Monday Morning Thoughts: SF DA Says She Believes Her Policies Will Clean Up the Streets in a Few Months – But Why?

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

San Francisco, CA – Brooke Jenkins has prioritized cleaning up open air drug markets as her means of fixing what some believe is wrong with San Francisco.  But, if history is a guide, the efforts to criminalize drug addiction through a new war on drugs will fail just as previous efforts have.

Supporters point to her commitment to cracking down on drug dealers: “We can’t be giving low-level misdemeanors to people who are selling one of the most lethal drugs, if not the most lethal drug this market has ever seen.”

But others note that the distinction between drug dealer and drug user is often fuzzy—where many drug dealers are simply users trying to finance their habit.

A week ago, Jenkins introduced a new policy that would bundle five misdemeanor citations for public drug use.  A policy that criminalizes not only users but also the poor.

“So the police have begun citing individuals who are engaged in public and open drug use. We can’t become a city that just allows people to use drugs openly in public,” Jenkins said Friday in an interview with Stephanie Sierra of ABC 7 in San Francisco.. “So they will cite people that they see engaged in that activity.”

Brooks noted that, as of Friday, they had filed 148 cases with respect to drug dealing—though that’s roughly the same charging rate as under Boudin.

Brooks explained, “I expect to see perhaps similar rates as far as the charging, but what you’re going to see is a difference in the way that these cases are handled and the way that they’re resolved…”

But is Brooks simply going to face the same problem as Boudin and others?

Many have argued that criminalizing drug use does not work.  That drug addiction is simply a public health crisis, not a criminal justice crisis.  By emphasizing public drug use, Jenkins is focused on poor people, who are likely unhoused and therefore cannot use drugs in the privacy of their own homes.

The problem that Boudin’s plan suffered from—lack of resources for treatment—is not going away with Jenkins’ approach.  In fact, because of the cost of law enforcement, it might be more strained than before.

Moreover, attempting to distinguish between dealers and users is unhelpful.

Experts such as the Drug Policy Alliance point out that the differentiation between drug sellers and drug users is problematic.

“Research and history have shown that the vilification and criminalization of people who sell drugs does not reduce problematic drug use, reduce the availability of drugs, or keep people who use drugs safer,” a 2019 policy paper by DPA pointed out.

Instead, they noted a 2012 survey which found that “43% of people who reported having sold drugs in the past year also reported that they met the criteria for a substance use disorder.”

Further, “Laws against drug selling are so broadly written that it is easy for people caught with drugs for personal use to get charged as dealers, even if they were not involved in selling at all.”

The Drug Policy Alliance said it “believes it is time to rethink the ‘drug dealer.’”  Adding, “We must urgently assess what type of people actually fall into this category and how we as a society can respond to them in ways that will keep people and communities safer and healthier.”

There really isn’t a huge difference between Jenkins and Boudin here.  But where there is a difference, the science we have to date suggests it won’t be effective.

The main difference is she wants to funnel poor people back into the criminal system after five offenses and create a false distinction between dealers and users, when for the most part the two categories overlap.

One thing is that she excluded anyone accused of dealing drugs from CJC (Criminal Justice Center). Does that make sense, given the huge overlap between user and dealer? I would argue no, you have not responded on this point that I have raised a number of times. I think that approach is deeply problematic because most so-called drug dealers are actually just users financing their own habits.

The second part that’s different is criminally charging five offenses. Basically, what that means is exactly what John Hamasaki suggested, you’re not adding funding to the system, so you are pushing a bunch of low-level offenders into custody rather than funding their services. That’s not going to work.

Other than that, there is no difference between what she is going to do and what Boudin did, and the same problem remains—insufficient funding for treatment programs—and without dealing with root causes like childhood trauma and untreated mental illness, there is not much that this is going to do.

So how is Jenkins expecting this to work when previous efforts at interdiction have failed?

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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    1. David Greenwald

      You missed the key point – none of these policies are new, they have been attempted and failed because we have failed to put the resources into treatment. You say Boudin didn’t clean up the streets, he was barely in office during a pandemic. No one gave him any chance to implement his policies let alone show that they could work.

        1. David Greenwald

          Jenkins proposed something that has been shown repeatedly not to work. Trying the same thing over and over again expecting a different result is a definition of insanity.

  1. Dave Hart

    Old policies, old campaign strategies.   Things will be cleaned up in a few months, and then when those few months pass and nothing is materially different, “data” will be supplied to show there is “progress”  which will be the basis for her campaign in the fall of 2023 that will focus on being given more time since she was only just elected in 2022.  That’s why.

