In a novel approach to battling the opioid crisis consuming San Francisco, a newly formed task force will exercise the latitude to investigate and prosecute fatal drug overdoses as homicides. Under this initiative, announced by Gov. Gavin Newsom and city officials, drug dealers could risk being charged with murder.
Committing to a radical shift in narcotics investigation methodology, the task force will process opioid-related fatalities similar to homicides, adopting stringent documentation measures, intensive evidence accumulation, and thorough intelligence analysis to dismantle crime syndicates according to a notification from the governor’s office.
The task force primarily targets fentanyl dealers, offering an indication that culprits could be tried for murder, local prosecutors stated.
Comprising personnel from the city’s police department, district attorney’s office, the California Highway Patrol, and the California National Guard, the task force represents a collaborative initiative. The California Highway Patrol, revered for its riveting freeway chases and glamorous representation in shows like “ChiPs,” will patrol the streets of San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood, notorious for increased drug dealing.
CNN captured a snapshot of the task force’s operations, witnessing the apprehension of an alleged drug dealer vending meth and fentanyl. The seized illegitimate merchandise amounted to 33 grams of fentanyl, a lethal quantity capable of killing thousands, as per CHP officer Andy Barclay.
Concrete city data indicates an alarming surge in unintentional drug overdoses, with 619 recorded deaths this year until September, seemingly on the way to surpass 2022’s death toll of 647. San Francisco experienced an intensification of anti-opioid campaigns in May.
Gov. Newsom reiterated the paramount importance of holding accountable fentanyl traffickers for their actions, potentially even for murder, as the fallout from the crisis demanded justice for the victims and their distraught kin. Echoing Newsom’s sentiments, Mayor London Breed emphasized the need to tackle the distribution and sale of fentanyl aggressively, warning perpetrators about potential homicide charges.
The task force is slated to be fully operational by 2024, the governor’s office announced.
However, the initiative has faced some criticism. Tracy McCray, president of the San Francisco Police Officers Association, indicated that the opioid crisis was not a new problem and had been gradually deteriorating the city’s vitality. She also highlighted a crisis which she felt was more pressing, the decline in the number of law enforcement officers.
Mano Raju, San Francisco’s public defender, deemed the task force a symbol of a regressive approach to the War on Drugs, urging local leaders to opt for proven public health strategies over punitive remedies.