Cheers and Jeers for S.F. Mayor Gavin Newsom

First the cheers. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom has declared the war on drugs a failure.

"If you want to get serious, if you want to reduce crime by 70% in this country overnight, end this war on drugs," he told reporters at City Hall on Thursday. "You want to get serious, seriously serious about crime and violence end this war on drugs."

The mayor maintained local jails are overcrowded with people incarcerated for drug offenses, taking up room that could be used to hold more violent criminal offenders. He said violent criminals with lengthy felony records are being turned loose, too often.

San Francisco Sheriff San Francisco Sheriff Mike Hennessey agrees with him.

Now the jeers. San Francisco is initiating a program of busting the homeless on "quality of life" crimes.


The city will send teams of outreach workers and police officers to offer social services to any homeless person caught littering, camping, trespassing, urinating, defecating, blocking sidewalks or publicly intoxicated.

If the homeless people refuse the services, they will receive a citation and will be told to appear in traffic court in 45 days. If a person is caught committing another quality-of-life crime within the same 8-hour period, he or she will be taken into custody.

The Board of Supervisors isn't happy:

Some members of the Board of Supervisors and advocates for homeless people smell a re-election shift toward criminalizing homelessness and sound as if they are prepared for a City Hall showdown if the administration doesn't change course.

Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin said he was "blown away" by the description of the program in the memo circulated Tuesday.

"It seems to be a huge step backward. Criminalizing homelessness is neither care nor cash," Peskin said, alluding to Newsom's Care Not Cash program, which reduced the city's welfare checks in return for providing housing and other assistance to the checks' recipients.

Homelessness is not a problem the police can solve.

"It's eerily reminiscent - it sounds exactly like Matrix," Daly said after the meeting, referring to Jordan's initiative during the early 1990s that entailed a similar teaming of police officers and social workers to deal with homeless people. "San Franciscans have proven time and time again that they reject the notion that homelessness is an issue best handled by the Police Department."

Nor is teaming cops and social workers a good idea.

Daly told his fellow supervisors during their meeting Tuesday that teaming police officers with social service workers would compromise the relationships social workers try to build over time with homeless people.

Here's how the plan will work:

The memo refers to the downtown outreach as a pilot program and says it will involve three separate teams of one police officer and two social service workers who will work in an area bounded by Third Street to the east, Fifth Street to the west, Market Street to the north and Harrison Street to the south. The teams will work in two shifts: 6 a.m.-2 p.m. and 2-10 p.m.

According to the memo, anybody found committing a crime such as "littering, encampment, trespassing, urinating, defecating, dumping, blocking sidewalks, intoxication, etc." will be asked to stop and enter into social services. If the person resists, the police officer would issue a citation.

The memo continues, "If the arrest is related to a misdemeanor, (an outstanding arrest) warrant, intoxication or a 2nd citation for the same time period, the individual will be taken into custody for processing."

Other objections:

Many advocates for homeless people say there aren't enough shelters, and the ones that do exist are dingy, unhealthy, scary places homeless people don't want to venture into. Mecke wants the city to adopt public health and safety standards for shelters like those that exist for prisons and hospitals.

"We can move people from Golden Gate Park and we can move people from downtown, and that might make people temporarily happy, but it's not a long-term solution," he said.

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  • Display: Sort:
    Defeat the Drug War (5.00 / 0) (#15)
    by MSimon on Fri Oct 05, 2007 at 10:24:22 PM EST

    Law Enforcement Against Prohibition

    Second: we emptied our mental hospitals out on the streets. Sure it makes the quality of life bad. However, the mentally ill are not to blame. To punish them for our failure is the essence of scapegoating. It makes us feel good and avoids dealing with the problem.

    Mayor Newsom concurs (none / 0) (#1)
    by aahpat on Fri Oct 05, 2007 at 11:52:57 AM EST
     with the U.S. Conference of Mayors that this past summer, after citing a litany of social and economic ills caused by the war on drugs, resolved:

    "NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the United States Conference of Mayors believes the war on drugs has failed.."

    the mayors, who must mop up the blood in our streets and repair the social damage done to our cities by the war on drugs continued: "...and calls for a New Bottom Line in U.S. drug policy, a public health approach that concentrates more fully on reducing the negative consequences associated with drug abuse, while ensuring that our policies do not exacerbate these problems or create new social problems of their own; establishes quantifiable, short- and long-term objectives for drug policy; saves taxpayer money; and holds state and federal agencies accountable"

    The resolution at, U.S. mayors call for end to drug war

    This (none / 0) (#2)
    by Wile ECoyote on Fri Oct 05, 2007 at 01:05:17 PM EST
    sentence has me baffled:
    a public health approach that concentrates more fully on reducing the negative consequences associated with drug abuse,

    Give drug abusers a better credit rating?  Have them jog on a treadmill while they abusing drugs, so they feel healthier?  Let them abuse drugs while in a local hospital, so the professionals can be right at the bedside when they make the choice to abuse drugs?  To me, it reads like a PC, feel good sentence that does nothing.


    I think it means.... (2.00 / 0) (#3)
    by kdog on Fri Oct 05, 2007 at 01:15:27 PM EST
    what it says...approaching the problems associated with drug abuse as a public health issue, and not a criminal one. Rehab and social work as opposed to prisons and police work.  Make help available to those with an addiction...if they want it.