    1. Keith Olson

      Sounds like the same strategies that Boudin was using.  You don’t believe me, just ask David.

      You say Boudin didn’t clean up the streets, he was barely in office during a pandemic. No one gave him any chance to implement his policies let alone show that they could work.

  2. Ron Oertel

    Jenkins proposed something that has been shown repeatedly not to work. Trying the same thing over and over again expecting a different result is a definition of insanity.

    Actually, it does “work” – depending upon what problem you’re trying to solve.

    In the “old days”, they locked up people who couldn’t take care of themselves, one way or another.  And it “worked” to keep them off the streets – at least, in a highly-visible, “impactful to others” manner.

    “Homeless” people have been around since the time that Charlie Chaplin shipped a bunch of them up from Sacramento to the Sierra, to create a line of “prospectors” for “The Gold Rush”.

    Charlie Chaplin’s character was “homeless”, as well. Perhaps the most “popular” character of all-time.

    But, they weren’t all camped out on city sidewalks, streets, and parks at that time. (Well, except for the aftermath of the 1906 earthquake.)

    I suspect this wasn’t even as much of a problem during the Great Depression.

    Ultimately, people don’t care if other people want to use drugs, etc. As with crime, it’s only when people create a problem for OTHER people, that it becomes an issue.

  3. Dave Hart

    The point is, she doesn’t necessarily believe it herself, but what else is she going to say if she wants to get re-elected?  It’s old school politics.  She is risking nothing by saying these kinds of things.  She’s telling some, maybe most, people what they want to hear.  She doesn’t have to believe it.  She wants to get re-elected.  That’s why she says it.

    1. Ron Oertel

      She will be re-elected, it’s not even a contest.

      Turns out that people don’t want to have to step-over homeless drug addicts (or their excrement) on the street, just to get to where they’re going.

      Or, be continuously robbed, catalytic converters stolen, harassed, sometimes assaulted, etc.  Turns out that most people don’t think it’s “their” fault when someone else does this to them. Turns out that most people think that camping belongs in campgrounds, not on sidewalks. And believe that those type of laws apply to everyone (or did, at one time).

      Die-hard “progressives” are speaking an entirely different language (and have entirely different goals), compared to others who just want to go about their business without being assaulted, one way or another.

      Die-hard progressives are primarily concerned about those who CAUSE problems for others. Which is fine, except when they advocate policies which allow that to continue (which is almost always the case – whether it’s homelessness, crime, immigration, etc.).

      1. Walter Shwe

        When the unhoused fill up San Francisco’s jails leaving no room for the truly dangerous, residents will have 2nd thoughts about Jenkins and the mayor that appointed her. The War on Drugs has been a proven failure! That’s fact. What’s really needed is enough treatment services to provide for those using drugs.

        1. Ron Oertel

          I would assume that not all of them would end up in S.F.’s jails.  I suspect that many of them aren’t from S.F. in the first place.

          It’s not so much a “war on drugs”, as it is a war on illegal camping, drug dealing out in public, other crime, etc.

          Like I said, I don’t think there was this much of a visible problem even during the Great Depression.

          Of course in those days, they kept the mentally-ill locked up in asylums (which had its own problems). But nowadays, some progressives oppose any type of restrictive living arrangement.

          No one cares if other people use drugs.  They care when they become a problem for others in some way (e.g., camping out on the street, engaging in criminal activity, etc.).

          If cities chose to stop tolerating this (e.g., illegal camping, open-air drug dealing, property crime and assaults), it doesn’t mean that the drug problem would “go away”.  It means that they wouldn’t be engaging in this activity in such a visible manner, causing problems for everyone else.

          There are places in this country (and even within the state) which don’t tolerate this type of thing, and they “somehow” don’t have this type of problem.

          The homeless congregate where the weather is reasonable, they’re tolerated, and they can get food and other services (sometimes from religious organizations). Those places are carrying the load for cities and communities which don’t do so.

  4. Jean-Jacques Surbeck

    I find it remarkable that once again the author tries to belittle the current SF DA because she replaced his favorite and singularly ineffective one, i.e. Boudin. What I find even more astonishing is how he tries to minimize the responsibility of drug addicts who turn into dealers as if they were victims. Where has the notion of personal responsibility gone? You want to drug yourself out of your mind? Go right ahead, but don’t then make demands (or have your “progressive” friends and defenders make them for you) to the effect that whatever you do in public should be accepted, tolerated and even encouraged. Clamoring that Jenkin’s policies in this respect are recycled failed policies is no argument to not try reinstating them AND be serious about implementing them rather than pretending. She knows what she’s doing. Yes, she is eyeing re-election, and just you wait: once she is re-elected, then the fun will really start and you’ll have many more reasons to complain about her non-progressive policies while the population of San Francisco will cheer her on (that is, the ones who were disgusted with Boudin’s absurd policies and have had it with walking in human excrements and soiled needles). Enough is enough.

