London Breed
Mayor London Breed decries 'the bullshit that is destroying this city' at a Dec. 14 press conference. A wedding party in the background looks on.

Since taking office in Jul,y 2018, “unacceptable” is a word that Mayor London Breed has often used to describe the situation in the Tenderloin. Her much-covered December, 2021, pledge to crack down on crime and drug use in the neighborhood was, in fact, at least the fifth time she’s ordered a heavier police presence in the Tenderloin and mid-Market area. 

She promised more law enforcement in October, 2018, with foot patrols added in November, 2018. And then, in May, 2020, her full Tenderloin plan promised to “increase police presence” as part of the city’s approach to Covid-19. Once again, in May 2021, Breed aimed police at the Tenderloin and, most recently, she announced plans to do so in her state of emergency declaration last month

It’s unclear what will happen this time around. But the impact of her prior attempts, all proclaimed with language eerily similar to her impassioned Dec. 14 speech at City Hall, were minimal and short-lived, at best. 

Even before that declaration of war — with more fiery language, but similar promises — SFPD Deputy Chief David Lazar told the Police Commission on Dec. 1 that the Tenderloin station has the highest number of foot beat officers and largest overtime budget in the city. When officials decide to focus on the Tenderloin, other district stations send officers to support policing efforts. 

“We’ve provided more resources … to the Tenderloin, in terms of hours and resources in overtime than we have in any other part of the city,” Lazar said at that meeting. Chief Bill Scott noted that increased deployment in the Tenderloin had already been in effect for “a very long time.”

Déjà vu: Announcements of increased policing have made little impact on reported crime

Motor vehicle theft

Burglary

Larceny theft

Arson

Human trafficking – sex act

Robbery

Rape

Homicide

Assault

Jan

2017

July 2018: London

Breed assumes office

Apr

Oct. 2018: Crackdown,

increased enforcement

“The police are cracking

down on drug dealing

because it is simply

unacceptable that we

have open air drug sales

of increasingly dangerous

substances.”

Jul

Oct

Jan

2018

Apr

Jul

Nov. 2018: Increased

foot patrols

“Community policing and

service outreach are key

to making our streets safer

and cleaner for all of our

residents and visitors.”

Oct

Jan

2019

Apr

May 2020: Neighborhood

Safety Assessment

and Plan

“Increase police presence

and activate community care

ambassadors to mitigate

public safety concerns.”

Jul

Oct

Jan

2020

Apr

May 2021: Increased

police presence

“The plan includes both a

visible increase in police

presence to deter criminal

activity and a community

ambassador program to

connect people in need

with services.”

Jul

Oct

Jan

2021

Apr

Dec. 2021: An

emergency declaration

”These interventions in the

Tenderloin are going to

require a significant

police response.”

Jul

Oct

0

300

400

200

100

Recorded crimes

Larceny theft

Motor vehicle theft

Burglary

Arson

Human trafficking – sex act

Assault

Robbery

Homicide

Rape

2017

Jan

Apr

Jul

Oct

2018

Jan

July 2018: London

Breed assumes office

Apr

Jul

Oct. 2018: Crackdown,

increased enforcement

Oct

2019

Jan

Nov. 2018: Increased

foot patrols

Apr

Jul

Oct

2020

Jan

Apr

May 2020:

Neighborhood

Safety

Assessment

and Plan

Jul

Oct

2021

Jan

May 2021:

Increased

police

presence

Apr

Jul

Dec. 2021: An

emergency

declaration

Oct

0

300

400

200

100

Recorded crimes

Data from San Francisco Police Department. Graph by Will Jarrett.

Inevitably, after a period of increased deployment, these officers return to their home districts when attention fades. 

Nonetheless, the Tenderloin retains a hold on the mayor’s attention for periodic crackdowns.

In her December speech, Breed said, “we can’t keep doing the same thing and expecting a different result.” Yet the mayor’s language about Tenderloin crimes that have “become far too normal and cannot continue to be tolerated” sounded familiar.

“The police are cracking down on drug-dealing because it is simply unacceptable that we have open-air drug sales of increasingly dangerous substances like heroin and fentanyl in our neighborhoods,” said Breed in October, 2018. That week, thanks to increased enforcement in the Tenderloin, Mid-Market and SoMa, 158 arrests had been made, Breed announced. 

The next month, in November, 2018, came another proclamation. More police enforcement was coming to the Mid-Market area: 10 new officers, a second lieutenant and two sergeants would bring a 50 percent increase in the number of foot beat officers in the Tenderloin and Mid-Market area. The officers’ presence would deter criminal behavior, Breed said. 

