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SFPD Chief Scott pledges to ‘restore order’ at U.N. Plaza, clear drug users

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Officers stand beside a Mobile Command Center recently parked at U.N. Plaza to combat crime and quality of life issues. (Michael Toren/Special to The S.F. Examiner)

Police Chief Bill Scott pledged to crack down on drug dealing and the quality of life issues that come with homelessness at United Nations Plaza on Wednesday by boosting the police presence in the area.

The chief said the San Francisco Police Department has just begun parking a Mobile Command Center vehicle at the plaza off Market Street as part of a targeted effort underway since the beginning of the year to reduce “bad behavior” in the area. The department has also increased foot, bicycle and motorcycle patrols there.

“We’ve gotten a number of public complaints about a lot of the behaviors, the drug users, the drug dealers,” Scott told the Police Commission at a meeting Wednesday evening. “We’re committed to making that public space safe for everyone and you’ll see a large presence of officers there for the foreseeable future.”

The increased police presence is part of larger efforts between the department and other city agencies to clean up the streets as San Francisco continues to grapple with the homeless crisis, opioid crisis and needles on the streets.

Supervisor Jane Kim, who represents the neighborhood on the Board of Supervisors, commended the chief for focusing on the area but said she hoped the effort “can be part of a comprehensive approach to the very same issues affecting the Tenderloin and parts of South of Market.”

“We have to make sure we aren’t simply pushing the problems into other areas, because if that’s the result, then we are just rearranging the deck chairs,” Kim said.

Scott recognized that enforcement is just one part of the solution and said SFPD is working with other agencies including the Department of Public Health.

The chief said Tenderloin Police Station has already made 637 arrests in or near U.N. Plaza so far this year on crimes ranging from public urination to drug dealing. The station captain also added four beat officers to the area this week.

“U.N. Plaza is a public space,” Scott said. “It’s a transportation hub. You got people coming and going. If we as a city can’t restore order in a public space, then there’s a problem there.”

Police Commission member John Hamasaki questioned whether the greater police presence at U.N. Plaza would just push crime and quality of life issues elsewhere in the Tenderloin neighborhood.

“Every time there’s enforcement action or deployment in a certain area, the phrase that was used by a number of people was ‘whack a mole,’” Hamasaki said. “When you go to one place it just pushes people out to another area. That was a concern that residents had about these specific deployments.”

Scott said the department had to be “smart about where we put the cops” in the Tenderloin.

“What we intend to do is really we have to kind of do this one block at a time,” Scott said.

Police Commission Vice President Thomas Mazzucco said he was concerned that the court system was releasing alleged heroin dealers on stay away orders that they ignore.

“They get arrested, they’re released by the court within 24 hours with a stay away order, they get arrested again on the same corner in violation of the stay away order,” Mazzucco said, describing the situation as a “revolving door.”

The Mobile Command Center is currently parked at U.N. Plaza as of Wednesday evening.

This story has been updated to include comment from Supervisor Jane Kim.

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

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