SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) — The California National Guard is stepping into San Francisco’s fentanyl crisis to stop the flow of fentanyl from reaching open-air drug markets and target “prominent poison peddlers,” the governor said Friday.

Mayor London Breed, National Guard Major General Matthew Beevers, District Attorney Brooke Jenkins, and San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott held a news conference Friday afternoon to release more details about the joint operation.

Beevers said, “I want to dispel a lot of rumors. This is not going to be boots on the ground.” The general explained that 14 members of the National Guard will provide intelligence analysis of drug cartels operating in and around San Francisco.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said the operation will be deployed in San Francisco starting May 1 with a focus on targeting fentanyl trafficking, disrupting supplies of the deadly drug, and holding operators of drug trafficking rings accountable. 

The joint operation is also enlisting resources from the California Department of Justice and California Highway Patrol. The CHP will provide supplemental patrols alongside SFPD officers in key high-crime areas of the city, including the Tenderloin.

Between January and March this year, 200 victims died from accidental drug overdoses in San Francisco, according to data released by the city’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. Of those deaths, 159 were caused by fentanyl, a highly addictive and cheap synthetic opioid.

The Governor’s Office wrote, “San Francisco has seen an alarming rise in fentanyl-linked deaths, with a more than 40% jump in overdose deaths from January through March of this year alone. Fentanyl-linked deaths have largely been concentrated in or near the Tenderloin and South of Market neighborhoods of the city, where this operation will focus.”

‘The Party Is Over’

San Francisco Supervisor Matt Dorsey said overdoses are a “humanitarian crisis,” and drug dealers are committing “the deadliest crime in San Francisco history.”

Dorsey wrote Friday, “Drug dealing and public drug use are illegal in California, and San Franciscans deserve to see these laws enforced. We must make clear that the party is over, and end San Francisco’s status as a destination city for drug dealing.”

Governor Newsom made a surprise visit last week when he toured the city’s drug-plagued Tenderloin neighborhood.

Fentanyl seized from Tenderloin drug dealers (Image courtesy SFPD)

Newsom said, “Those who traffic drugs, guns, and human beings are not welcome in our communities. That’s why we’re launching this operation. This is not about criminalizing people struggling with substance use — this is about taking down the prominent poison peddlers and their connected crime rings that prey on the most vulnerable, and harm our residents. We cannot let rampant crime continue.”

Dorsey stated, “As a recovering addict myself, I am incredibly grateful to Governor Gavin Newsom … for a coordinated operation that I’m optimistic will meet the moment of the humanitarian crisis. Obviously, priority #1 is our record-shattering crisis in fatal drug overdoses.”

Statewide, similar National Guard-supported operations conducted in March resulted in the seizure of 4.7 million fentanyl pills and 2,471 pounds of fentanyl powder — with a street value of over $49 million.

Fentanyl Crisis Epicenter Is ‘Very Small’

SFPD Police Chief Scott told reporters that the epicenter of the fentanyl crisis is a “very small area, about one square mile.”

Since the beginning of 2023, the SFPD has arrested 269 alleged drug dealers and seized 85 pounds of fentanyl within the radius. “That’s a lot of death and destruction,” Scott said. “This has to stop. People are fed up with it. We are fed up with it.”

Scott said his measuring stick for whether the crisis is improving or worsening is simple: What do city streets look like late at night?

The police chief was out in the Tenderloin late Thursday night when he saw a group of tourists. The tourists were unable to walk on the sidewalks until police officers stepped in and cleared the area out, he said. “That has to change. We have to see a change in the streets,” Scott said.

San Francisco Police Chief Scott speaks to reporters Friday. (Image courtesy Mayor’s Office)

Scott said the last thing he wants is for the newly-launched operation to clear away open-air drug markets, only to have criminal return a month later. Scott said his goal is long-term changes with long-term solutions.

Nearly 500 Suspected SF Drug Dealers Failed To Show Up In Court

Even after a street drug dealer is arrested by police and charged by prosecutors for trafficking fentanyl, there’s no guarantee that the suspect will actually show up for their day in court.

Between July 2022 and April 2023, the District Attorney’s Office filed 638 felony narcotics sales cases. Prosecutors urged judges overseeing 16 of the cases to keep the suspects in jail leading up to their trials. Only seven suspects were denied bail.

Right now, there are nearly 500 alleged San Francisco drug dealers who are free from custody and failed to appear in court to face charges. “Currently there are 494 individuals with open bench warrants who failed to appear for narcotics sales cases who were released by the court,” the District Attorney’s Office wrote Friday.

“The criminal justice system needs to recognize that drug dealing is a serious crime,” said District Attorney Brooke Jenkins.  “Communities are under siege by rampant, open-air drug dealing and we must do everything we can to protect public safety and ensure that there are consequences for suspected drug dealers.”

District Attorney Jenkins said her prosecutors have been faced with a new problem inside courtrooms while trying to keep alleged drug dealers locked up. Many of the defendants “are asserting a human trafficking defense,” claiming they were forced to sell fentanyl against their will, Jenkins said. Prosecutors do not believe these claims, Jenkins added, and are working to “dispel that notion.”

One recently-busted drug dealer, 23-year-old David Diaz-Morazan, sold fentanyl and methamphetamine to undercover SFPD police officers on April 3, 4, and 11, according to prosecutors. He was arrested on April 25.

Following Diaz-Morazan’s arrest, the SFPD’s narcotics unit and US Drug Enforcement Agency served a search warrant at a residence in Oakland that resulted in the seizure of 4.9 kilograms (just over 11 pounds) of fentanyl, as well as 95.8 grams of methamphetamine, $9,810 in cash, a hydraulic press, packaging materials, and heavy-duty respirators. It is estimated that one kilogram of fentanyl has the potential to kill 500,000 people.

“The fentanyl crisis is a serious threat to public health and the safety of our communities,” said Attorney General Rob Bonta. “We stand ready to provide legal expertise and assistance in prosecuting complex and multi-jurisdictional cases and protect our communities from those who traffic deadly poison.”