But, by the end of 2018, the SFPD’s crime data in the Tenderloin didn’t look much different. In the months of October, November and December of that year, reported robberies, assaults, motor vehicle and larceny thefts decreased briefly, before — in most cases — rising back up to prior levels by December. Burglaries appeared unaffected. 

Tenderloin Community Benefit District Executive Director Simon Bertrang, who has long advocated for increased police presence in the neighborhood, said he remembered the 2018 police effort being more focused on Market Street, and having no positive effect within the Tenderloin. 

Bertrang said the publicized increases in foot patrols, like the one in late 2018, can last months. But in the months following that announcement, property and violent crimes reported to the SFPD in the Tenderloin only showed minor fluctuations. 

In May, 2020, came another plan: The Tenderloin Neighborhood Safety Assessment and Plan for Covid-19, which also brought an increased police presence to “mitigate public safety concerns.” Burglaries dropped for the next few months, but other crimes stayed steady, and larceny-theft and assaults increased. 

Then, less than a year ago, in May, 2021, Breed again promised yet another “visible increase in police presence” in the Mid-Market and Tenderloin areas as part of a new “Vibrancy and Safety Plan.” Some $8 million of city and private money would go into the effort, which would include community-based safety ambassadors in addition to law enforcement. 

“With this plan, we’re focusing on both addressing the illegal activity that is unacceptable and will not be allowed to continue while also building up our community presence so that this area is more welcoming, friendly, and accessible to everyone who lives, works, and visits the area,” Breed said in a press release.

And again, in the months that followed, reported crimes failed to change much at all. Thefts, burglaries and robberies all stayed about the same. Rapes and assaults dropped in June and July, but by August had picked back up to May’s levels or higher. 

All this is to say: We’ve been here before, and it remains to be seen whether the mayor’s current state of emergency will prove any different. 

The police department has not confirmed whether it has yet added officers to the Tenderloin as part of the latest plan. But any further reinforcements will be sent to an already heavily policed district, likely at the expense of other district stations.  

While it is unclear whether any short-term changes in crime in the Tenderloin were actually due to the increases in policing, it is clear that the neighborhood’s issues become a priority every six to eight months. Consistency is another issue. 

Bertrang said that he’s been grateful for the times foot beats have increased, but that the May, 2021 effort “didn’t feel like a game-changer.” He believes a more long-term, sustained effort, made up of the right kind of policing, would be necessary to make a real difference in addressing violent crime and massive drug trade. 

“There’s got to be a nuanced discussion that allows us to say, ‘yes, we want an appropriate police response,’” Bertrang said. “But that doesn’t mean having to give in to the idea of, ‘therefore we want a police state.’”  

He supports various police alternatives like the Street Crisis Response Team launched in November 2020, the Street Violence Response Team launched in March 2021, and the Street Wellness Response Team launched in May 2021 that are currently on the streets. 

But these responders defer many calls, like those having to do with violent crime, to the police department. 

“Police are definitely a piece to this puzzle,” but shouldn’t be the focus, said Rene Colorado, a Tenderloin resident and the executive director of the Tenderloin Merchants and Property Owners Association.

This time around, he said, “I feel hopeful,” that the focus is on interventions that connect people with resources.

Follow Us

REPORTER. Eleni is our reporter focused on policing in San Francisco. She first moved to the city on a whim nearly 10 years ago, and the Mission has become her home. Follow her on Twitter @miss_elenius.

DATA REPORTER. Will was born in the UK and studied English at Oxford University. After a few years in publishing, he absconded to the USA where he studied data journalism in New York. Will has strong views on healthcare, the environment, and the Oxford comma.

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  1. The question is less are they arresting criminals than are they being prosecuted and are there real consequences if they are convicted?

  2. I’m living in VA housing on Turk at Jones. In my direct experience, and without the benefit of (unreliable) statistics, things on the street have gotten markedly better, throughout the TL, in the last month.

    1. Yuk, markedly better? I had some business down at O’Farrell/Hyde/Leavenworth last week. Street scene: Open drug market, death camp reenactment 9a in the morning. A couple cops standing on the corner of Jones and Market with deer in the headline expressions in their faces. Status quo. There’s still a long long way to go.

  3. Thanks for the story. I want to clarify one point. Tenderloin Station covers Market Street, UN Plaza, 6th Street and a lot of other areas with drug activity that are outside the Tenderloin neighborhood. So SFPD claims about foot patrols increasing in “Tenderloin Station ” does not apply to the Tenderloin neighborhood. As you point out, the mayor’s pledge last May to increase foot patrols in the Tenderloin neighborhood never happened. Nor have foot patrols increased since her December pledge to make this happen in the TL neighborhood starting this month.