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Mission district drug sting targets buyers

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In an unusual role reversal for the San Francisco Police Department, narcotics officers are now targeting Mission district drug buyers in undercover stings.

Parked in an unmarked car blocks away from an undercover officer near 16th and Mission streets, Lt. Chris Pedrini started the new operation Thursday with all the patience of a fisherman.

The bait is actually bags of mini apple chips meant for babies, but the “dealer” tells potential buyers that it’s crack cocaine. Crack and heroin are the top drugs in the Mission, Pedrini said, while parts of upper Market Street are more known for methamphetamine and pills.

While the operation got off to a slow start — there were no arrests in the first hour — by 5 p.m., 10 people had been arrested in an operation that required about 10 plainclothes officers. A similar operation is expected to begin in the Tenderloin as well.

But prosecuting drug possession crimes in San Francisco could prove difficult. Police said prosecutors already balked at charging such small crimes in front of a city jury that is typically liberal on drug offenses.

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“If you think about it, dealers are a huge problem because they often resort to violence, but buyers are still a problem, too,” Pedrini said.

The technique does not require a working crime lab, however, because the drugs already are known to be fake. The closure of the lab has resulted in hundreds of people arrested on drug charges having their cases delayed or dismissed.

But despite the problems with the lab, Capt. Greg Corrales has remained focused on drug crimes since being reassigned to the Mission Police Station in November, cracking down on the “open-air drug market” on 16th Street.

bbegin@sfexaminer.com



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