    1. Walter Shwe

      Once San Francisco law enforcement arrests these vilified people, they will unquestionably fill up the city’s jails. I know of no legal way to ship inmates to other jails. My opponents completely ignore the reality of the finite number of jail cells.

      1. Ron Oertel

        My opponents

        I was just going to ask about that, Keith.  🙂

        Once San Francisco law enforcement arrests these vilified people, they will unquestionably fill up the city’s jails. I know of no legal way to ship inmates to other jails.

        They aren’t “vilified”.  They’re breaking laws, and creating a problem for other people.

        I don’t know if it’s “legal” or not, to “ship them” to other facilities.  If not, it sounds like they need to find a way.  It’s better to have them housed (even in a “facility”), than out on the street.

        But truth be told, a lot of them would “magically disappear”, if some cities didn’t tolerate them camping out illegally.

        Homeless people and drug abuse have always been around, but they weren’t pitching tents on streets.

        Pitch a tent out on BLM land – it’s legal, no one cares if you use drugs*, and you’re not looking for a job anyway.  (In fact, a lot of people do live “semi-homelessly” in places like that – e.g., Slab City.)  Get yourself a semi-running van for a thousand bucks, and live in that – where you’re not creating a problem for others. (Of course, they would need to “stock up on drugs” before venturing out there – assuming that they’re not giving them up.)

        * Not intended as legal advice. 🙂

        I’d actually suggest that they give up drugs either way – but again, no one cares until they become a problem for others. As far as treatment centers, I have yet to see anyone put forth any evidence that there’s a “shortage” of them.

        1. Ron Oertel

          Looks like I neglected to put one of Walter’s sentences in quotes.  Well, I think we can “guess who” claims that these folks are “vilified”.

          In any case, the only option I’d suggest should be “off the table” entirely is allowing these folks to pitch tents and live on city streets, city parks, etc. The very thing that they’re being allowed to do.

          I’d suggest providing basic shelters (e.g., gymnasium-type facilities).  And if they don’t want to go there, too bad.  That’s when they either make themselves less visible, or it’s off to the pokey with ya – where they’d also receive free room and board (while simultaneously being forced to give up their drug habit).

          Oh, and I’d re-establish locked asylums, but would probably find another “word” for them.  (Not to mention more oversight.)

          Again, when you’re creating a problem for others, it’s not up to others to “fix” it for you. Especially when alternatives are provided (e.g., shelters, etc.).

          Housing (e.g., an apartment) is not a “human right”. Everyone else has to pay for it – for themselves, and YOU – if you are successful in “demanding” it.

          It’s bad enough that they got themselves into this situation in the first place. Your problem is not everyone else’s problem, until your behavior and choices make it such.

        2. Bill Marshall

           I know of no legal way to ship inmates to other jails.

          Well, Republican, conservative, governors are finding ways to send those they perceive as criminals, under ‘custody’ to other states… appears it’s “doable”… much like the conservative, Republican Nevada ‘power’ folk used with one-way tickets to CA for the mentally ill/homeless… have faith in the ‘trend-line’… part of ‘Making America Great Again’ (or MAGA might mean ‘Making A-holes Gods Again’).

          I’d actually suggest that they give up drugs either way – but again, no one cares until they become a problem for others.

          Like the drugs of ‘narcissism’, ‘power’/mandates (recall the MAGA-in-chief had the election stolen by criminal folk, and claims he should be installed as the once and future king (ordained by His gods) and would have been given a ‘better seat’ @ the Queen’s funeral, had we only let the mob have their way Jan 6, 2021)… remember, he won the popular and electoral college elections in a “landslide” [The Gospel according to Trump, MTG, MAGA followers, etc.]

          no one cares until they become a problem for others.

          Sort of untrue, sort of true… conservatives fit that, big time… ‘progressives’ have a slightly different take… they care, but want others to pay for and solve ‘the problems’… so it isn’t a problem/guilt thing for THEM…

          Both extremes tend to be pathetic excuses for ‘being human’… or spiritual, or caring for one another… if it affects their fiscal or other ‘lifestyle’…

        3. Ron Oertel

          Sort of untrue, sort of true . . .

          Sort of agree.  🙂

          Though we’d be remiss if we didn’t note that some conservatives donate quite a bit (e.g., via religious institutions). Some claim that they do so more than most “progressives”.

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