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San Francisco Sheriff's Emergency Services Unit deployed to crack down on illegal drug activity

San Francisco Sheriff's Office joins city police in fentanyl fight
San Francisco Sheriff's Office joins city police in fentanyl fight 02:58

SAN FRANCISCO -- The San Francisco Sheriff's office is joining the city's fight to control widespread drug use and sales in troubled downtown neighborhoods, officials announced Thursday. 

San Francisco Sheriff Paul Miyamoto appeared with other San Francisco officials in Civic Center Plaza Thursday to outline the new plan to help combat the drug crisis in the city.

130 deputies will be deployed to areas like the Tenderloin, South of Market and the Civic Center where open-air drug dealing and drug use runs rampant. A release issued by the sheriff's office noted that the ESU deputies have additional, specialized training for handling situations that require intervention for destructive or criminal behavior.

"Their objectives are very simple: to eradicate open air drug use and to assist those suffering from harmful behavior into program and services, support current efforts to disrupt drug sales, increase public safety with a greater visible law enforcement presence," said Yamamoto.

Miyamoto said resolving the city's worsening fentanyl crisis will require a "head-on, tough love approach," and noted that without the threat of jail time, many people will not be compelled to join addiction programs that the city provides.

"The sad truth of drug addiction is that individuals rarely want to get the help they need until they hit rock bottom, which for many involved in this crisis, is incarceration," Miyamoto said. "Those suffering from drug addiction are slowly dying on our streets because they have no reason to get clean and drug dealers are profiting off their pain."

San Francisco Police Chief William Scott said his officers will intervene in drug dealing and instances where people are "blatantly using drugs and creating a danger for themselves or others."

"We have to change what is happening on our streets," said Scott. "The fentanyl crisis is destroying lives, affecting businesses and creating a poor quality of life for everyone living where drugs are being sold and used."

San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins appeared at the announcement and tweeted, "The Sheriff's Emergency Services Unit deployment will improve outcomes as we work collaboratively to get those suffering with substance-use disorders into treatment and prosecute suspected dealers."  

Yanira Durán, a cashier at a local store on Market Street, told CBS News Bay Area that the neighborhood presents a new challenge every day.

"This is a very complicated situation, because many people come just to steal and cause trouble. And we have to constantly call the police," said Durán.

Just two days ago, she had a terrifying encounter when a woman she caught stealing threatened to kill her. Yanira had a surveillance video that captured the incident and showed the person lingering outside the store for hours, waiting for her. 

"That woman was there all day. And I had to call my husband to tell him to pick me up, and I had to leave through the back door," explained Durán. 

A scary situation for Yanira, who sees a lot of activity outside her store from open drug use to drug dealing.

Mayor London Breed said city officials have been working to address these issues, and the new plan with the Sheriff's office is part of a bigger strategy. 

"Our hope is to get people into help and treatment, but ultimately we also have to disrupt some of the illegal activities and some of the behavior that happens on our streets and make sure that we use our existing laws to combat all of that," Breed said. 

"We must send a clear message that our communities won't tolerate the destructive influence of drugs and open-air drug scenes. That's why I'm committed to working with the Sheriff's Department to increase enforcement efforts in the hardest-hit neighborhoods," District 6 Supervisor Matt Dorsey said in the release. 

Officials said the ESU will operate as a mobile unit, helping to reduce emergency response times across San Francisco in addition to assisting the SFPD in making arrests of those engaging in criminal activity.  

The effort will also increase Electronic Monitoring (EM) compliance checks and enforcement in the Tenderloin District by the San Francisco Sheriff's Administration and Programs Division. Electronic monitoring allows authorities to supervise individuals who would otherwise be in jail. There are currently more than 100 EM participants living in the Tenderloin.   

The six-month deployment goes into effect this month. 

Jose Martinez contributed to this report.

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