    As for drug use, there is no problem with drug use except for prohibition.


    newsom is an empty suit (none / 0) (#4)
    by rageahol on Fri Oct 05, 2007 at 01:16:29 PM EST
    i live in his city.
    he governs by press release.
    he refuses to abide by the voter-mandated "question time" where he appears in front of the board of supervisors on a regular basis.
    homicides keep increasing, and he's focusing on "quality of life" issues like homelessness instead.
    he vetoed increased funding for police foot patrols.
    the muni public transit system has gotten worse every year under his management.
    he has destroyed practically every street fair in san francisco.

    we call him NIMBY Newsom. he is a failure.

    he has not agreed to abide by campaign spending limits, even though he is running unopposed, because he wants to build a war chest for his bid for state office.

    deeds vs. words (none / 0) (#6)
    by manys on Fri Oct 05, 2007 at 02:12:44 PM EST
    What we see here is Gavin kowtowing to business interests while paying lip-service to liberals and other drug decriminalists. He'll say the drug war is bad, yadda yadda, but there hasn't been anything to keep the DEA from coming in on the California AG's word and rousting a bunch of AIDS patients for smoking joints.

    This BS is followed by a concrete program to Giuliani the SOMA area. So, more homeless arrested, and a few words about drug decriminalization that will go nowhere and affect nobody (save some fundraisers for Gavin's re-election campaign next year).


    Homicides increasing? (none / 0) (#13)
    by eric on Fri Oct 05, 2007 at 03:44:46 PM EST
    homicides keep increasing, and he's focusing on "quality of life" issues like homelessness instead.

    I found this graph which does not appear to show that homicides are increasing in S.F.

    2006 numbers were lower than 2004 and 2005.  BTW, 85 homicides in a city as large as S.F. seems like a pretty low number.

    the muni public transit system has gotten worse every year under his management.

    The Muni isn't managed by Newsome.  It is managed by San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency

    I don't think you can blame Newsome for problems there.


    Not entirely with you... (none / 0) (#5)
    by Tom Hilton on Fri Oct 05, 2007 at 02:07:35 PM EST
    I'm all in favor of a comprehensive, compassionate, housing & treatment & services-based approach to homelessness.  At the same time, I would like to see homeless advocates admit that the things Newsom is going after ("littering, encampment, trespassing, urinating, defecating, dumping, blocking sidewalks, intoxication, etc.") are also problems in themselves, and that if we fail to address those at all until the overall homeless problem is solved our city will go to hell in the meantime.  

    (My own hot button here is homeless people living in parks, which is effectively privatizing public space.  If a park is a home, it ain't a park anymore.  And the thing to keep in mind here is that rich people don't need parks--the rest of us do.)  

    So yeah, I'm not wild about criminalizing homelessness...but I'm not exactly outraged about criminalizing behavior that is, in fact, already illegal.  

    (Should also mention that I'm not fond of Newsom--'government by press release' is exactly right.)

    Distinctions... (none / 0) (#7)
    by manys on Fri Oct 05, 2007 at 02:18:20 PM EST
    So, as a real-world example, where do you draw the illegality line in blocking sidewalks? Is it more illegal for a homeless person to block a sidewalk with a shopping cart full of bottles than it is for a mom/nanny with a double-wide stroller? How about for a group of strollers?

    My tongue-in-cheek response... (5.00 / 1) (#10)
    by Tom Hilton on Fri Oct 05, 2007 at 02:57:24 PM EST
    ...is that I'd like to see people who walk three abreast downtown cited for blocking sidewalks.  They certainly get in my way.  

    More seriously, though: fine, there's one example with some potential ambiguity.  (And if it were me, the key distinction would be whether they're in transit or not; there's a pretty substantial difference between a moving double-wide stroller, or a stroller parked for ten minutes, and a shopping cart standing on the sidewalk for hours at a time.)  Taking a dump on the sidewalk: not ambiguous.  Pissing on the sidewalk: not ambiguous.  Abusive drunks should be cited regardless of their socioeconomic status--not given a pass because they're either 'respectable' or homeless.  

    I'm not endorsing Newsom's specific approach here; I'm just trying to make the point that yes, these things really do need to be addressed in themselves, whether it's in conjunction with an overall solution to homelessness (preferable) or, if necessary, independent of it.  


    Cavalier (none / 0) (#12)
    by manys on Fri Oct 05, 2007 at 03:23:31 PM EST
    Well, that you respond to a challenge to your logic by glossing over it with a joke and trying to marginalize it as de minimis seems to mean that these things are only problems "in themselves" when it is homeless people doing it. You have to account for the ambiguity when crafting policy or else your solution is weak. Maybe we can just let the cops decide for themselves?

    And no, I'm not talking about strollers in transit. Also, speaking to your gripe about the parks being "privatized," there are no parks in SOMA.


    I would (none / 0) (#14)
    by Wile ECoyote on Fri Oct 05, 2007 at 08:14:58 PM EST
    say it should be illegal if they block the sidewalk while taking a crap or urinating.

    A hobo camping in the park.... (none / 0) (#11)
    by kdog on Fri Oct 05, 2007 at 03:11:52 PM EST
    isn't privatizing the park unless he/she tries to keep you out by building a fence or threatening you.