of theft or larceny.

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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