Public Defender Says Tenderloin Drug Sweep Spells Trouble for Court System

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No sooner had newly minted San Francisco Police Chief George Gascon declared a much-publicized sweep of drug dealers in the city's notoriously crime-ridden Tenderloin neighborhood than doubters began speaking up. After all, as San Francisco Chronicle columnists Matier and Ross noted recently, making arrests in the Tenderloin has never been a problem for the SFPD -- the trick is to make important arrests, and make them stick.

City residents have every right to ask what makes Gascon's dramatic arrest of more than 300 suspects in the 'Loin, most of them on drug charges, different from the futile head-busting tactics used by the fictional cops in the HBO series The Wire on small-time Baltimore crack dealers -- simply picking off pawns in the drug war and declaring victory. Gascon's announcement yesterday that 261 of his 302 arrests came from "buy-bust" drugs sales to undercover officers does little to allay this concern.

It remains to be seen what effect the sweep will have on the Tenderloin's, shall we say, ambiance. But Public Defender Jeff Adachi says it's a fair bet that effects of the arrests will be felt promptly in San Francisco's criminal justice system, as the jails and deputy public defenders struggle with a sudden bottleneck of felony charges for defendants who will most likely rely on the city to provide an attorney.
 
"We've seen these types of sweeps before, and I think it's important to look at the impact it has," Adachi told SF Weekly. "It will definitely create a ripple in the courts that we are ill-equipped to handle."

The full impact on the court system will depend in part on how many cases District Attorney Kamala Harris's office decides to move forward. Given the publicity attending the arrests, it's a fair bet that prosecutors will be feeling pressure to nail as many of the suspects as possible. At a press conference yesterday, Sharon Woo, head of the DA's narcotics unit, said 92 percent of the 188 dealers caught in the first two weeks of the sweep are being prosecuted. Guess that ripple may turn into a wave.

Photo   |   --Sam--

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